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Work is Play

Architect Shares What Inspires Him

Article by Sarah Knieff

Photography by Lucy Hawthorne

Originally published in Edina Lifestyle

OA Design+Build+Architecture is a small, award-winning architecture firm that strives to bring creative solutions to homes that reveal the potential for form and function.

We spoke with owner Michael Anschel about everything that inspires him, his Minnesotan roots and the firm.

OA is devoted to green building and urban living. What inspired this decision?

We are indeed devoted to sustainable and resilient building practices. Prior to starting the company, I was on course to become a genetic engineer and had spent a great deal of time studying ceramics for which a fair amount of chemistry is required. An interest and an awareness to better understand the products we use in the building industry resulted in selecting products that were less harmful and adopting protective strategies for the health of our clients and employees. As the field of building science evolved, there was a natural gravitation towards wanting a better understanding of how our buildings work, and the natural pursuit of a more efficient, durable and healthy home while also supporting the community.

Although each client may be different, what is your goal for every project you work on?

At OA, our goal is to tap into our client's unique style and way of being. We want to craft a space that is tailored to how they live and interact with the space as well as reflect their personality. A focus on function might result in something efficient, a focus on form might result in something beautiful, and a focus on form and function might result in something that works well and is beautiful, but still lacks a soul. We want to design and build spaces that are alive with our client’s essence.

What is your design process like?

Our architecture and design process starts with an initial meeting to determine if the four of us; the client, the home, the budget and the OA Team are a good fit. 

Then we enter the first phase of design called programming, where we measure the home, build a CAD model, check into local zoning ordinances and code provisions to perform a feasibility study. This is a key step in making sure that we’re not drawing something that can’t be built. 

The next phase is schematic design, the fun part! We will sketch ideas to share with the client and get feedback starting with broad stroke general layout and form, and then slowly refine those, each revision building on the last, with greater detail. This iterative process is highly collaborative within our team and with our clients. We’re definitely not the kind of firm that sketches in a void and brings you three choices to choose from. 

Once we’ve got the general concept nailed down, we do a preliminary estimate to ensure we’re on course. Then we move into material selections, mechanical systems design, and finally, we produce a full set of drawings for construction that are permit ready.

As a native Minnesotan, what do you love about working in the area you grew up in? 

I grew up in Linden Hills, back when it was a bunch of artists and teachers who had bonfires on the boulevard for Halloween. I went to South High, taking the 21A to and from school, and loving the rich diversity of the city. I didn’t realize it when I was young, but the diversity of housing stock also took root. From the Victorians to the Gothic Farmhouse, to the Arts and Crafts Bungalows to the Sears four-square. There is so much to love about working on these old homes, each of which has a slightly different story to tell. 

What do you do for fun in Minneapolis and Edina?

What do I do for fun? We’re an outdoors family. Downhill skiing in the winter. Rock Climbing, kayaking, and hiking in the summer and fall. Concerts at the Harriet Bandshell as often as possible, biking on the grand rounds, movies in the park – there is a nearly endless list of things to enjoy in this area!

You lived in China and Japan for several years after high school. How has it shaped your business?

The influence of living in China and Japan is something that comes through my work in ways I’m not always aware of. There is definitely an awareness of nature and a desire to incorporate those patterns and textures into the projects. Learning the beauty of balance in asymmetrical design, which creates a much richer and timeless composition, the value of thirds, and when to relax and let the pencil wobble a little has been very important in my work. For a company, the values of patience, practice and working as a team in a non-competitive environment creates a positive collaborative culture. Work should be fun and playful -- it's not all about stressing to the next deadline.

You’re an active participant in the professional building community. Why is this important to you?

Being active in the professional community is extremely important to us. I think it is our obligation to the industry to help nurture and grow our peers, and work to improve the industry as a whole. In 2002, when we helped lead the development of our state residential green building standard; GreenStar (which now serves the six-state area), we also went on to train hundreds of builders, remodelers and architects on the principles of green building and how to successfully navigate a certification. It changed the trajectory of building in this state and the ease of building green. 

One of your passions in life is being a cellist – tell us more about that.

Music is a big part of my life. I’ve been playing cello for 44 years, and during COVID, the music room, surrounded by guitars, became my home office. Music is just another language. It has movement, texture, accents, and tells a story. The lines we draw on paper are similar, and the experience of entering and exploring an OA home should have those same qualities. The vibration of the strings that evokes emotion can also be felt walking through a beautiful space. At an open house recently, someone came up to me after having toured the home and said, “There are so many things taking place, so many colors, so many lines, so many finishes – and yet they are all working together. It is like walking through a symphony!” It was one of my favorite compliments because it captured so perfectly what we are trying to do.

OA Design Build | | (612) 789-7070.

  • Michael Anschel
  • Michael Anschel
  • Michael Anschel and General Manager Michelle Little.
  • Michael Anschel and General Manager Michelle Little.
  • OA Team