Michael Hsu Office of Architecture Uplifts Nonprofits with Design for All Partnership
The firm worked with Austin Angels, which supports children in foster care, to design their new headquarters
By Liz Harroun
Photos by Weston Carls
Renderings courtesy of Michael Hsu Office of Architecture
In 2005, the Michael Hsu Office of Architecture (MHOA) was founded in Austin with a mission to unite people through design.
“I wanted to create a new kind of firm,” says principal architect and founder Michael Hsu. “One that captures the full potential of design to create experiences that tap into all our senses. We work to design spaces that connect with people in personal and emotive ways. The best way to do that is by blurring the lines between architecture, interiors, brand, furniture and art. The result is a complete narrative, a complete experience.”
MHOA now works throughout Texas and the country, with a second office that opened in Houston in 2018 and staff in both Dallas and Denver. Their work is rooted in hospitality and includes a range of project types, such as large mixed-use developments, adaptive reuse projects, public realm design, architectural branding, single-family homes, hotels, restaurants, workspaces and bespoke furniture design.
Amid all of the growth and success, the firm has always aimed to balance community-focused work into their project mix. Coming from leadership’s desire to do even more for their communities, in 2022 MHOA introduced the Design for All Partnership, a seed program that supports community-driven partners through design. They took applications from nonprofits in Austin and Houston that were in need of design services, with the winner to receive $20,000 in pro-bono design and consultation services.
“This initiative allows us to go directly to the organizations in need,” says Michael. “In selecting the group and the project, we were able to ensure that our efforts would make an impactful contribution.”
MHOA received dozens of applications from amazing organizations doing important work. The 2022 award winner was Austin Angels, a nonprofit on a mission to provide support and mentorship to children and families in the foster care community.
“Austin Angels’ project was selected because we felt that our background in hospitality design, paired with the organization’s deep understanding of the needs of the foster community would result in a great space,” says Michael.
Susan Ramierz, founder of Austin Angels, could not be more grateful for this opportunity. She started the organization in 2010, while working full-time in the real estate industry. While attending a conference with a client about adoption and foster care, Susan learned that there is so much we can all do to help children in the foster care system even if we don’t feel called to foster or adopt ourselves. In 2015, Susan left her corporate career to really further Austin Angels’ mission to support children, youth and families who are experiencing foster care. Their goal is to help change the bleak statistics around kids in foster care, such as higher likelihoods of ending up in prison or homeless.
“Children who grow up in care and families who decide to foster are really stacked against a lot of odds,” says Susan, “and we believe that it doesn’t have to be this way. We believe by taking normal, everyday people and pairing them with those who are experiencing foster care, that a sense of belonging can happen. And that we can prevent the amount of moves a child will face, increase their educational success and really radically support families who are caring for kids.”
With the help of a donor, Austin Angels recently purchased a church in Buda. After being cramped in small makeshift spaces for so many years, they finally have a location to call their own. But the church is about 25 years old and in need of a lot of updating. So when Susan saw the announcement for the Design for All Partnership, she applied immediately. Being chosen was a dream come true for a lean and ambitious nonprofit.
Michael Hsu and team created a whole new design for the church, using Susan’s vision as guidance. In their first meeting together, Susan explained that she wanted the cafeteria area to “look like a hug.” MHOA designed a welcoming seating bench that looks like two arms, affectionately called “the hug.”
Susan met with the design team several times throughout the process, iterating the design along the way.
“In our very last meeting when they presented us with the final drawing, I literally just stood in their office and cried,” says Susan. “Because this work is so hard. And it’s so meaningful to have a beautiful space where children can come and feel that belonging and feel proud of who they are. And that’s what they did for us in the design of this.”
Now Susan and her team are working on raising more money to bring the incredible design to life. While she knows there’s still a lot of work to be done, MHOA’s support in providing their design services for free makes it all feel possible.
“They have been an absolute dream to work with,” says Susan. “When you run a charity, sometimes you get treated like a charity. They have treated us with so much dignity and respect, as if we were a full-paying client.”
Michael and his team are proud to serve their community in such a meaningful way. They are looking forward to uniting and supporting more local organizations through the Design for All Partnership in years to come.