Blog – Mackey Mitchell Architects Wed, 30 Jun 2021 17:21:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Join Our Team! Wed, 30 Jun 2021 12:01:59 +0000 At Mackey Mitchell Architects, we believe in the strength of

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At Mackey Mitchell Architects, we believe in the strength of a diverse and passionate team. Every person in our firm brings a unique perspective that enriches our culture and our work. If you believe you’d be a good fit, we’d like to hear from you!

Current Job Openings:

Project Architect – All Locations

To apply, please send your resume to


Learn more about careers at MMA!

Mackey Mitchell Architects, P.C. Mackey Mitchell Architects is a 39-person nationally-recognized architectural corporation with a small-firm culture and big-firm capabilities. At MMA, you’ll find the ability to help us write the next chapter of something great. We’re proud that our environment is one of mutual respect, autonomy, action, and accountability. Our firm is a member of the USGBC, and we strive to bring sustainable design principles into all our projects. We’ve been recognized by Architectural Record as one of “America’s Best Managed Firms,” and by St. Louis Magazine as one of the “25 Best Places to Work” in St. Louis. We are committed to career development and IDP training.

Mackey Mitchell is an equal opportunity employer. We prohibit discrimination or harassment of any type and afford equal employment opportunities to employees and applicants without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information

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Education Needs Robin Thu, 08 Apr 2021 17:05:02 +0000 What cultivates student success? Educators take the lead, but environment

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What cultivates student success? Educators take the lead, but environment plays a vital supporting role –⁠like a dynamic duo. Paired together, instructors and their classrooms are education’s Batman and Robin. When a global pandemic disbands the duo, students, and weary parents long for their reunion. With that time finally in sight, it is clearer than ever why teachers need their classrooms.

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Educators strive for greater engagement in their students, augmented by intentional learning space design. While curriculum identifies which skills should be learned, classroom environment shapes ability to learn.  Each student learns differently, but studying behavior reveals patterned responses to the environment. By understanding and mapping these behavioral responses, or ‘risks’ to learning, we can illuminate new design possibilities for student engagement.

The study of human behavior is a fascinatingly broad topic, so this post will focus on three of five elements that most influence learning: physical, sensory, and social. These three areas impact a student’s ability to absorb, process, and respond to environmental stimuli. What presents exciting new challenges for designers is the growing acceptance of classroom neurodiversity. Neurodiversity posits that varying brain functions and behavioral traits are part of a normal, natural variation in the human population (Stanford University Project). Diagnosing ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia, and other learning differences helps educators understand students’ learning ‘styles’. Although research on learning styles is inconclusive, many people identify with a certain way of learning. Whether visual, auditory, experiential, or other, variety is already acknowledged and accepted. Neurodiversity simply broadens this definition of normal.

Throughout Batman’s history, many different people fill the role of Robin. Each possesses unique skills that complement Batman’s in varying ways. The first Robin, Dick Grayson, is arguably the most friendly and outgoing, balancing out Batman’s brooding nature. Whereas Tim Drake is calm under pressure and able to objectively analyze situations. Although short-lived, Stephanie Brown brings a tenacious spirit, ready for battle. And like his father, Damian Wayne is stubborn, smart, and a capable fighter. Each is different, none are deficit.

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Recognizing natural learning variations challenges routine design thinking in favor of more inclusive environments. By doing so, we can select design elements that support physical, sensory, and social behaviors across the spectrum.


The Acrobat’s Moves

Dick Grayson grew up in a family of acrobats, learning to move effortlessly. As Robin, this skill allowed him to out-pace his opponents.

Physical behavior informs movement. One way to enhance intuitive navigation through space is with zoning. By setting up a clear order to each space, students can intuitively understand which activity takes place. For the design of a new Makerspace at Kennedy Krieger High School, a school for students on the Autism spectrum, we at Mackey Mitchell Architects worked closely with KKHS educators to align curriculum with design.  We began with the four-step ‘scientific process’ approach used in KKHS’s Makerspace curriculum: Define the Problem, Prepare, Try, and Reflect. This process became our zoning guide.

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By clearly defining each step in the process as a zone, students have a spatial map of the skills needed to define, prepare, try, or reflect. These zones can be reinforced with changes in flooring type, lighting, furniture, paint colors, and other elements. The ‘Define the Problem’ and ‘Try’ zones, which both have concrete floors, are divided by a carpeted ‘Survey’, or transition zone. This transition in flooring signals to students that a change in skill is needed, and gives a visual cue to prepare for the next step of the project.

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The Detective Sense

Tim Drake was not chosen to be the next Robin for his acrobatic skill. What Batman did see, were unmatched abilities to examine environments for clues and detect criminals.

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Sensory behavior engages surrounding. Any design element that affects the senses influences sensory inputs. These include materials, lighting, acoustics, temperature, and even smells. Careful selection will go unnoticed, but careless selection can distract. For instance, task lights illuminating work surfaces require the correct brightness level and color temperature to support visual comprehension or fine motor work. At Magnolia Speech School, our goal was to select lighting that reduced facial shadows. Because the students have speech and/or hearing impairments, many rely on lip reading, sign language, or other forms of visual communication. We studied several light throw diagrams and selected one with a ‘bat wing’ pattern for its horizontal, rather than downward, light cast. This drastically reduced facial shadows and allowed appropriate contrast levels for clarity while keeping our design intent.



The Social Leader

At 10 years old, Damian Wayne becomes the leader of a new team of Teen Titans. He may have kidnapped them to do it, but at least the youngest Robin brings them together for the greater good…right?

Social behavior forms relationships. Design for social behavior, the way students interact with their peers and teachers, requires extra care. This is especially true of active, collaborative learning spaces. Successful collaboration can and should take place in many forms. While one large active learning space is often the norm, offering variety is indispensable, especially for students who feel uneasy when interacting. At Kennedy Krieger, we incorporated a mix of seating options. Two individual ‘refuge’ zones were added to the ‘Try’ zone, allowing some students to work individually or with an instructor. Another area had tables with two or three seats to encourage small group work. These smaller tables could also flex to form seating for larger groups of five or six. These options encourage students to learn the nuances of collaboration in any setting, but also provide refuge for students who might need to first observe and process an activity before joining.

How can we turn an understanding of behavior into a repeatable process? While working with KKHS, we have begun to quantify the elements of behavior to produce a graphic representation of risk. Through this new ‘Risk Mapping’ process, we identify physical, social, and sensory risks and display them like heat maps overlayed onto a floor plan.  Because risks are unique to each student, we look to educators for guidance. With the best understanding of their learners’ needs, instructors can help identify anxiety-causing spaces, leading to tailored designs for any student group.  In a second blog post, we will more fully explore this process and the benefit ‘Risk Mapping’ brings to learning space design.

Educators can teach virtually. The pandemic has proven this possible, but at a price. At a high cost on engagement, efficiency, and enjoyment. Just as students thrive in the right environment, so do instructors. For example, zoning can remind and encourage teachers to adjust their teaching styles as much as it guides students. If teachers measure their own success by their students’ (something I think most educators would agree with), and behavior-influenced classrooms can facilitate greater engagement, then both student and teacher can enjoy more success, more often.  The more efficiently students learn, the greater the opportunity for teachers to impact additional learners.

Batman and Robin continuously evolve. They have to. Each situation introduces new adversaries, forcing the dynamic duo to adapt or risk crime-fighting failure. Educators and classrooms must do the same, with designers well postured to challenge the status quo. This pandemic encouraged a deeper exploration of behavior-led design. We have built upon our understanding of human behavior and are creating a repeatable process that can be tailored to any school or student group. By comprehending physical, sensory, and social anxieties, we can improve engagement and design better classrooms. Students with a broader spectrum of ability deserve to learn, in their own normal, natural way. The resulting classroom designs can make learning less ‘risky’, more equitable, and greater fun. Learners depend on a strong and brilliant Batman. To be truly effective, Education also needs Robin.

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MMA Joins the AIA 2030 Commitment Mon, 22 Mar 2021 19:27:34 +0000   Architects design in response to many levels of context

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Architects design in response to many levels of context – rooms in context to other rooms, the building in context to the site, the building and site in context to the greater community, and even the planet. Often, the greater the scale, the more complicated the response.

The building and construction sector is the single largest consumer of energy and producer of greenhouse gases in the US economy. With the threat of climate change, we are all challenged to respond to an issue the size of our planet at the scale of a single building. Addressing climate change is one of the most profound problems we face today, and as designers and builders, we share responsibility for finding solutions.

To that end, Mackey Mitchell Architects has joined the AIA 2030 Commitment to help reverse the role buildings play in contributing to climate change. Beginning in 2010, the American Institute of Architects developed a plan involving a series of targets and tools to help designers on the path towards carbon neutrality. At the heart of the 2030 Commitment is a challenge to improve building efficiency and reduce emissions to achieve carbon-neutral buildings by the year 2030. This effort involves using powerful simulation tools to analyze building design alternatives to optimize building performance. Using intelligent project modeling tools that simulate the energy efficiency of design options early and often in the design process, we are able to quickly inform clients on the relative impact design decisions have on long-term energy utilization, operational cost, and potential environmental impact.

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We will not, however, arrive at a carbon-neutral future through design alone. With 40% of the world’s electricity coming from coal generation, and coal accounting for 70% of carbon emissions from the energy sector, energy production must factor into our targets. Buildings must also pull energy from renewable resources whenever possible. This is a consideration of procurement; committing to the long-term future of infrastructure development and ensuring that these energy sources continue to receive the support they need to operate.

By joining the 2030 Commitment, we will educate others and work with our clients to mitigate negative environmental impacts and steadfastly pursue positive change in our buildings, sites, community, and planet.


“Historically, architects and builders have played the role of facilitators and executors that brought to realization the projects of visionary patrons, often enhancing and enriching the patron’s vision with their own inclinations, perspective, and knowledge … always with the overarching goal of achieving the best results possible. By joining the AIA 2030 Commitment, Mackey Mitchell extends that tradition by continuing the excellent service for our clients and encouraging a more sustainable path forward with them one project at a time.”

– Steve Emer, MMA President




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Sending off 2020 With Much to (Virtually) Celebrate! Fri, 22 Jan 2021 17:52:52 +0000 2020 was a year that brought us all unforeseen challenges

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2020 was a year that brought us all unforeseen challenges and interesting predicaments (ie. the great toilet paper shortage) that required extra creativity, including with our own operations. Not only was it important to rethink how we work, but also how we continue to build relationships within the firm, how we learn from each other, and very importantly, how we celebrate! In this blog post, we recap a year-end celebration like no other that was filled with laughs, awards, and promotions.

Celebrating in the age of COVID-19

For most of the year, the majority of our staff worked virtually and some never set foot back in our office after initially leaving in March (the ones who did, got to enjoy our clever safety signage). And as with many workplaces, the year-end holiday party is a celebration to look forward to – it’s the culmination of the year’s hard work, filled with eating, dancing, toasting to accomplishments, and building relationships. As the party loomed on the horizon, our staff rolled up their sleeves and put their heads together to plan a virtual version that, just like every year, would be something we remember forever.

Any good party requires good food, and this was no exception!  We filled boxes with goodies that each employee received before the party, which included delicious treats, candy, and ingredients to create their own charcuterie boards to have during the party. One of the things we all miss about being in the office is hearing the stories about projects that we might not be involved with, and also learning more about our co-workers through the process. To help substitute for those moments of camaraderie, this year everyone received a “major award” related to a fun anecdote about them that was included in their packages – everything from “Most Likely to Take Drum Solo Breaks Between Zooms” and “Best Project Interview From the Shower”.  One by one, staff revealed their award and we all shared good laughs as we heard stories behind the awards – ones that we might have missed otherwise.

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The party closed with an uplifting video including every MMA employee to help us all remember that things are looking up and we WILL see each other again in 2021!


MMA Staff Receive Promotions

Our holiday party traditionally includes staff promotions and we felt it was important to continue that tradition!  We are proud to announce the following promotions:

Jake Banton was promoted to Senior Associate! Jake joined our St. Louis office right after graduation from the University of Kansas in 2015, and we have been excited to watch his growth, both as an Architect and in his many community-focused endeavors outside of MMA. Jake spent most of this year working from his home in the West End neighborhood of St. Louis, but started spending a couple days in the office just before we closed again at Thanksgiving, earning him the “Shortest Return to Work Ever” award.

Trey Bartsch was promoted to Associate! Trey joined us in 2018 and serves as our Marketing Coordinator, playing a key role in project pursuits, visual communications and marketing initiatives. Trey’s experience in architectural marketing and his calm and steady demeanor are an invaluable asset to MMA.

Matt McKillip was promoted to Associate! Matt is a Project Architect (virtually) working in our Lawrence office since 2018.  With his background in construction and fabrication, Matt’s technical expertise won him “Most Likely to Become the Next Tom Moore”, a high compliment since Tom is renowned as our technical guru!

Shelli Ulmer was promoted to Senior Associate! Shelli brings over 20 years of project management experience and established client relationships to MMA.  She joined our Lawrence office in March 2020, just days before our offices were closed. Though some of us got to meet her in person, she won the “Best Project Manager We’ve Never Met” award!


Congratulations to Jake, Trey, Matt, and Shelli on your promotions! While our 2020 Holiday Party was memorable, we are looking forward to forging ahead into a new year with new opportunities.

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Disruptors Roundtable: Construction Forecasting During the Pandemic Tue, 10 Nov 2020 22:34:47 +0000 Disruptors Roundtable is an exploration of responding to disruption through

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Disruptors Roundtable is an exploration of responding to disruption through design. Our focus is on developing resiliency – using planning and design (specifically Design Thinking rather than simply crisis or strategic planning) to help institutions develop flexible, efficient, long-range solutions that leave them not only less vulnerable to the next crisis, but in fact in possession of better ways of teaching, learning, and living than before.

Episode One: Construction Forecasting During the Pandemic

Most of the initial focus of the COVID-19 pandemic was on the immediate impact to our daily lives and how we could quickly respond to quarantine to slow the spread of the virus. The effects of these disruptions slowly reverberate throughout the system and economy, typically having a delayed impact on the design and construction industry.  Several months into the pandemic, as organizations have adjusted to this “new normal”, we began to wonder about the impact to come.

Topics include:

  • Regional Issues and how different geographies have responded
  • The impacts to workforce and labor availability
  • Project scheduling and how the disruption to the supply chain will extend beyond the virus
  • Considerations related to private and public funding and implications of population shifts due to widespread work from home
  • Innovation that has been more widely embraced, such as modular construction

Join Kyle Wagner, Clay Phillips, and Merrilee Hertlein of Mackey Mitchell Architects, Gary Aanenson of CORE Construction, and Kyle Veater and Tom Strandberg of OCMI as we attempt to uncover what more the COVID-19 pandemic has in store with regard to design and construction.


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Get to Know Chris Wilson, MMA’s New Sustainable Design Coordinator Mon, 09 Nov 2020 15:21:38 +0000 Our climate is changing. Now more than ever, architects must

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Our climate is changing. Now more than ever, architects must do our part to overcome the broad and complex environmental challenges before us. As licensed professionals, we are charged with ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of all occupants in the places we, with our clients, conceive and construct. As designers, our understanding of what it takes to be good stewards of our planet is paramount. Doing our part to reverse the damage done will require us to continue to do the basics within our control, such as knowing which materials are renewable, minimizing waste of natural resources, and planning for maximum energy efficiency. We also need to continually ask ourselves “what more do we need to do?” Tomorrow’s buildings must perform exponentially better than the buildings of even the recent past. In short, these challenges require dedicated leadership to propel us towards advancing our role as vigilant stewards of the environment. To help Mackey Mitchell Architects on this mission, we are thrilled to welcome our Sustainable Design Coordinator, Chris Wilson. In this staff Q&A, we dive into Chris’s background and learn about how his interest in natural systems led him to this specialized role at a critical moment for sustainable design.

Chris Wilson


When did your interest in architecture and sustainable design begin and what inspired it?

My parents instilled in me an understanding of the mechanisms behind natural systems from a young age. Throughout my childhood, our family would visit my father’s office at the Missouri Department of Conservation headquarters. The office complex consisted of timber-framed buildings connected by floating glass bridges, framing large open courtyards, each representing various biomes of Missouri. Green roofs, rain gardens and accessible walking paths connected the buildings and site. We would often walk the site, learning from my parent’s extensive knowledge of flora and fauna, while acutely aware of the landscape design and building architecture. Because of how much time I spent there as a child, it was always in the back of my mind, and absolutely an inspiration through my early design education. Interestingly, I recently discovered that Mackey Mitchell was involved in the design of this building back in 1976! Later in life, this inspiration and interest in natural systems, construction, and design, influenced my decision to attend the University of Missouri, where I earned a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Design and followed that with a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Michigan’s School of Architectural and Urban Design. During my formal design education and practice, I find myself looking back to these early design influences and environmental lessons from my parents to inform projects.


How did your interest in sustainability shape your career and lead you to where you are today?

Early in my career, I often sought out projects with a unique technical or sustainable purpose. One such project was the development of what came to be known as the Portable Light Project. It was a small-scale illustration of what renewable power, design, and technology may be able to provide the planet on a broader scale. This was a fascinating project that opened my eyes to the potential of design as a means to enable underrepresented communities in the developing world. This project, and later building and master planning projects, really inspired and increased my interest in developing unique solutions to improve social and environmental conditions. Years later, I brought these lessons to a new role as a Sustainable Design and Construction Manager for the University of Missouri, and now at Mackey Mitchell, where I’m excited to have the opportunity to continue to deliver unique solutions for a wide array of projects around the country.


What do you find most interesting or exciting about the work that you do?

I find excitement in the process of discovery. There are many intersections in the traditional design process where sustainable design solutions can be found, such as the intersection of advocacy and technology.  Discovering ways to solve those longstanding problems through these intersections is very interesting. For example, the number of design tools available to provide building life-cycle cost and carbon cost has increased significantly over the last few years. These tools provide designers and clients with a broader view of potential sustainable benefit, while managing the cost of construction for a building project. Utilizing these tools appropriately on projects that include varying degrees of existing construction reveals the added benefit or cost to a project that may otherwise only consider first-cost and operational-cost.


What is your hope for the future of sustainable design?

My hope is that soon, sustainable practices currently promoted through design guidelines, institutional standards, and building codes will become so engrained in our field’s collective process, that building occupants and the general public regard the long-term economic, health, and environmental benefits as a given.

“Long before we ever knew we were headed for a global pandemic, that this would be the busiest hurricane season on record (30!), or that 49,149 wildfires would burn 8,719,721 acres this year (double the acreage burned in the previous season) …  MMA understood the imperative for architects to be environmental leaders. We also knew success would require the efforts of exceptional and dedicated people, which we are fortunate to have in abundance in our ranks. It is with great enthusiasm and excitement we welcome our Sustainable Design Coordinator, Chris Wilson whose focused efforts have already helped us advance our environmental initiatives. Welcome aboard Chris!”

– Steve Emer, MMA President


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Enhancing Student Success through Virtual and Physical Integration Thu, 24 Sep 2020 18:20:14 +0000 We are living in a time of immense DISRUPTION –

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We are living in a time of immense DISRUPTION – which offers the promise of profound INNOVATION. In order to ensure the health and safety of others, the circumstances of the current pandemic have required all of us to adapt to new ways of working and socializing. Searching for answers to the question “how do we keep moving forward?”, we’ve had to keep an open mind and be creative. Undoubtedly there have been, and will continue to be, unconventional solutions that will inevitably lead to both spectacular failures and exceptional achievements. We need to learn from both. The best ideas will take root and thrive … prompting us to wonder, why weren’t we doing this all along?

Last spring, colleges and universities had to abruptly shift to on-line learning. The upheaval was sudden and drastic. Most institutions were unprepared. Everyone struggled to make it work. Initially online classes and online socializing were a new adventure. But it didn’t take long for the novelty to fade as the limitations of remote 2D interactions became apparent. It’s not surprising that so many people chose to return to college this fall eager for campuses to fully reopen. Education tech company Top Hat published results from their recent nationwide survey of over 3,000 students, which found 85% miss the social experience with other students and 84% miss face-to-face interaction with faculty. Taking classes live-in-person and hanging out with friends IRL are seen as cornerstones of the college experience. Institutions know this to be true. Data shows that strong social connectivity on campuses impacts student retention, academic performance, graduation rates, and alumni engagement. Fortunately, “real” vs. “virtual” doesn’t have to be an either/or decision for institutions of higher learning. Indeed, many have adopted a hybrid model – implementing a blend of in-person and online options for academic, athletic, and social programming this fall.

Is there a silver lining in all of this disruptive change? New investments in virtual infrastructure and increasing online opportunities while being physically on campus, could yield huge returns on STUDENT SUCCESS for years to come. Beyond providing flexibility in a crisis, there are day-to-day benefits of upgrading facilities and investing in virtual technologies to augment the overall educational experience.

Ironically, PERSONAL DEVICES – long considered the bane of good old-fashioned face-to-face socialization – are tools that can contribute to an overall better and dynamic campus environment. Students have long embraced apps for keyless entry, mobile dining, parking, and laundry services. With greater levels of integration, new platforms like “Campus” provide a one-stop for everything from registration and orientation to academic support and emergency announcements. One seamless interface helps students navigate campus while addressing their wellness, academic, and social needs to improve overall success. Such technology offers convenience and saves time – two highly coveted resources for all students.

In addition to personal devices, it is exciting to envision the establishment of VIRTUAL HUBS dispersed across campus within various building types. These small flexible spaces are already relatively common in residence halls for private study, prayer, music practice, etc. With the right technology, these places would represent decentralized flexible blank canvases capable of meeting a wide range of virtual needs. By being located throughout campus, these connector hubs become easily accessible and support physical movement by encouraging students to get out of their bedroom. The construction investment would be generally small – essentially a repurposing of space that already exists. Some uses we imagine…

  • Soothing retreats with discreetly planned audio technology for piping in nature sounds or calming music and adjustable lighting … elements aimed at setting the mood for quiet reflection.
  • Private spaces to virtually and discreetly meet with a doctor or therapist for immediate personal care and wellness.
  • Intimate rooms for joining virtual study groups, work with a tutor, or consult with a mentor for regular academic support.
  • Personal gyms, possibly outfitted with exercise equipment and a screen linking the user to live classes, trainers, and other workout enthusiasts.
  • VR rooms, where students could strap on goggles to explore far off environments, imaginary landscapes, play games, or be transported across campus—perhaps to a concert, museum exhibit, or live sporting event.
  • Respite rooms that adopt principles Universal Design … such spaces would have the added benefit of addressing special needs of students with illness, limited mobility, or sensory triggers.
There are endless possibilities for how space can be utilized for a connector hub, including for counseling, music practice, and studying, as seen here. (click to expand)

There are endless possibilities for how existing rooms can be repurposed and better utilized for a virtual hub, including for counseling, music practice, and studying, as seen here. (click to expand)

How to respond to this DISRUPTION with radical INNOVATION? Clearly we know virtual technology cannot supplant being on campus and in-person interactions. But it should supplement and enhance being in person. Investing now to strengthen virtual connectivity on college and university campuses will not only help address the immediate health crisis, it will build long term flexibility and resiliency into the higher education system so that students are better supported when the next disaster comes. Beyond COVID-19, this is an opportunity to open a digital door for more students to easily access underutilized services. A virtual ONE STOP can bring a wide range of campus services directly to the student’s home or residence hall without the barriers of obscurity, distance, or stigma. Such investments might just result in a multi-dimensional campus experience enabling students to more fully take advantage of all their institutions have to offer.

Example: a meditation room transformed to a virtual hub for fitness classes. (click to expand)

Example: a meditation room transformed to a virtual hub for fitness classes. (click to expand)


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Flushing Away Old Bathroom Preconceptions Mon, 14 Sep 2020 17:26:49 +0000 Clarifying the benefits of shared single-user bathrooms in higher ed

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Clarifying the benefits of shared single-user bathrooms in higher ed residence halls

For college and university facilities decision-makers and residential life professionals, determining the right bathroom accommodation for first year student residents is a crucial contributor to creating successful residential environments – particularly in the face of the monumental challenges posed to occupant health during a global pandemic. While the cramped and institutional community bathroom designs that became standard issue over 50 years ago have long since fallen out of favor, the prevailing wisdom is to merely update the community bathroom model with slightly enhanced privacy through fixture compartmentalization and more spa-like design aspects. This is a common preconception rooted in concerns over cost and square foot efficiency. We have learned there is a more transformative solution that meets all the right value criteria – the shared single-user bathroom … which surpasses even retooled and updated versions of the traditional community bathroom in terms of efficiency, safety, privacy, flexibility, inclusivity, accessibility, and cost. To explain, we will delve into each of those aspects in more detail. First, we need to understand the planning principles involved in bathroom design.

How Many Plumbing Fixtures?

As residential life designers, we understand the importance of efficiency in all matters because it has such a big impact on cost. To maximize efficiency, the required number of plumbing fixtures must be determined.

In our experience working with multiple higher education institutions, the optimum baseline plumbing fixture to student ratio that is generally best suited for traditional residence halls (particularly for first year students) is 1:6. This ratio exceeds most building code requirements, but rarely do meeting code minimum quantities result in satisfactory results. The bathroom layout comparisons illustrated in this article are based on a hypothetical residential advisor staff population of 30 residents. Here are examples illustrating how to calculate the necessary plumbing fixture counts for both types of bathroom arrangements:

Traditional Community Bathroom Approach:

For 30 residents, we divide the population in half based on an equal gender split, so 15 divided by 6 = 2.5 (we must round up to 3 fixtures in each bathroom). Given the importance of gender inclusivity, at least one full single user bathroom should also be included for this population. The resulting plumbing fixture counts for this type of bathroom accommodation results in 7 showers, 7 sinks, and 7 water closets (21 total fixtures). One other consideration with this arrangement is the likelihood that the RA might be assigned to a single bedroom with a private bathroom, which will increase the total fixture count.

Bathroom configurations_1

Shared Single-User Bathroom Approach:

Using the same 30 RA population, we would divide 30 by 6 = 5 (gender parity and inclusivity is already satisfied with this approach). To augment the flexibility of this arrangement, we have found it works best to include two hand sinks near the bathroom area plus one restroom (with sink and water closet only). This results in more of a weighted distribution of plumbing fixtures that better caters to demand of residents – 5 showers, 8 sinks, and 6 water closets (18 total fixtures).

Bottom line – the needs of a student residential population are met more efficiently (occupying the same, or smaller floor area) with fewer plumbing fixtures (saving cost) and improved flexibility of use for the occupants.

Bathroom configurations_2_3


Single-user bathrooms offer a more private accommodation, which helps ease the emotional stress in young students as they transition from living at home to being on campus, but there are also clear benefits from an overall occupant health standpoint. In April of this year, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers published a document titled ASHRAE Position Document on Infectious Aerosols, which takes a deep dive into the topic of infectious aerosols. The smaller droplets of SARS-CoV-2 can remain airborne for up to three hours. The simple action of flushing a toilet circulates particles into the air making the multiple users in the traditional community bathroom vulnerable to contagions. Also, maintaining the proper social distancing recognized by ASHRAE in these settings is particularly challenging. In contrast, shared single-user bathrooms greatly reduce the vulnerability of occupants to cross-contamination via airborne droplets. Additionally, providing sinks in common areas, like hallways near the bathrooms, goes a long way in making hand-washing more visible, accessible, and convenient.

Bathroom Penn State

Flexibility + Inclusivity

Private bathrooms solve gender and inclusivity concerns in the fairest way possible. An institution no longer needs to assign residential communities, residential floors, or residential buildings as gender specific. Room assignments for residents can be tricky so eliminating a constraint from the equation goes a long way in helping to maximize flexible facility planning. There are hybrid design solutions that attempt to solve gender inclusivity like providing a private bathroom in addition to the community bathrooms to serve a residential community; however, residents quickly pick up on the preferences of fellow residents. Thus, hybrid solutions are far from being fair compared to the inclusivity of single-user bathrooms.


The 50% cluster rule of private bathrooms (IBC 2018, Section 1109.2, Exception 3) works wonders when designing efficient single-user bathrooms. This building code section states when multiple single-user bathrooms are clustered in a single location at least 50% of those bathrooms must be accessible. There are design tricks with separating accessible bathrooms with standard bathrooms that allow dimensions to be tightened and refined; thus reaching convincing efficiency numbers. The tightest standard bathroom is far superior compared to a fixture located in the stall of a community bathroom.


In terms of first cost, shared single-user bathrooms are either cost neutral or a cost savings compared to traditional community bathrooms. Much depends on the floor plan arrangement and space needed for the bathrooms. Long-term cost can be tough to predict accurately, but there are important design features that can be considered with an eye towards mitigating the ongoing costs of cleaning and maintenance:

  • Full height ceramic tile on all walls
  • Hose bibs below sinks
  • Easily removable drain covers (no special tools)
  • Flood-testing of all bathroom waterproofing installations during construction
  • Water-cleanable epoxy grout on walls and floors
  • Diverters and fixed shower heads in addition to hand-held devices in accessible shower stalls
  • Shower seats with legs
  • Floor-mounted water closets

Of course, each campus project has a unique set of circumstances and it may not always make sense to adopt the shared single-user bathroom model. But it is certainly worth considering. For anyone interested in learning more about the occupant usage and maintenance of this type of amenity, we are happy to connect you with knowledgeable housing and facility clients with whom we have collaborated who would be happy to share lessons learned. Feel free to comment and let’s talk!

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Returning to the Office: Back to the Future Tue, 07 Jul 2020 14:13:07 +0000 As architects, finding creative solutions to problems is at the

The post Returning to the Office: Back to the Future appeared first on Mackey Mitchell Architects.

As architects, finding creative solutions to problems is at the core of what we do, especially those centered around the spaces we occupy and the interactions those spaces encourage. When faced with coming up with the safest plan for allowing staff to return to work, MMA Principal Tom Peterson and staff put on their problem-solving caps and got to work. In this blog post, we outline the careful planning process we undertook, the resulting plans, and the creative ways we’re reminding staff of the new dos and don’ts when working in the office. We hope you will find this as a useful resource when you’re determining the best strategies for a safe return to office while keeping your implementation fun and lighthearted.

It has been over 14 weeks since we closed our offices and asked employees to work remotely. While many of our employees could effectively continue working from home, some needed or desperately wanted to be back in the office. After careful consideration, with employees’ health and safety the number one priority, firm leadership set June 8 for a small portion of employees to return to the office (RTO).

But which employees? Where can they work and be safely distanced? When should they return?

Our immediate task was to metaphorically “take the temperature” of our employees about their current working situation, similar to the way we use Design Temperature Taking with our clients when we begin to plan and design a new project with them. We started by creating a survey of 16 questions, which included asking staff to self-rate their work-from-home effectiveness and their desire to be in the office or to continue working from home.

Following extensive research from Kim Hughes, our HR Director, we developed a RTO protocol document which outlined what the firm has done physically and spatially, such as replacing the kitchen faucet with a true touchless faucet and removing chairs from conference rooms. The protocol also included new procedures for disinfecting, movement throughout the office, and safety practices that we would ask of individuals while they are in the office, such as wearing masks when not at their desk, and washing their hands immediately upon entering the kitchen. The document was sent to all employees, and any employee wishing to RTO was required to agree to the protocol.

Some employees offered to keep working from home, which we welcomed. The fewer people returning to the office, the safer we can make the space for others. With the desire to be as fair as possible, we used all the above information to work out a new seating layout using time and space as separations between employees working in the office.

rethinking office space

Knowing that viral droplets hang around in the air or on surfaces is a factor that must be considered; we determined that having day-to-day shifts put 12-16 hours of separation between different groups of employees. A short 2-question survey asked if anyone had days they could not be in the office, and if they preferred consecutive days of RTO. This informed us that two groups worked best: some employees RTO on Mondays & Tuesdays, others on Wednesdays & Thursdays, with Friday remaining to accommodate special circumstances.


Our office is an open plan “workbench” layout, and while we sit 8’ apart at the workbenches, everyone faces inward, meaning they face each other. In the new layout, we wanted a minimum of 15’ between any employee workspaces occupied on the same day, which meant some people would need to be relocated. Some employees who volunteered to continue working from home also offered up their desks as areas for relocation. With all the rules and preferences now gathered, the 3D-chess game of “who-comes-in-when-and-where” began. The goal to solving this puzzle: minimal moves with maximum separation.


Two plans were developed, one for each group, and a diagram was then created showing our seating arrangement with headshots of each returning employee placed at their current or relocated workstation. The diagram also gives staff the ability to toggle each “day” layer in PDF on and off, allowing everyone to see their workstation locations, their RTO schedule, and who else will be occupying the office on different days. One member of firm leadership described the plans as “nice and sparse,” and success was declared!

Seeing Signs

A final task before opening on June 8 was to create new signage for the new protocols. We carefully measured all conference rooms and public spaces, and using 6’ distancing guidelines, calculated how many employees could be in those rooms and areas. Signs posted on doors or on stands would serve as maximum occupancy reminders to everyone. But we also needed directional signs for our new one-way paths, and some general-purpose reminders about distancing. But how do we remind people to pay attention to them?

If you’ve been in retail stores or other businesses recently, you may have noticed displays that come off angry or bossy with orders like “STOP!”, “SIX FEET APART!” or other exclamations. While returning to work during a pandemic is serious business, our office signage did not need to be. Mackey Mitchell is a fun group, and a little bit of humor seemed appropriate and beneficial. A sign that yells at you adds stress, but a sign that makes you chuckle a bit can help calm your nerves. Humor CAN engage people’s attention, enhance memory, and improve willingness to change behavior – which was exactly what we needed to do – so the plan seemed like a wise one!

After the signage concept was decided, we tasked our Marketing Coordinator Trey Bartsch with creating them and he ran with it. His theme was television shows and movies, using images and memorable quotes from the characters. They are a big hit!

(click to expand)

Click here for the full set of signage

If you’re considering signage for your office, you can download ours for your own use! They are generic enough for any type of office to use, and our graphic design is simple and intended to be printed on standard 8-1/2”x11” paper without any trimming.

These challenging times have shown us that we are all facing similar challenges, and the exchange of ideas and solutions is more important now than ever. We hope you will find value in learning about our new RTO protocols, and we hope you too will share the solutions you may have discovered. We’re all in this together!

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Enhancing Visibility for Student Safety Thu, 18 Jun 2020 17:03:00 +0000 As experts in student life, we take a proactive role in understanding the

The post Enhancing Visibility for Student Safety appeared first on Mackey Mitchell Architects.

As experts in student life, we take a proactive role in understanding the complexities surrounding contemporary residence halls. Intrinsic to our process, we constantly seek to answer… “What are the challenges? What can we do to help? Is a drastic change needed or can we solve the problem with more economical solutions?” In this post, designer Marina Curac, with support from Principal Kyle Wagner, addresses a common objective that is a top priority among our higher ed residential life clients – ensuring student safety and security. Using our new residence hall project at Tennessee State University as a case study, she analyzes mindful design strategies that the team employed to address students’ security and safety.

When thinking about security, many people imagine thick walls, tall fences, guards, metal detectors, and extensive surveillance equipment. Grim fortifications may be fine for medieval castles or Fort Knox, but not for residential facilities intended to build community and feel like home. This desire to do better was shared by our clients at Tennessee State University, and it became a guiding axiom in the design of their new residence hall and dining facility.


The New Residence Hall Project at Tennessee State University.

The New Residence Hall Project at Tennessee State University (click image to learn more).

TSU’s new building has a rich program and is sure to be a bustling place with many people arriving for different activities and at different times. As such, designing for both safety and convenience became a challenge that we were excited to resolve. Yes, the building will have cameras and card readers, but the team wanted to develop an approach that emphasizes community, trust, and connectivity over barriers and technology—an approach that invites the student community to play an active part in their welfare and that of their neighbors. After testing many concepts, a strategy emerged based on one simple principle—visibility.

At first, this strategy was implemented through extensive use of glazing systems, controlling access while allowing occupants to see but also to be seen. Glass facilitates a visceral connection to nature, daylight, and views of the outdoors. It is no surprise why glassy lounges and lobbies are so desirable. But we did have to ask, “Does more transparency increase vulnerability?” This line of thinking led to conversations about community engagement, empowerment, and the value of establishing a series of visual control points.

The first visual control point a person entering the building will see is the reception desk. The main north and south entrances are positioned so both entries and the area between them can easily be monitored from the reception desk. Security staff have a dedicated space nearby, so they benefit from the same line-of-sight connectivity and can easily engage with happenings on the busy ground floor. Secondary control points occur in each of the social assembly areas placed within direct view of the reception desk and one another. This arrangement was inspired by the urbanist writings of Jane Jacobs, who championed a community-based approach to improving safety in American cities. She proposed the concept that “eyes on the street” was critical in strengthening community through direct visual contact and empowering occupants to take an active role in promoting a safe environment. At Tennessee State, we employed this strategy to outdoor spaces as well since generous window walls are provided to visually connect interior and exterior activities.

Left: Without being inconveniently obtrusive, the reception desk establishes its welcoming presence, monitors activities, and oversees main building entries. Right: Social nodes provide spatial break from corridors while fostering an empowered community with a strong sense of mutual responsibility. (click to enlarge)

Left: Without being inconveniently obtrusive, the reception desk establishes its welcoming presence, monitors activities, and oversees main building entries. Right: Social nodes provide spatial break from corridors while fostering an empowered community with a strong sense of mutual responsibility. (click to enlarge)

On upper floors, social areas likewise serve as visual control points. They tend to be glassy and open, creating welcoming community and campus-oriented spaces. The openness increases awareness and social responsibility while discouraging inappropriate behavior. Residential corridors begin and end at these social nodes, and most have intermediate lounges for additional control points along the way. They all contribute to a community-building network which fosters security through a sense of togetherness rather than intrusive measures.

Left: The front desk location was designed to allow staff to guard residents’ safety and security while being approachable, welcoming, and helpful. Right: Serving as visual control points, open social areas allow for Increased awareness without being intrusive. (click to enlarge)

Left: The front desk location was designed to allow staff to guard residents’ safety and security while being approachable, welcoming, and helpful. Right: Serving as visual control points, open social areas allow for Increased awareness without being intrusive. (click to enlarge)

A few months ago, I took an Uber ride, and the driver had a camera stuck on the car windshield pointing towards me. I immediately commented and asked about it. The driver’s response was, “The camera does not work. It is there to prevent people from doing stupid things.” Technology is an important part of res hall security, and it will play a role in TSU’s new building. But when we lean too heavily in that direction, the results can be oppressive and at odds with student success. In this case, the University and design team imagined a safe and secure environment in harmony with the student community, accomplished through thoughtful design around a simple organizing principle—visibility.

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