Revolutions in digital tools and technology are rapidly changing the landscape of many different industries across the globe. One of the latest innovations in digital technology is the widespread use of Artificial Intelligence, or AI. Two Ankrom Moisan architects, Michael Great and Ramin Rezvani – Director of Design Strategy and Senior Project Designer, respectively – have recently begun to incorporate AI software into their design process, receiving encouraging results.
Before the advent of Artificial Intelligence software, precedent images sourced from Pinterest or similar could be used to establish the initial aesthetic direction of a project. Because not every feature of an image would be relevant for a certain project, these images were often cropped and/or collaged together, leading to unnecessary confusion if clients became attached to specific features in precedent images that were never intended to be a part of the final design. AI-generated images have the potential to circumvent that issue, providing inspiration imagery that is specific to a particular place, project, client and design.
Example of an AI-generated precedent image.
Recently, Michael and Ramin have been using AI to create precedent imagery for their projects. In their experience, renderings created by AI software such as Midjourney assist in streamlining the design process and ensuring that clients are on the same page as designers when it comes to project design and direction.
For many, Artificial Intelligence still represents an enigmatic, complicated technology of the future, reserved for the plots of science fiction movies. However, recent developments in technology have made AI and its uses more widespread and accessible than ever. To explain how AI can be utilized to generate unique outcomes and facilitate a cohesive design language for a project, Michael and Ramin sat down to answer some questions about how Midjourney is integrated into the projects they work on and to dispel common misconceptions about the technology.
Michael and Ramin together in the Portland office.
Q: When did you begin incorporating AI into your approach to project design? Why was this something you decided to do?
Our adoption of AI software has aligned with the technology’s continual improvement. Initially when we started experimenting with architectural imagery, it was giving us broad stroke building concept imagery. These were by no means a “design” but it got Ramin and I thinking, ‘Oh, this technology might be evolving to a place where we could utilize it more in the design process, let’s trial this a bit and see what we can get out of it.’
Part of my interest there is that historically architects have used precedent imagery to describe things that don’t exist yet, or to get clients aligned to what the design intent might be? Language doesn’t often get us to a full understanding. So, I think architects have always used imagery, whether that’s precedent imagery or rough sketches to just get alignment about the direction of a project aesthetically. Both Ramin and I have always thought it was strange that in this process you are often using existing buildings to convey new ideas. I think the advantage of using Midjourney and AI is that we can accomplish the same general task of conceptual alignment but show clients unique imagery that is specific to their project, place and aesthetic.
We just started playing around with Midjourney when it came out. It was really exciting and interesting, and we had no idea what it was, or what it could do, or how powerful it was the first couple of times we were testing it out. Then we tried to make it do something specific, and that’s where it started getting fascinating, because it’s potentially a huge shortcut for certain things- especially with generating concept imagery.
We kind of hit a wall with a project where we wanted to be able to quickly visually convey something that didn’t exist. We had some loose ideas influenced by some projects that only exist at a completely different scale than what we were looking at. We thought ‘let’s see if we can figure out how to combine all of these ideas and generate imagery to illustrate to the client where we are going with this.’ Through that process, getting imagery close to what we were trying to do was mind-blowing.
Final project design renders created by Michael and Ramin that were influenced by AI imagery.
Q: Ramin, you’ve said that AI is “like a paintbrush or any creative tool, you just need to figure out how to use it,” and Michael, that “it’s a language. You have to learn it, just like any software.” How did you both go about learning to use these tools, and how long did it take you to learn the language, so-to-speak?
I don’t know how far we actually are on that journey, and I think we have a long way to go. There are a ton of resources out there, though, in terms of helping you learn the language through prompt editing. But this is moving so fast that there is now software that will do your prompts for you. You can just add in a few descriptive words, and it’ll fill in the rest, writing it in the way that the AI software wants to see it. Every time you use it, the more you use it, you learn something about what the output is. The more trial and error you go through, the faster you get at getting to an image you can use.
You have to think differently about the words you are using to get the imagery desired. It’s a shift in how you think since you have to use fewer words to get your idea across. You must be specific and pointed while still giving the software enough information. From that standpoint, I feel like the faster you can get your mind into that mode of thinking, the better off you will be as AI continues to develop, because the premise of utilizing language to direct output will only accelerate from here.
What we all have to adapt to and learn is how to use language to describe what we want machines to do. But even that is probably a couple years from being obsolete. There seems to be an updated version of Midjourney every month that’s substantially better than the last. Even since we last talked, they’ve come out with reverse-prompt capability. So instead of putting a text prompt and getting an image, you can do the opposite, dropping in an image and getting a prompt. By doing so you can start to understand the language in reverse because you’re dropping in an image and the AI is telling you what it sees in text.
I’ve been using it a lot, trying to figure out how to create very specific imagery. Like Michael said, it’s a lot of trial and error. To be able to get usable images, it has definitely required a shift in the way that I think due to the way that the prompts work. I’ve been approaching it almost like a science experiment, changing the prompts slightly with each iteration to see what I get back visually with each update. But also, it’s not like you can master it because it’s changing so rapidly. The next versions will likely have a completely different interface, so the way that you write prompts will likely change too.
Q: Can you walk me through the typical steps of using Midjourney to create precedent imagery?
The process right now that we’ve been utilizing is that we’re trying to plug it in to an existing process. On a lot of our projects, we start by charette-ing and brainstorming, trying to develop a cohesive concept. AI software like Midjourney increases the speed at which we can reach solutions, because we’re not all going in different design directions.
What we’ve tried to do initially is take the guiding design principles for a project and feed those words into the AI to see what kind of visual representation it would create with our initial thoughts. So again, trying to accelerate the process a bit and get to visuals through words that we’ve already talked about or discussed to create alignment on design direction. As the technology evolves, there will be other ways for us to utilize it, maybe in final renderings, for instance. But right now, I think coming up with precedent imagery is the best use of it.
Visual breakdown of how guiding design principles and text prompts are used to generate new precedent imagery renderings with AI software.
Q: [You’ve] said that clients often don’t know what to make of design renderings when they learn that they were created by AI. What are some common misconceptions or misunderstandings about Artificial Intelligence that you’ve encountered since you began using it?
The most common misconception that Ramin and I have run into is that the AI-created images are just precedent imagery pulled from the internet. You have to explain that it’s not a search engine, it’s not finding an existing image on the web. Often, I have to describe what it does in shorthand for people to understand it.
One of the things I noticed right away was people asking ‘doesn’t this take the creative process out of architecture now that you have this image designed by AI?’ At least for the time being, I don’t feel that way. As a design team, you still have to generate the foundational ideas and coax the AI to output something that aligns with your goals and vision. It’s a quick way to get the team on the same page and discover interesting emergent qualities from concept intersections that you may not have discovered on your own. In our current workflow AI produced visuals are intended to draw from and quickly study a whole bunch of different ideas to curate the most interesting aspects of each, based on what we asked the software to do.
Q: Do you have any fears surrounding the use of AI or the rate at which it is evolving, a la Terminator’s Skynet?
Like any new technology, it absolutely has the ability to be used in various ways. I mean, there’s no way around that. I think there’s many applications of AI that could be negative, primarily in terms of its ability to manipulate people. But in terms of what we do, there’s not much risk if you understand it’s just one tool out of many that we can use. It’s not like Midjourney will actually produce architecture. It produces ideas that a designer still has to understand, edit, and synthesize into a project’s end design.
It’s hard to tell right now what is going to change and how much it will change. I’m definitely concerned about it, not just for the field of architecture, but for humans. In general, I feel like no technology has advanced this quickly before and it will continue to accelerate. There are just so many unknowns but I’m sure we will quickly see AI implementation in daily life. I think that we’ll know a lot more in the next five years or so.
AI process design results, highlighting the Midjourney-generated concept renderings that Michael and Ramin synthesized and incorporated into the initial massing render for a project.
Q: With the rapid speed at which AI changes and evolves, how do you envision the future of AI as it relates to architecture? What about the future of architecture as it relates to AI?
I think that AI continues a theme that has remained consistent throughout the last 100 years in terms of how architecture utilizes technology. Usually, it’s used to speed up the design process. One thing about architecture that’s so different from a lot of other professions is that it still relies on artistry, but there’s always a ‘hurry-up’ type of attitude, we are often pushed to develop designs and drawings faster and faster because of project economics. So, we’re always looking for tools to speed up the process. In addition, architecture is a broad profession. There are people doing wildly different things in the profession their whole career, and I think that could get streamlined.
Outside of Midjourney, there’s a whole slew of AI implementations using other design and construction software that’s meant to speed up how fast we can produce a construction set with fewer people. I think inevitably, that’s where architecture has always gone. 100 years ago, it took 40 people in a room, drawing a set for a high-rise tower by hand. I think in the future, a 40-story tower can probably be designed and drawn by two people. Eventually, the industry will get to a point where one or two people can accomplish that same task in half the time it takes now.
I would say that right now, as designers, we are not spending enough time understanding the place, the people using the building, and the environment surrounding a project. We’re rushing through a lot of those elements to get projects built, so I think where you end up by incorporating AI into that process is more thoughtful buildings, because we don’t have to spend as much time crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s. We can actually think about the project and the building rather than drawing it, and to me, that’s pretty exciting. Architecture can’t do anything but get better through this process. I don’t think anything gets worse. It just gets better.
In my mind, there’s no doubt that any areas of inefficiency in the architectural process right now, some of which will be resolved using AI. It’s going to accelerate and amplify the amount that an individual can do by themselves, so I think it’ll take fewer people to do the same amount of work.
I think it will allow us to study way more aspects of a project quickly and, like Michael said, make projects significantly better by understanding more of the site’s parameters. It feels like an amplification to me now, but who knows what will happen in six months?
AI-rendered precedent imagery from other projects.
Compared to other Pacific Northwest architecture firms, Ankrom Moisan is a pacesetter in terms of integrating Artificial Intelligence and other digital tools. Few competitors use AI, if at all. International firms, though, tend to use AI software for design-based research. However you cut it, the digital tools of imagined sci-fi futures are closer than it seems, and may, in fact, already be here. It’s a massive paradigm shift that will take some time to get used to, but the good news is that when the AI overlords take over, we will already know how to deal with them.
By Jack Cochran, Marketing Coordinator
Dignified Healing Spaces
Does design have the power to enhance dignity?
Many of us have the privilege to go about our daily lives unaware of the powerful role the built environment plays in supporting our feeling of being celebrated and respected. As architects and designers, we must place inhabitants’ dignity at the forefront of our design priorities. Our work has the power to create spaces that have far reaching and lasting impacts. Few places need this perspective more than spaces that serve predominantly underserved, underrepresented, or socially stigmatized communities.
To start, what is dignity?
Dignity is the right of a person to be treated ethically as well as being valued and respected for who they are. For healthcare professionals dignified care means recognizing and honoring patients’ capacities and ambitions. While patient dignity is a core tenant of healthcare staff training, it is also critically important to consider the role of the built environment to support dignity for both patients and staff.
Dignity can be defined by four main factors:
Respect – Respect includes self-respect, respect for others, respect for peoples’ privacy, and conﬁdentiality.
Autonomy – Autonomy includes having choices, being able to make decisions, rights, needs, and independence.
Empowerment – Empowerment includes feelings of being important and valuable, self-esteem or self-worth, and pride.
Communication – Communication includes clear information, language, intuitive wayfinding and directional cues, and privacy.
Here are five considerations for designing dignified environments:
1. Design as a Beacon – Too often, mental health and treatment program facilities exist in hidden spaces kept out of sight from the public. We aim to create spaces which bring a sense of pride to those who enter. By considering each step of the end-user experience, from the street approach to the quality of finishes, we aim to thoughtfully apply design aesthetics to create a welcoming facility from the very earliest interactions. Welcoming patients, clinicians, and the community into a space that is beautifully designed to support the specific needs and identity of the users is a meaningful way to communicate the intrinsic value of the patients and clients within those spaces.
In initial design discussions, Compass Health requested a sense of grandeur within their new facility located in Everett, Washington. After years of making do with an aging building, the goal for their Phase II building, housing both inpatient and outpatient behavioral healthcare, was to create a space that anyone would feel proud to enter. The stigma of mental health treatment was stripped away by prioritizing a grand, double-height entry and foyer that highlights exterior garden space. The exterior finishes were selected to be warm and welcoming.
Compass Health’s Phase II: The entry design uses scale, richly colored materials, and nature to evoke a warm welcome to all who enter.
2. The Power of Choice – In design, when we do not acknowledge the vast spectrum of human needs, we strip away the ability to exercise autonomy and control over our surroundings. Design that is mindful of autonomy, considers a variety of mental states, capabilities, traumas, and preferences to create dynamic spaces which allow people to choose the experience that fits their needs best in that moment. Avoiding the stress of being in an uncomfortable space allows patients and clients to receive care while in the best possible mindset. It also reduces negative associations that may become barriers for seeking care in the future. In many cases, mental health, housing, or medical facilities unintentionally strip away the opportunities for personal choice due to logistics and procedures, but thoughtful communication with providers allows designers to construct opportunities for choice and autonomy within even the highest acuity patient types.
The design team on the Alameda Senior Respite and Primary Care Facility acknowledged the importance of choice and autonomy in the design of the new 30,000 sq. ft. facility serving Alameda County in California. The design, which creates permanent supportive housing for an aging subset of the local homeless population, thoughtfully addresses the need for individual choice by completely rethinking the approach to lighting design throughout the building. Acknowledging the impact of harsh or bright lighting, uncomfortable lighting when resting, or a lack of lighting when trying to read and relax, the design team prioritized indirect lighting throughout all patient spaces, designed hallways outside of bedrooms to dim to the lowest levels allowed by code during quiet hours, and coordinated a wall sconce with controls at each bedside for residents. These simple, yet impactful, solutions allow residents to have autonomy over their surroundings in a way many of us would take for granted.
3. Safety over Security – We deserve to feel safe in our environments, and increasingly, facilities are moving towards providing a friendly face at entry points to help visitors feel welcome in lieu of uniformed security, which can be particularly traumatizing for many populations. Through collaboration with staff and clinicians, we can facilitate safety by designing clear pathways of visibility for observation and engagement that does not feel intrusive. Doing so allows visitors and residents to maintain their sense of independence and autonomy while remaining safe. Intentionally designed spaces which focus on relationship building increase the safety of patients while also increasing the likelihood of positive experiences and returns for subsequent care in the future.
The inpatient floors for Compass Health were laid out around a central nurse station allowing care teams to maintain a direct line of sight to all patient spaces, including the outdoor patient areas. Whereas other facilities require patients to be accompanied by a staff member to outdoor or group spaces, the clear paths of visibility allow patients to move from space to space unaccompanied, fostering independence while ensuring staff are aware of any interactions which may require their attention. Similarly, opportunities for passive observation in outpatient areas allow for easy circulation and a friendly face at various reception desks to assist first-time visitors and clients, as well as to foster connection with staff in various areas throughout the lobbies.
Compass Health Phase II: The building massing prioritized sightlines for the on-unit nursing and care team from the earliest diagrams (left). Interior design focused on maintaining the connection between staff and patients (right).
4. Whole Person Healing – If we consider the physical, mental, emotional, and social determinates of health in the design and programming process, we can create transformational facilities that help bolster the entire community. By creating space for additional programs and prominently locating basic needs near entries, each visitor can easily access support. Furthermore, designing medical care with counseling and housing opportunities provides a holistic approach to wellness that caters to a vast spectrum of needs, removing the barriers of care that occur when visiting many different facilities for the same services. Integrating community spaces into our designs allows additional social needs to be met that may not be related to specific medical needs, while inviting the community into spaces shared by diverse populations humanizes the experience of those seeking treatment in those spaces.
The core tenant of Central City Concern’s Blackburn Center is to “help people’s health through comfort, community, and safety.” The center, which serves people experiencing homelessness, poverty, and addiction in the Portland, Oregon area also aims to create a supportive housing project which incorporates mental and physical health resources under the same roof. The design carefully integrates a complex series of support systems that begin on the ground floor with commons area, teaching kitchen, pharmacy, and community services. Moving up a floor, the medical clinic supports the housing residents onsite. Housing includes palliative care, two floors of single room occupancy housing, and a floor of apartments for permanent housing, which supports people nearly ready to live on their own. The design aesthetics and function aim to create a fulfilling and enriching home-like experience that bolsters residents in all aspects of health and wellness, truly treating the whole person.
5. Nature as Medicine – Biophilia states that we, as humans, are part of nature and are inherently attracted to, and supported by, natural environments. Using nature as a tool to promote healing and wellness is a key part of providing users with the respect and dignity they deserve. Many at-risk populations receive care and housing in aging spaces that do not receive quality daylight, and access to outdoors is deemed too unsafe and difficult to monitor. By incorporating nature connections such as views, natural materials, fresh air, and plants into the requirements for healing spaces, we ultimately acknowledge the humanity of the occupants within a space. Whether they are patients, residents, visitors, or staff, everybody benefits from contact with nature through positive distractions, lowered blood pressure, increased resilience to environmental stressors, and the benefit of aligning our sense of time and place with the observable natural rhythms of the world around us.
Early on in Compass Health’s design process, the importance of fresh air and contact with nature was identified by the client and design team. As a result, the earliest building massing schemes explored how to bring nature as far into the building as possible. The resulting form for the inpatient floors is two separate wings positioned beside deeply cut rooftop gardens with a central connection space that serves as the primary gathering and dining area for the inpatient population. Each of the two floors of inpatient treatment have access to dedicated outdoor garden spaces that are designed to allow residents to move freely between interior living spaces and outdoor areas. Beyond the patient outdoor spaces are extensive green roofs which are visible from interior spaces in the public, staff, and patient spaces. This impactful design decision will support the healing and restorative vision of Compass Health’s mission to treat the whole person.
Compass Health Phase II: Both inpatient floors provide residents, staff, and visitors views of nature by utilizing the space between buildings for extensive green roofs.
Why design for dignity?
By implementing these five strategies, designers can create spaces that honor the core aspects of dignity by respecting each visitor and their unique place in the world, supporting their autonomy through choice, empower occupants as they move through the space, and ultimately communicate equitably inhabitants. The resulting designs are spaces which can be as meaningful as they are beautiful while actively participating in the health and growth of our communities.
By Ashlee Washington, Senior Associate
While physical health and fitness have been an important aspect of residential design for many years, it’s only in the last 5-10 years that the language – and the thinking – has become more expansive.
Wellness is the new watchword. It’s not just a trend, but rather a powerful approach to residential planning, design, and programming that has the potential not only to improve your residents’ lives, but your bottom line, driving demand and tenant loyalty.
Wellness, approached thoughtfully and executed with purpose, is more than an amenity, it’s a business strategy.
Indoor / Outdoor Air Quality
The Do GOOD / Be WELL scholarship encourages Ankrom Moisan employees to research an open-ended topic of their choosing and share the practical results of their findings with the firm, industry, and community at large. The scholarship, started in 2017, is sponsored in memory of former AM employee Carolyn Forsyth, an inspirational leader and unyielding force for change. Intended to honor her legacy of sustainability, equity, innovation, advocacy, education, and leadership, the DGBW scholarship elevates and empowers new and inspiring ideas within Ankrom Moisan and the broader field of architecture, pushing us all, as the name implies, to do good and be well.
As the recipient of the 2022 Do GOOD / Be WELL scholarship, Cara Godwin encouraged Ankrom Moisan employees to not only learn about air quality but to measure their own. Cara implemented a program that provided home air kits, consisting of a HEPA filter and an air sensor, to be checked out and taken home.
By using air sensors that provided a real-time air quality score, participants were able to better understand how opening windows, cooking, and running exhaust fans impact indoor air quality. The program also encouraged people to be Citizen Scientists by gathering data in their own respective environments and automatically sharing it to the Purple Air network map in real time, increasing the pool of scientific knowledge that design decisions can be made from.
Kaiterra Egg air sensor utilized in Cara’s research study.
The (Overlooked) Importance of Air Quality
Designers of the built environment are deeply familiar with energy scores and water scores, but air quality has been less defined and is often left unconsidered—Cara hopes to change that.
Cara has lived in the Methow Valley for twelve years now, an area which often deals with wildfire smoke. Cara and her husband had indoor air quality at the front of their minds when they built their home in 2011. Their son has had respiratory issues since birth and asthma since just before his second birthday, which led the pair to learn more about indoor and outdoor air quality. “We are a ‘Clean Air Methow Ambassador,’ we have been interviewed on a podcast, interviewed by a health reporter, and often my son’s photo and story are used in discussions about air quality,” Cara stated. “This scholarship seemed like a natural way to share this information with coworkers and hopefully have a positive impact on future building designs.”
The Godwins: Cara, her husband, and her son.
Even if you have not personally noticed issues with air quality, you are likely being affected by air pollutants. More and more research talks about PM2.5 – fine inhalable particles with diameters that are 2.5 micrometers or smaller – and their long-term effect on our lungs. PM2.5 sources include chemical exhaust from industries and automobiles, wildfire smoke, pollen, dust, and hundreds of other chemicals. EPA and other clean air groups are focusing on education for people to understand air scores and sources. This study helps expand those efforts.
The Findings from the Air Sensors
The most common response from kit recipients was about cooking. It is uncommon for range hoods to be used every time a cooktop is utilized, though that is the recommendation. After receiving their results, many participants noted they will use the hood more often. One participant noted that their charcoal recirculating exhaust fan was not adequate on its own and required a window to be open for proper ventilation.
Another finding was that pets do not seem to have a negative impact on air quality. Running the HEPA filter had noticeable positive impacts for participants with seasonal allergies and asthma.
In a survey filled out after using test kits at home for a few weeks, participants were asked what they might do differently in future designs after receiving their own personal air quality scores. Several responded by advocating for electric cooking over gas. A few mentioned advocating for operable windows and making operable windows open further. There is a desire to avoid using charcoal recirculating fans for kitchen exhaust. Others mentioned trying to design for air changes above code minimum and running the whole house exhaust longer.
Awair air monitor in use.
Swapping Cooktops to Improve Air Quality
During this time, Cara was looking into replacing her propane cooktop with an electric induction range and took the opportunity to tie her search in with her research proposal, using the information gathered from the use of the HEPA filter and air sensor to guide her purchase decision, and sharing the results with the firm. This choice was supported by Cara’s experiences with indoor air quality monitors, as they have demonstrated that cooking has the greatest impact on air quality in a home. Cara swapped out her propane cooktop for a gas one, as well as her exhaust hood in hopes that a quieter exhaust hood would be used more. Finding the right induction range was the tricky part. The options seem limited, and costs vary greatly.
Her research found that the difference in cost is dependent on the size of the magnet, and that the size of the magnet, or burner, should match the size of the pan being used. This is because a pan too large for a burner will not heat up efficiently, and food will not be evenly cooked. The main obstacle in sourcing a new cooktop was related to finding black appliances, which have even fewer options. In the end, Cara switched to black stainless steel. For the exhaust hood, quieter options require an 8” exhaust duct. Cara’s pre-existing duct was only 6”, meaning it was not feasible to replace the exhaust duct in the roof assembly, so the new hood is only slightly better in terms of noise level.
For the actual experience with induction cooking, Cara states that “it has been a real pleasure to cook with. The cooking is more even, and water does boil as fast as everyone says. There is also peace of mind with all the recent news of harmful chemicals coming from gas cooktops.” The original concern with the propane cooktop had to do with CO2 levels rising during seasonal times of wildfire smoke when fresh air is closed off, but the benefits of an induction range have expanded to all year round. Cara recommends induction over gas to anyone building new construction, and in her case, with someone with respiratory issues in the house, switching is a great option.
Cara’s new black stainless steel induction range with hood.
Applying the Research to our Designs
If you have not experienced it yourself, you probably know someone who has had to alter their plans or take medication due to allergies to pets, perfume, or wildfire smoke. At Ankrom Moisan, we talk about designing for all users and that should include designing for respiratory sensitivities.
This study will hopefully help influence future building designs to take user sensitivities into account, and therefore create buildings that are a haven from pollutants and irritants during times of poor outdoor air quality. And in times of good outdoor air quality, our spaces should reduce known contributors to poor indoor air quality.
One example of how we can design more inclusively is to consider air quality and pet allergies. Many residential communities today allow dogs but that can exclude people with allergies from living there—unless the air quality improves and the building, as well as furnishing, is designed to minimize pet dander. Our designers, armed with the findings from Cara’s research, can also advocate for features that will benefit everyone such as electric induction ranges, quieter exhaust hoods and operable kitchen windows
Though indoor and outdoor air quality is a consideration that is often forgotten, Cara’s DGBW research program illustrates the importance of bringing all aspects of wellness into a building’s design, and redefines how we explore beyond, changing what designing for inclusiveness can mean.
By Cara Godwin, Practice Manager
Creating Environments to Suit Your Energy
Happy National Fitness Day! Kim Bielak is credited for starting the day in 2017 which is “designated for the first Saturday of May to be a celebration of strength and empowerment for fitness” (Source). Here at Ankrom we design our fitness centers and bike rooms for the end user to feel that same strength and empowerment for fitness. In celebration of National Fitness Day, we want to share Ankrom’s past designed workplace fitness and bike amenity spaces.
A word from one of our Fitness Resident designers, Clare Goddard.
Q. What is unique about Ankrom’s approach to fitness and bike spaces?
A. How we approach fitness differently is focusing on making it an experience and a destination. Whether that includes coordination of equipment, wall graphics, lighting, we focus on it being an experience of what clients are wanting to have, not just utilitarian, and not a place of dread for the end users.
Bike spaces used to be treated as more of a back of house space with little design to them. Instead, we have been looking at them as a space where we can have fun and even make a bold statement. Having fun with bikes taps into Portland bike culture, why not elevate the space more?
Q. How do you design a space that is inclusive for all abilities and fitness levels?
A. The first thing that it comes down to is universal design: doorknobs, benches, ADA lockers and ADA compliance, etc. Equally, providing a variety of fitness equipment, yoga rooms, treadmills, interactive mirrors, stretching or weight training areas – let the user choose their workout type for a variety of abilities. Variety is key.
A well-designed fitness center should feel welcoming and inviting because so often fitness centers do not feel inclusive, or they are uncomfortable. Everyone should be able to move their body with joy within the space.
For example, in a project I was a part of we took an existing basement space, added brand new lighting, bright colors, added various benches, hooks, upscale lockers and even additional parking for e-bikes and recumbent bikes.
Q. How do you balance aesthetic between open gym v. class environment?
A. Using materials that feel like they go together or are complimentary between spaces. Using lighting that is around the perimeter of mirrors and highlighting what is more important in each space. For example, flooring changes could be LVT in the classroom and anti-microbial carpet tile, rubber or cork flooring in the gym area.
Q. What is your favorite part about designing fitness spaces?
A. My favorite part is that I’m an athletic person, and I enjoy working out. I get to put myself in that mode to imagine how myself or others would use the space. “Getting into the concept” and making it unique from other fitness centers.
Q. Where do you start with fitness planning and programming?
A. The best way to start with a fitness center is to get surveys from building tenants to hear what they want, so that you have information on what the tenants want to use. Understanding the competition and comparing what other buildings are offering also helps to make a fitness center stand out in the crowd. Compare what other buildings in the area are offering.
Contributor: Clare Goddard, Senior Associate Interior Designer
Emily Feicht, Interior Designer
Rebecca Brock, Associate Interior Designer
Employee Spotlight: May Au
It seems that May Au was destined to be an artist. Her sketches appear in the firm’s “AM is Sketchy” Teams channel to the delight of many, inspiring her coworkers to embrace their creative side and see things from a new perspective.
Architect and artist May Au poses atop Ankrom Moisan’s Portland office.
This began as a result of the recurring Thursday drawing classes, the products of which are shared on the AM is Sketchy channel. May received enthusiastic feedback from her colleagues, who wanted to know more about her process. “A couple of people were interested in learning how I draw,” May said. Roberta Pennington asked May if she would share her process with the firm, and although May was hesitant at first, she eventually agreed, but not before deciding to spruce up her presentation. “I thought it would be kind of boring if I just drew on live,” May explained. “I thought that during this precious lunch hour, people would probably want to draw more than watching me, so I thought ‘I should speed that up in Procreate and record the process.’” Even her management team took notice of May’s art; Ryan Miyahira asked May to share her sketching process at a team meeting. Luckily, she already had recordings of her sketching process from a trip she took to Nice, France. May paired her time lapse videos with narration and music recorded by her husband and Emily Bear, respectively. The videos were shared on the company’s Teams channels, catching the attention of many, and causing May to be nominated for an employee spotlight feature.
May was drawn (pardon the pun) to painting in kindergarten, when she took note of artwork hanging on the walls of her classroom and aspired to learn how to draw and paint when she grew up. Her older sister encouraged this newfound passion, singing May original songs such as “I’m a Little Painter,” which she particularly loved.
In college and at the beginning of her career as an architect, May attended live drawing sessions to draw models, and would often check out books on the sketches of her favorite artists – Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, and Rembrandt – from the school library when she was supposed to be studying. These habits strengthened her eye for detail, a trait which she would rely on in her work as an architect. She explained the connection between her sketches and architectural work, saying “in general, architects must detail projects out quite a bit. We need to be efficient, and we don’t want to do the work incorrectly, so you always have to check yourself and ask, ‘am I doing it in the right way?’.”
May’s sketches of various buildings in France, Japan, and Hong Kong.
This work ethic overlaps with May’s artistic process in the sense that her sketches begin with ‘bigger picture’ concepts, like lines and shapes, and gradually moves towards finer details, though she often takes a step back to ensure that both the bigger picture and smaller intricacies are balanced and in harmony. She applies this process to all projects she undertakes, explaining, “If somebody gives you a task or big issue, it’s helpful to break them down into steps to tackle them one by one, rather than being overwhelmed by it. After you finish, always stand back and question the work, then you’ll find your own mistakes without other people telling you.”
May’s sketch of Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Hong Kong.
Illustration is not the only artistic talent that May holds. Before becoming an architect, she made and sold pottery. May disclosed, “I couldn’t make a living out of pottery, so my sister suggested that I look into architecture. I thought ‘ohh, that’s so different because clay is so soft and so flexible, and architecture is not.” Though she no longer makes pottery, her love for the craft remains. May views herself as more of a potter than an architect. “I don’t [do pottery] anymore, I get addicted to it,” she jokes. “I cannot stop. A few days ago, I found a pottery studio in my neighborhood. I was too excited; I couldn’t fall asleep.” In addition to her past as a potter, May has taken classes on Chinese calligraphy and oil pastel painting throughout her architecture career, and illustrates cartoons for her church’s newsletter.
One of her dreams was to become a rendering artist, however, since rendering is no longer done by hand, May pivoted to learn more about detailing, a decision which brought her – at the suggestion of a friend – here, to Ankrom Moisan. May saw this opportunity as a way to build a solid foundation in the field of architecture, as well as a chance to be exposed to a more diverse range of projects than previous positions she had held.
May says that she has learned to be more efficient, as well as the art of detailing, since starting at Ankrom. “I’m very thankful to mentors like Sean Scott, James Lucking, and David Dahl that really helped with my detailing,” May said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do much, or wouldn’t be able to [detail] correctly.” She believes that her attitude has changed too. “I’ve learned to be more patient. Patient of my own growth,” she reflected.
A watercolor painting of an alleyway in Nice, France, completed by May in 2022.
Though she primarily works on residential projects, May’s favorite type of work are cultural buildings “that are for public use,” she says. “Residential buildings are what we do, and they’re my second favorite type of architecture since we eat and live in those buildings every day.”
As an architect, May is inspired by the ability to “explore the possibilities in a space and to be creative and not necessarily stuck with what we see, but to come up with many different ideas.” As for her art, she finds that her creative impulse is sparked by the mood and the lighting in the composition of an image. While there is not a single subject May does not enjoy drawing, she wants to improve her portraits, since they can be so challenging. “It takes a lot of work. If I can draw people’s emotions, and capture that [essence] where it’s like ‘that person looks like that person,’ I’d be happy,” she explains.
May has plenty of sage advice for young professionals who are just starting out in the field of architecture and interior design. She stresses patience with oneself and self-confidence. “People blossom at different stages, so don’t be too impatient with yourself,” she says. “Learn to be humble, but at the same time, learn to be a leader. Know your own strengths. Know what kind of path you want to go down, and fight for it. Don’t let other people decide what you can do.” May also acknowledges the virtue of tenacity, stating “we have to fail before we succeed.” As a final piece of wisdom, May offers, “be able to learn to embrace the details, not just ideas,” a philosophy that she clearly lives by, evidenced by her beautifully detailed illustrations.
By Jack Cochran, Marketing Coordinator