Design thinking is crucial, but relationships matter most at ESG

Esg architecture minneapolis

Oct 2019

Procuring long term partnerships through relationships-first mindset, with Aaron Roseth & Ann Fritz, partners at ESG Architecture and Design in Minneapolis

On this episode I’m speaking with Aaron Roseth & Ann Fritz, partners at ESG Architecture and Design in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Aaron joined the company 15 years ago and was made president in 2017. Ann joined ESG as an intern in 2004 – same year as Aaron – and has since become the Director of Interior Design.

North loop green hines minneapolis

ESG’s foundation is built on strong relationships paired with an open-minded and creative outlook. The firm recently began the Minneapolis-based North Loop Green 3 project, a third phase to the North Loop Green project that will include elements of housing, office, and retail.

Be sure to support this podcast by subscribing and reviewing! Subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.

Podcast Transcript

Chris Arnold: Welcome back to the Transforming Cities Podcast. Each episode highlights ideas around rethinking the way cities are evolving. We discuss planning, design, technology, development and other fields that contribute to the urban experience.

Ann Fritz: We're real people and we're transparent. I also think that's part of our success with our clients and what draws them to us, is because we're relatable. We'll talk about real life stuff as much as design. We're equally passionate about both parts of our lives.

Chris Arnold: On this episode, I'm speaking with Aaron Roseth and Ann Fritz, partners at ESG Architecture and Design in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Aaron joined the company 15 years ago and was made president in 2017. Ann joined ESG as an intern in 2004, the same year as Aaron, and has since become the Director of Interior Design.

Chris Arnold: ESG's foundation is built on strong relationships, paired with an open minded and creative outlook. The firm recently began a Minneapolis based North Loop Green Three Project. A third phase to the North Loop Green Project that will include elements of housing, office and retail.

Chris Arnold: A few quick notes before today's episode. If you enjoy the podcast, please share this track and others on your social accounts to people you think would be interested. Also, please rate it on iTunes or other platforms where you listen. This is how we grow, and it's much appreciated. This podcast is driven by Authentic Form and Function. We're a design and technology studio working on tools and platforms to improve the urban space. You can find out more online at authenticff.com.

Chris Arnold: Finally, we want to hear from you. Email your feedback and ideas of who else we should speak with to podcast@authenticff.com. I'm your host, Chris Arnold. Let's jump right in.

Chris Arnold: Aaron and Ann, thank you so much for joining me today.

Ann Fritz: We're glad to be here.

Aaron Roseth: Thank you for having us.

Chris Arnold: One thing that is specifically unique about this episode is that it is the first time that we're having two guests on the show from the same group. Certainly how you found yourselves working together isn't a one size fits all story. I would like to start with that. So Ann, tell us a little bit about your early days that has led you to ESG.

Ann Fritz: Well, I've been here about 15 years now. Aaron and I started within 6 months of each other. I think looking back when we first met, I was in my early 20s, you were early 30s. I don't think we ever thought we'd end up where we are.

Ann Fritz: I grew up born and raised in Minnesota. I had the idealic upbringing. My mom was a high school English teacher. My dad worked for 3M, a Minnesota-based company. I was a classically trained ballerina. My brother was an Eagle Scout. We had the corner lot, with the dog, in the suburbs. That whole deal.

Ann Fritz: But I always, always loved art. I always looked at space differently, so it was a natural career path for me. I would steal my brother's castle Lego set and build the entire thing before he even got a chance to open the box. I would design where all of the rooms went in our blanket forts. I could care less about what Barbie and Ken were doing and rearranged all my friends' furniture in their dollhouses.

Ann Fritz: If I got grounded, I'd use it as an opportunity to redesign my entire bedroom before I was let loose by my parents. And when I went to collage, I prided myself on having the best dorm room on campus with three sources of incandescent light, and throw pillows. I'm sure my roommates hated me. It's always was kind of a natural progression.

Chris Arnold: Where'd you end up going to school?

Ann Fritz: I went to a very tiny private liberal arts school called Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, where I majored. I have a Bachelor in Arts in Painting, and then I went onto school for interior design after that.

Chris Arnold: Wow. Did any of your design expertise particularly blossom while you were in school? I know you mentioned having that interior design knack, but did anything else surface at that time?

Ann Fritz: I think then I was really focused on the Fine Arts in general. Color, composition, all those things, art history I loved. But after college, I went to Italy and lived there for a summer and studied Interior Design Architecture and Landscape Architecture and how they all relate within a city. That's when it really sunk in that I wanted to make that a career.

Chris Arnold: Aaron, let's pause and jump over to you. Where did things get started for you as a young person?

Aaron Roseth: Sounds good. Well, I certainly worked on blanket forts, as well. I wasn't grounded, I don't think, as much as Ann. But I was raised in Wausau, Wisconsin, a small town in central Wisconsin. It's a farm town that has grown up many folds since I've been there over 20 years ago.

Aaron Roseth: My father was a Lutheran pastor. My mother was a kindergarten teacher. My two brothers really took their careers in my parents' direction in terms of teaching. They're both professors now. So I was a little bit of the black sheep. But early on I was in a small neighborhood that was developing housing very quickly. There was a local company called Wausau Homes that would build prefabricated unitized pieces of housing and fly them in or truck them in and then fly them in and staple them together. I watched this from five years old through my entire upbringing. Not only our little community of maybe 20-30 houses, but all over Wausau. That was an incredible influence. The Lego phenomenon of houses coming together was certainly a huge influence of what I was looking at throughout my upbringing.

Aaron Roseth: I went to The University of Minnesota for undergrad and grad. It was a very theoretical school, which I loved at the time. I thought I was much smarter than I am now, or than I think I am now. But it was a great way to open my eyes to concepts and ideas that the world was much bigger than Wausau, Wisconsin.

Aaron Roseth: During that time, I had the opportunity to travel a lot. I went around the world several times, which was another huge part of certainly my upbringing and looking at the world a little bit differently.

Chris Arnold: Yeah. Having that opportunity to travel quite a bit while also having that theoretical background, the schooling of University of Minnesota, do you recall a specific time period or maybe a moment in time where some of the clarity came about with regards to architecture? Is there anything that you can pinpoint or look back on that you can say, "Yeah, that was the time period for me."?

Aaron Roseth: I think there were many moments. I didn't just travel Europe. I traveled Asia and many other places that were completely different from each other. What it did, similar to the Liberal Arts education of the undergrad at the University of Minnesota, is just open my mind to something that I had never experienced in the small little town. And coming from, again, a Lutheran pastor and a kindergarten teacher, we didn't have a lot of money growing up at all. So besides history books and great art books, that was about the extent of what I knew about the rest of the world until I started to travel.

Aaron Roseth: I think we'll talk about this later in this podcast, but one of the things that has influenced Ann and I so much, and the rest of the partners in this company, is that worldly experience. I think that we love to ... When we go to different cities for our work and for our craft, we love to tour it and love to get to know it, which is incredibly important to the ultimate building projects and stories that we tell with our buildings. So I think just early on, traveling and getting to know people that were so different than me opened my mind in a way that I'm incredibly grateful for.

Chris Arnold: Yeah. How about Ann for you, when did you feel like interior design was the path? I mean I guess if you take a step back to what you just told us, maybe it was when you were building forts and Legos and working with your childhood toys. But was there a moment for you when you thought, "Okay. This is it. This is what I'm going to be doing."?

Ann Fritz: I really think it was post-college. Well, A, when you tell people you're a Fine Arts major, they all say, "Well, good luck making money at that." After school, I went back and I went to a technical college. So unlike Aaron's more theory based design study, it was very industry hands on based for interior design. I absolutely loved it, but I think Italy is the experience for me that really triggered that.

Ann Fritz: I loved how the context of anything in Europe relates to the things around it. The Piazza is connected to the palace or the church or the cathedral, which is on access with the gardens, straight back, which is on access with the main central part of the city. Everything is laid out for a reason. I think that's one of the things that ESG really does well with our projects as a whole. We feel like architecture should be contextual. Anybody can design an amazing, worthy building that's an icon that stands out on its own. That's one way to look at it. But I think we, maybe it's our Midwest humble upbringing, but we lack that ego. Instead, we want to do what's right for the city. I think the exterior and interior should talk to each other. That just all started to really make sense the more I traveled outside of little St. Paul, Minnesota or Lamoni, Iowa. Or in Aaron's case, Wausau, Wisconsin. I think he's right. We always look to the locations we're in to speak to us and inform our designs.

Chris Arnold: Yeah. I feel like that's a really strong segue into something that I've noticed a lot about the two of you and the work that you do, is the emphasis on the greater perspective and the greater context of a project. That really trickles down to the relationships that you have with your clients and the relationship building. That seems like a really unique part of the work you do, but also the part of your friendship that stands out is just how similar the two of you are in terms of thinking about that and approaching that in a similar way.

Chris Arnold: I think you've told me on a couple occasions, and I've actually heard this on a few occasions that you actually get to the point where you begin to finish each other's sentences at this point. With that in mind, I'm curious how you met and how closely did your careers begin at ESG, because I think that's a fun story? So Ann, how about we start with you and how you found yourself in ESG in the early days.

Ann Fritz: Sure. I started here as an intern in 2004. I believe I started in November, and Aaron started the summer just before, so within months of each others. He quickly moved up the ranks and is now president of our company. Before I knew it, I'm now Interior Design Director, and we're both partners with a very talented group of people.

Ann Fritz: But we worked on a condo project together. The first project we both ever were assigned to at ESG. We were on the same team. I think we just started to look out for each other. We became quick allies. We speak the same language. We've been through a lot, I think, with the recession and just also just general growth in our careers. Both being the kind of success oriented people that always want to do more, I don't think we're ever satisfied. We always want to grow. We can't help ourselves. We really care about what we're doing and we love people.

Ann Fritz: I think the way we were raised, Aaron always tell me, "Ann, it's not what you say, it's how you say it." Because his mom always told him that, and I call him out on that as well. We keep each other in check. We've become really good friends because we've had to hit the pavement together. We speak the same language and we complete each other's sentences because we pitch together so often, especially coming out of the recession. I've spent countless hours in the backseat of an Uber with Aaron, listening to him on conference calls. He has heard me do pitches over the phone in the Sky Lounge at the airport. We've traveled together with our families or hang out at his cabin with our kids and spouses, so I think there's a lot of respect and camaraderie but also this central DNA that we both share

Ann Fritz: But it's not just us. I think our partners as a whole it's just a part of the ESG culture and the leadership here that we just ... We're real people and we're transparent. I also think that's part of our success with our clients and what draws them to us, is because we're relatable. We'll talk about real life stuff as much as design. We're equally passionate about both parts of our lives.

Chris Arnold: Ann, let's rewind just a couple of years, and tell me what was the make up of your team when you started out in your early 20s?

Ann Fritz: Actually, I was hired as an intern and there was only one other interior designer at the time, who was my boss. We grew quickly because of the housing boom to have about nine interior designers. The recession hit, and I slowly watched the people I came to love and respect pack their desks in brown boxes, a couple at a time every few months. Our firm went from 93 people to 21, in a matter of two years. I know we weren't alone in that, as our industry all suffered through the recession. So our interiors team went from nine to one. That was just me alone.

Ann Fritz: I was pregnant with my second baby and was wondering what was next. Luckily, we had enough of our toe in the water in the public sector of projects where we were able to sustain a team of just me plus one other person to help on contract. Then as I got back, we started to grow. We started to diversify. We started to look at things in other states and look at other market sectors outside of housing and hotels, but also office. Our interior design team grew because I kept needing help and I kept saying, "I'm going to hire people that are smarter and more talented with more experience, because I don't have any time to train them." I would raise my hand and shoot off the red flare gun and get more help. Now we have 34 interior designers including a design partner for myself, so there's two of us that co-direct our team. We're rocking it and it's been great.

Chris Arnold: Right. Yeah. That's a huge growth trajectory and starting from humble beginnings certainly. Aaron, how about you? When you look back at that time period in the early 2000s, what was that induction process or what was that evolution process for you coming into ESG and learning the team, learning the ropes and certainly becoming fast friends with Ann?

Aaron Roseth: Well, starting in the early 2000s, I was watching ESG from another company do amazing projects. There are some projects that were built during that early time, even before Ann and I came to ESG that were showstoppers in Minneapolis. In other words, they were creating a whole new kind of architectural vocabulary that nobody had seen in the Twin Cities. 301 Kenwood and several others, which were early condominiums are still showing as good as they did the first day they were built. Just amazing landmark legacy projects.

Aaron Roseth: I thought to myself while I was at a different firm, "I want to be part of something like that," because it was so transformative. And then relating it back to my early history of traveling and whatnot, that's what I was seeing around the world. I wanted to get to know this company, which was the reason that ultimately I ended up coming here.

Aaron Roseth: In terms of Ann and I, we do have a special relationship. Her family is as close to my family as ... We're incredibly close together. Our kids know each other and play together well. But that isn't just Ann and I, that is true for many of our partners and many of our employees and many of our clients. I think, we talk about it a lot, of what is important to us and what we value about ESG and the company. If you asked of the 20 partners we have, most of them would have that in their answer in terms of it's about relationships. To us, we're not here that long on earth and we better make the most of it while we're here. Being surrounded by people you love and care about is incredibly important. But work can always be there and the work is equally important.

Aaron Roseth: But there's something special that comes out of deep, close relationships while you're developing it. Most of our projects are between $30 million and $100 million that take a year and a half to three years to build. So if you're surrounded by people during that time that you're not getting along with, it's just toxic. Life isn't worth it in my opinion, if it goes that way.

Chris Arnold: Yeah. Let's talk about something that has to do with relationships and certainly something that has to do with the evolution of a business. We've alluded to it a bit so far, but I want to jump into the deep end of the ESG first and second generation, as I will call it. I think this is a really unique aspect and unique story to ESG in how the original partners built the business and now how the business is moving forward. Maybe we can start with you, Aaron, and walk us through how that team has evolved over time and what that looks like today. I know that there's quite a bit of story there, so I'd love to jump in.

Aaron Roseth: That sounds good, Chris. Ann started to talk about it a little bit. But in 2005, which was our previous peak, we were at 93 people. I still remember the day that Lehman Brothers collapsed. We had within two weeks of that coming on the news, we probably had 50% or more of our projects go on hold. The projects ended up dying. It became 75% and 80% and 90%. It was an incredibly scary time. One of the founding partners, David Graham, told me during this period, Aaron, and this is post rationalization or post understanding, but that I received a PhD during that time of how to run a company. I certainly think of it that way now, of the lessons learned.

Aaron Roseth: But jumping back, during those peak periods, I talked about some legacy projects that were built and incredible things that were transformative to Minneapolis and many other cities in the Midwest. David and Mark really built their careers in the Midwest and were very successful at it. But during the recession, we rolled up our sleeves and did what we could to find projects just to keep ourselves alive.

Aaron Roseth: But shortly after that, as we started to find some successes and the economy got better, the partners, we had several retreats. Every day discussions about what we could be doing differently and what kind of lessons learned we learned from the recession. One of the discussions was whether or not we go after a different market.

Aaron Roseth: Our core markets are office, hotels and residential, and all varying levels within each one of those. So we do everything in office from tenant improvement to large multi million, $100 million office buildings ground up. Within residential, we'll do anything from senior housing to student housing to market rate housing to condominiums, co-living, et cetera. In hospitality, I think we've done every brand that's out there, including unbranded hotels, which are Ann and my favorite things to do.

Aaron Roseth: Anyway, we said those three core markets are ... We're really good at it. We have a brain trust of partners and employees that love doing it, and the Midwest knows us very well within those markets. So we said, "Okay. Instead of going into K-12 or hospitals or something that we didn't know, and making a big gamble of hiring an expensive principal to come in and run that market for us," we said, "Let's just stay in our core markets. We know them well. We love them. We're passionate about them. They inform each other." I'll talk about that more in a little bit. But we stuck to our core designs and projects that we've done.

Aaron Roseth: But we said, "Let's go geographic." Earlier Ann was talking about how we got on a plane and we really, whether we liked it or not, we spent lots of hours and we got to know each other very well during that time. But coming out of the recession we had an early goal of just getting into one or two or three other states that, again, our founding principles weren't necessarily in. Thankfully, we found a lot of success for it. We had a goal a few years ago of trying to reach 50% of our revenue outside of the Midwest or Minnesota in particular. We reached that in 2018, about two years before that goal of 2020. We're very proud of that and it continues to grow. I think we're in 28, 29 states right now and counting.

Chris Arnold: Yeah. Ann for you, how did you experience that period as well? I mean from an interior design perspective, it sounds like your team went from very few to quite a few nowadays, but talk to me about that growth period and what that looked like for you as you were building your part of the team too.

Ann Fritz: Well, I think design has changed where the inside matters just as much as the outside. And the structural engineers and the civil and the landscape, there's so many people that work to make a building happen. But people want an experience.

Ann Fritz: Like Aaron said, whether it's office or hotel or multi family housing, everybody wants their hotel to feel like their favorite cool, restaurant/bar, that favorite bar to be in their office lobby, and their lobby to be as comfortable as home, and vice versa. So there became a new importance or strength or value for interior design.

Ann Fritz: I think when I first started here, ESG didn't have the history of the talented interior designers that we have today. Our interior design team has helped shape what a client can experience, what a user can experience when they walk into one of our buildings. Our architectural team and leaders, like Mark and David that Aaron mentioned, really took hold and valued that. I think old school architects stereotypically may think of interior designers as a separate class or a step down, or not as important, or just dare I say the word, decorators? We hate that. Don't call us that. We get really mad. But I think they value that and they see it as value add and an asset to our projects and also another revenue source. That has been huge.

Ann Fritz: I've been in meetings with David, David Graham, The G, he'll say, "It's all about the interiors you know. That's where things are going." He used to talk more about the architecture. I think he loves both. But the fact that he now sees both as a really important part of what we do, has been huge. We owe so much to Mark and David. Like Aaron said, they created this amazing platform for us. They always just say, "Just do what's best for ESG," rather than, "Just do what's best for me." I think that's how we look at it as we start to make decisions moving forward, not only for our current set of partners, but also the staff that will someday step into our shoes. We hope that the transition is as graceful.

Chris Arnold: Yeah. That is actually another unique aspect of ESG. Let's talk about that, the generational shifts. One of the things that is cool about the now, is that you and your leadership team is collectively beginning to carry the torch, so to speak. Right? So it's currently being handed off to the new leadership, moving from generation one to generation two. And Ann, you rode into, "One day that'll be generation three." Why is that so unusual in the industry?

Aaron Roseth: Well, I'll start. It is unusual. We have many examples in the Twin Cities area that not only isn't going well, but coming out of the recession a few literally imploded because either they weren't able to get organized during the recession or literally it was just an unfortunate time where people were at the end of their careers and they didn't do any transition planning early on in the company.

Aaron Roseth: We started it about 10 years ago. Mark Swenson, the S of ESG, is in his 70s and David is in his mid-60s. The G of ESG. The E unfortunately died early on when they both started the company. There were other partners as well that were in their late 60s, mid-60s that were part of this 10 year conversation. Anyway, long story short is David and Mark were open to it from day one in terms of Mark always ... One of the lines he always says is, "We could've sold the company tenfold to some asshole in Boston, but we decided to keep the family going." So it's very important for them that their legacy is not just about cash and cashing out. It's about what they've done to instill values and design discipline and design principles in our company in a way that all of us have inherited and believe in as much as they did and are taking it in a new direction. We are very proud of that.

Aaron Roseth: One of the reasons that it happened in comparison to several other companies that aren't making it happen are David and Mark weren't overly greedy with where our stock value was. We aren't a publicly traded company. It's all an internal stock, but we do our own valuation and vote on it each year. Thankfully, because they knew that they weren't going to sell out to somebody else and they knew that it would be difficult for architects and interior designers to buy into a company that is expensive, they kept it artificially low.

Aaron Roseth: During that time there was other ways of compensation that we were able to take care of them so to speak, but nevertheless, big picture, they allowed stock to be lower than the value. Again, some Boston firm or some other company buying us out. So it's very fortunate for us. Any one of us probably could've started our own company because we all have a dire entrepreneurial mentality about the way that we exist and the way that we run the company now. But it wouldn't have the kind of richness that it does because of what we learned from Mark and David, and where we're taking it. So not only the richness, just the intellectual kind of knowledge and projects and everything else. We're very fortunate because of it.

Chris Arnold: Ann, I think you mentioned once that you feel like the baton has been passed and it feels like you're literally running with it down the track. I'm curious how this transition has felt for you from an interior design perspective and a storytelling perspective knowing that so much of ESG's work is very story rich and experience focused.

Ann Fritz: Well, I do feel like we're running at times, but we love that. I think if we were meandering, we'd get bored. That's what's so exciting is there's always a new story to tell. Every project is a story and for us, it's based on where the project is located, the demographic, the history of the site or the history of the building if it's a renovation.

Ann Fritz: Also, the program that we're trying to achieve, what the clients' goals or dreams are, what the clients' personal story that may need to be woven in. People want to experience a space. They don't realize it. But when they do, they notice it. They may not be able to explain or articulate it, but I think it's pretty cool that we get to really almost control or manipulate how someone feels the minute they touch a door handle or the minute they walk into a lobby, or even in an elevator cab, that those details and lighting and thoughtful decisions influence someone's day.

Ann Fritz: We could be generic and just have pretty things that match that are applied to surfaces, or it can be thoughtful-

Chris Arnold: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I think-

Ann Fritz: ... nuances. Yeah.

Chris Arnold: Yeah. I think that's a great point, Ann. I want you to dig into that a little bit if you don't mind? Because I feel like that, right there, is the tip of the iceberg as to why ESG does differentiate itself so well against others out there. When it comes to that approach and thinking through those experiences, the touching the door handle for the first time, for example, why are you different? Or how do you approach things differently?

Ann Fritz: I think it really comes down to us being good listeners and being open to what our clients are asking. But then also, doing our job as designers and pushing them to be open to something that they don't even know they want yet. We really care about just looking at a project differently and thinking about, "How can we make this meaningful? How can we make this thoughtful? Why are we making this decision?"

Ann Fritz: If you have an end goal or a story or some design pillars that you're working around, I think it makes it easier to make even the hard decisions when we have to cut things because of budget, when we have to make a fast decision because something is discontinued. If we can go back to those core principles of why we started, then you don't have a design that gets vanilla or watered down.

Ann Fritz: Aaron and I look at projects all over the country as well as a lot of our leadership, whether it's housing or hotels or office. As you tour those comps, it's interesting to feel like, "You know what? We got this." Like, "We can handle this. We can do it differently." I call it prepackaged luxury when I walk into a lot of these other projects. They're nice. They hit the price point. I'm sure they meet the client's per forma. They're beautiful. They've got quality materials. But there's no soul. I think that's what really makes us excited about our jobs and makes every project that race or that sprint to the finish line since we're running with our baton. It's why we get up and we can't wait to start.

Chris Arnold: I made an early note. You mentioned the phrase purity of purpose, and I want to know how you maintain that purity of purpose when you're asked to shift gears or when the project scope changes. How do you maintain that focus?

Ann Fritz: I think it's a designer's job to remind a client where they started or why they started or why they called ESG in the first place and picked up the phone. Our job is to constantly go back to the beginning and then to carry that story and that link all the way through. That's what makes a design have that purity.

Ann Fritz: I think if we continue to shift gears, "Oh, here's a cool idea," or, "I saw this at a trade show," or, "I saw this at a hotel I just visited." Then we just have a smattering of every good idea stuck in one room. People don't even know where to be. I always use my ballet background when I explain this to clients, or clients all the time will send me pictures like, "Isn't this cool. Can we use this?" I always say, "Put it in your back pocket and save it for the next one." I talk about how there can only be one prima ballerina. If there's a ton of soloists on the stage, the poor guy in the light booth has no idea who to focus on. Every space has to have that hero moment or that solo in the spotlight and the corps dancers are there to support the soloist. We don't want to make the lighting guy want to quit his job.

Chris Arnold: Yeah. Love that analogy. That's a great analogy. Aaron, what else would you add to that in terms of the approach for the firm and obviously ESG has started to really standout amongst architectural firms in the country. Obviously you're much more than just an architectural firm, but what would you add to that?

Aaron Roseth: Yah, Chris, I think that for me it goes back to the beginning questions that you asked of both Ann and I. Thankfully, because of our educations, we were taught to think openly and we were taught to think critically. And so a Liberal Arts education does that. You never really know where you're going or how you can apply that to a specific job, but it forces you to think open minded and abstract and critically of everything.

Aaron Roseth: And so, one of the things Ann does, and Melissa Metzler, another one of our partners, and myself, is try to stay abstract in the very beginning of a project. We create story lines or story boards, both of the interior and exterior in a way that we reference lots of precedent images and lots of specific events or areas throughout the world that are important to us and ultimately are important to the client when they are a part of this dialogue and help develop this story with us.

Aaron Roseth: And then like you were asking Ann earlier, when we get into trouble or we get into a value engineering point of the project where we can't afford specific things, it's really important that we go back to that abstract story that we originally started with and say, "Okay. Yes, we can't afford quite what we're designing or is on paper right now, but what was the original story and why was that important? What can we do at this point to bring it back to that?"

Aaron Roseth: I guess as a theme for this overall conversation, the storytelling part of it and creating contextually rich environments has to do with really listening, as Ann said, but going back to it constantly. Our partners and our employees and the clients are completely bought into that.

Aaron Roseth: Again, like a Liberal Arts education, sometimes you aren't sure where that progression or ultimate milestone of a building is until it's really built, but you can certainly post rationalize it once it's done.

Chris Arnold: Yeah. Let's actually wrap some context around those ideas. If you don't mind, let's point to a project that you're particularly proud of that maybe incorporates all of these things, all of these wheelhouses that you've mentioned on the podcast so far. Is there one in recent history that comes to mind that's worth pointing to that we can also link in the show notes for our listeners to take a look at?

Aaron Roseth: We certainly can Chris. We have a very good example. It's called North Loop Green Three. It's the third phase of a project in the north loop of Minneapolis that we recently one. It was actually a national RP that went out to many companies that were much bigger and arguably more qualified than us. There's many reasons that we won it, that I'll talk about.

Aaron Roseth: But it is kind of a culmination of everything that ESG does. It's urban. It's incredibly context rich. It's transit oriented, so there's a place in Minneapolis where this site is where all these transit features of Minneapolis converge into one location and it just happens to be this location.

Aaron Roseth: When we go back to the core design disciplines and design principles that our founding partners, Mark and David, in particular, instilled in all of us, it's about how pedestrians relate to buildings. And how that whole pedestrian experience, the vehicular experience, all multi modal pieces come together. The North Loop Green Three Project is again the culmination of that.

Aaron Roseth: It also happens to take care of all the food groups of ESG. So it's housing, which also has a hospitality component to it. It's a short term stay component, which is a massive disrupter in multi family houses, in a positive way. And then office and retail, so it's everything that we do in one project.

Chris Arnold: What would you add to that as far as excitement around North Loop Green or maybe even some information on where we could learn more about North Loop Green?

Ann Fritz: I think for us, when we found out we won that project, we literally rolled out the champagne bottles and popped corks for the whole office. It definitely is the dream project. I think we're all really excited that it'll be a signature thing for ESG and also for the client, for the city. When you're sitting at Target Field watching a Twins game, if you look down the third baseline, we're disrupting the skyline right there, just beyond. It's pretty cool to know that we're doing that. To drive through a city and say, "Look kids. Mommy designed that or worked on that." That's pretty awesome.

Aaron Roseth: Chris, when we won the project, we sent a string of texts to our partners and the key employees that were part of the project. I've never seen a longer string of massive emoji excitement.

Chris Arnold: Emoji excitements.

Aaron Roseth: It was really, really fun. One of our founding partners, Mark Swenson, wrote me in that text string and he said, "Do you realize where this is taking ESG?" And then he said, "... to a whole other level." So for us, it's wonderful that it happens to be part of the transition from our first generation to our second. It's symbolic in that way and it's exciting to see where we can take that history and development that has happened for so many years that has come to this point for all of us and take it to the next chapter.

Chris Arnold: As we begin to wrap up, I want to come full circle and just note how much of a theme seems to come out in terms of clients being friends, relationships being so positive. Certainly Aaron and Ann, the two of you have grown into such a great friendship, including your families in that.

Chris Arnold: I want to hear from you before we start to sign off here, what you think is coming next for ESG? What are you most excited about looking forward?

Ann Fritz: I would say we're looking forward to building our new home, our new office, which will be in the North Loop Green Project. That's going to be pivotal and really exciting, and it will also time out with that transition of the new leadership moving forward and really creating an environment that really speaks to who we are today, building off of what was founded by Mark and David and our founding partners.

Ann Fritz: I think that we are thrilled to continue that really rich deep relationship based approach that they started and that we've just continued. I think people don't want blazers and shoulder pads and architects with big egos and prima dona designers. They want people that are genuine with big hearts that are passionate that care about what we do. That passion and that genuine quality comes through. And when we look to hire and grow new employees, or even when we look to grow our client base, we look for that connection, that relationship based person to person connection. That, I think, is what makes us different and that is what makes our work really stand out. That's what we're going to continue to pursue in the future.

Chris Arnold: Yeah. You said it very well, Ann. Aaron, anything to add for you there?

Aaron Roseth: Yeah. She said it very well. The two things that I would add to it is The North Loop Green Three is a stepping stone for the types of projects that we want to do around the United States. We all believe all the partners especially believe that mixed uses of all programmatic types in architecture and interior design the future of our cities. It's not just singular object type architecture that is going to make our cities rich.

Aaron Roseth: Back to the education and the start of our beginnings and where we're going, the richness of any city is where we all come together. Where we live, work and play, literally, although that's a little cliché, it's true. ESG does it.

Aaron Roseth: The second thing is now it's time for us to focus and organize ourselves in terms of the next generation, become as recession proof as we can through the diversity of geographic locations, et cetera. But then ultimately, it's our turn then to pass the torch as well. So bringing up young staff and young employees to eventually take over our positions is the ultimate goal.

Chris Arnold: Thank you both so much for joining us today on the podcast. Clearly you have great experience. You have great world views that you bring to the table at ESG, and it's been a pleasure hearing that story with both of you having so much experience and insight.

Chris Arnold: This is one of my favorite questions, and I'm thankful I get to have two answers today. Who else should we be paying attention to that you all are inspired by or you feel like is doing groundbreaking work?

Ann Fritz: I would say more recently I've been so inspired by the younger staff. They blow us away daily. We are so lucky to have some of that talent in our office. The tools that they can use, the technology, the way they're able to speak about design, it makes me feel really comfortable that we're leaving this firm someday in really capable good hands. They blow us away daily and knock it out of the park. It's amazing to watch.

Aaron Roseth: Chris, unfortunately, like we had talked about earlier in the podcast where Ann and I answer each other's questions or answers. My answer's the same. The employees we have, and the younger ones especially, are just blowing us away. I'm so excited for the future of them. Hopefully they stay with ESG for their entire careers. But even if they don't, they will transform this city once again.

Chris Arnold: Aaron and Ann, thank you so much for joining me today. Let me roll out the red carpet, ask you what you're up to and where the world can find you online. Feel free to give any shout outs or links that people can take a look at.

Aaron Roseth: Thank you, Chris. We are at www.esgarc.com.

Ann Fritz: Also, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter. So just look us up. ESG Architecture and Design.

Chris Arnold: Perfect guys. Thank you so much again for your time today.

Ann Fritz: Thank you.

Aaron Roseth: Thank you.

Chris Arnold: Transforming Cities is brought to you by Authentic Form and Function, the digital design and development team that just might be a perfect fit for your next urban project.

Chris Arnold: If you're a new listener, you can follow along at authenticff.com/tranformingcities or you can simply subscribe through your favorite apps, including iTunes, Spotify or Stitcher. Thanks for joining us.

Esg architecture minneapolis

Design thinking is crucial, but relationships matter most at ESG

Transforming Cities Podcast

Procuring long term partnerships through relationships-first mindset, with Aaron Roseth & Ann Fritz, partners at ESG Architecture and Design in Minneapolis

Read More
Team better block black burn

Block by block: community, complete streets, and public space planning

Transforming Cities Podcast

Building better, safer, and more sustainable communities one block at a time with Andrew Howard, co-founder and director of Team Better Block

Read More
Gensler denver

Human-centered design solutions mean better experiences in the built environment

Transforming Cities Podcast

Thoughtful design in the built environment and the tech landscape ahead with Harry Spetnagel, Senior Associate and Design Director at Gensler

Read More

Like staying ahead?

Join our monthly newsletter to get the latest insight into how design and technology are transforming urban projects.