By Brittan Jenkins

As the managing design principal with Ankrom Moisan’s Seattle office, Jennifer Sobieraj Sanin takes us through some of her favorite projects and provides insight into new trends in architectural design as it relates to the unique geography of Seattle.

Ankrom Moisan, Q&A, Seattle, Puget Sound, Washington
Jennifer Sobieraj | Photo: Ankrom Moisan

What is Ankrom Moisan known for?

Ankrom Moisan has been a leader in multifamily housing for over 20 years, and many know us specifically for our work in the Pearl District [in Portland]. We’ve gained a lot of traction in new market segments over the last few years and are recognized widely in seven sectors: mixed-use, student housing, senior housing, affordable housing, hospitality, workplace, and healthcare. When clients talk about us, though, they don’t ramble off our core project types—they recognize us for our people and our approach, and I think it’s our unique design approach that is winning us projects up and down the West Coast.

What do you have in the pipeline now?

We’re really excited about the healthy mix of project types in the pipeline right now. The addition of our San Francisco office this past summer has strengthened our ties down the West Coast, and we’re working on everything from large transit-oriented developments to small workplace tenant improvements. Our Seattle healthcare team has been active in the University of Washington Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center. Mercy Othello Station, an affordable housing development for Mercy Housing Northwest, will be completed in March. My team, co-led by David Kelley, is working on a variety of towers, including 620 Terry (senior), 5th & Lenora (mixed-use) and the Tacoma Convention Center Hotel. It’s the urban in-fill sites that we’ve been really focused on, and we’re adapting to different project types that might not typically populate high-rises.

Aside from the official city processes required before a project can move forward, what kind of research and planning do you do prior to starting a new project?

Data drives the entire design process. We spend a lot of time on the front-end gathering market-research, defining demographics, conducting view analyses, and more, before we even start drawing. This allows us to eliminate options when we sit down to create. It’s a slow process, but our clients recognize that data-driven form leads to projects that are successful in the long term.

What do you see as the next big trend(s) in architectural design?

We’re seeing lines blur between project types. Many clients are now exploring combinations of senior and affordable housing, affordable and healthcare, hotel condo over retail—the list goes on. Never before have we seen so many opportunities for our staff to collaborate across sectors and share their expertise across project types. Ten years ago, developers wanted us to collaborate across disciplines, which led to the creation of our Branding & Identity team. Now we see developers collaborating with each other to bring crucial services together into one building or site.

What are some of your favorite buildings you’ve worked on in Seattle?

How could you ask me to choose a favorite child? The excitement I feel for each project I work on is what drives me. Every new opportunity challenges me to learn from my past experiences and grow—but just because you know more when you’re raising your second child doesn’t mean you are any less proud of your firstborn, or that they are any less successful.

If you had to pick just one, what would your dream project be?

The key characteristic that defines my “dream project” is authenticity. It is extremely rewarding when a project presents challenges that organically lead to innovation, pushing design while remaining true to the character of the neighborhood.

What is your team doing to create more purposeful architecture?

Each project is driven by a concept or story that relates directly back to the experiences of the end user. Through an integrated design approach with our interior designers on housing projects, or implementing Lean design tools in healthcare and workplace, we’re always thinking about what it will be like to live, work, play, and heal in the environments we’re designing. The end user is the common factor when architects and developers partner, and they drive the success of the project in every way.

As we’re currently experiencing, Seattle has its fair share of grey and gloomy days, what is Ankrom Moisan doing to incorporate outdoor spaces in a way that works for residents and tenants?

It’s easy to buy into the gloomy Seattle stereotype, but at Ankrom Moisan we tend to see through the clouds. In every project equity of light is crucial for health and wellness indoors, and outdoor amenities benefit residents of any building. However, coming from Texas, my perspective is a little different. Sure, there might not be as many warm days, but, instead of shuffling from air conditioned space to air conditioned space, I’ve found that the Pacific Northwest has an unending supply of fresh air and outdoor activities. When I’m designing, I look for every opportunity to provide access to fresh air to improve quality of life. Additionally, because Seattleites go to nature instead of expecting nature to come to them, we like to include amenities that accommodate equipment for the outdoor activities locals seek out on the weekends.

How’s Seattle doing in terms of sustainable design?

There’s always work to be done, but Seattle is certainly leading the country and sustainability is ingrained in our lifestyle. Our energy code has set an impressive baseline for sustainability, and Seattle continues to push that through programs such as the Living Building Challenge, in which we’re thrilled to be participating. Dense cities such as Seattle also benefit from a structure that is inherently sustainable. The proximity of buildings, services, and public transportation, enhanced by the upzoning we’ve seen, organically creates more sustainable communities.

What sets Seattle apart from other markets in terms of design?

One of the most exciting differentiators is our waterfront, and it’s a game changer that the Viaduct is coming down. There are so many opportunities growing out of the uninterrupted connection that downtown Seattle will have to Elliott Bay—we’re truly redefining the waterfront experience. Other innovations in our transportation systems are driving the market as well, such as the Link light rail expansion. Enhanced connectivity is creating new opportunities for transit-oriented developments and changing the landscape of how people live, work, and play.

What can we expect in the future from Ankrom Moisan?

You can expect to see us continue to grow: geographically, intellectually, and personally. Ankrom Moisan has always been nimble, successfully adapting to changing markets and communities, but our focus on elevating design is helping to shift us into the role of influencer. At every level of the company we foster idea creation and innovation, seeking continual improvement, and because of that, every day is different from the last. In other words, expect the unexpected!