Changemaker Briana Manfrass’s commitment to community fuels her evidence-based design work in built environments

Changemaker Briana Manfrass’s commitment to community fuels her evidence-based design work in built environments

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This is a part of a series of blog posts amplifying community voices.

As Managing Principal at Pinnacle Architecture in Bend, Briana Manfrass brings a passion for community wellness and healthy design to the projects she oversees in multi-family housing, healthcare, senior living, early education and commercial architecture. Her background in evidence-based design and trauma-informed design assures that Pinnacle’s work enhances lives and serves the needs of diverse populations.


Tell us about yourself and your work.
My degree from Portland Art Institute is in interior design, and I joined Pinnacle right out of college. It was a small firm when I started 18 years ago. I was the first interior designer they hired, so I laid the groundwork for integrating those services. Today, we have a very collaborative approach between interior and architectural design.

As a co-owner of Pinnacle since 2018, how has your work evolved?
I started running tenant improvement projects several years ago, and now I oversee production operations with a focus on behavioral health projects. Essentially, I do a lot of programming and schematic design for health and wellness facilities. I use a holistic approach to create spaces that are conducive to staff who are working demanding jobs, as well as clients and patients who can be better served in an environment that doesn’t feel institutional.

How do you make a space feel less institutional?
All this work is done through a trauma-informed lens, which takes into account the human experience. You start with appropriately scaled spaces and create a calming environment visually by using colors in the space that are found in nature, making sure there are plenty of windows, direct and filtered light that provides a physical and visual connection to the outdoors. You can also help by giving people some control of the space with things like adjustable lighting and ventilation. Just the freedom to make these decisions is helpful in its own way.

Using design that is trauma-informed and evidence-based is a big part of Pinnacle’s mission to enhance communities. We incorporate these principles in all our projects, especially residential treatment facilities and affordable housing projects. If the programs and services being offered are going to help people thrive, the space around those services should reflect and reinforce that intention wherever possible.

You’ve been at Pinnacle for your entire career so far. What keeps you motivated and engaged?
The connection to people that I get from our projects is inspiring and keeps me in the work. Going back into a housing complex a year after it’s been occupied and hearing how it has changed people’s lives, and how they take pride in caring for their home and their families when the year before they may have been living in their car — there is nothing better.

The way architecture and interior design have begun to address inclusiveness is captivating, and to be able to fully consider how a space makes people feel is so rewarding. When people come into a space with different backgrounds, and each of them can have a positive emotional reaction to it — that aspect that acknowledges the human psyche in all its forms keeps me inspired and engaged.

I also have to credit Peter Baer, who set out to serve the underserved when he founded Pinnacle. The company has stayed true to that goal in our strategic planning and the projects we take on. It’s easily understood that we do work that is good for humanity; it draws people to the company.

What are the challenges in advancing supportive design?
There are a lot of considerations on what’s needed, on what level, and what it should look like for populations that are currently underserved. Funding for shelter is a huge need — for the homeless as well as the working poor and middle class, as rising costs put stable housing out of reach. Supportive housing is also important for people who need services around addiction and mental health. There is not one solution and there is such a great need, that it will take many firms in the industry to start to chip away at it.

How do you engage the local community in the early stages of a project?
For engaging the community, Pinnacle has developed what we call a Circle of Impact study. We complete this with our clients in the initial meetings of the project and identify the core team, stakeholders, oversight, community and extended impact. The organizations that are defined are then integrated into the process at key points in the project development to gather input, refine the design, and evaluate the projects impact on the community based on our goals and assumptions.

How do you try to ensure that projects serve people and their communities well after they’re done?
Throughout a project, we think about the ripple effect on the community years down the line. If we have an opportunity for green space or a walking path, will it be open to the public? Or can services be integrated into the space? Is there a conference room that can be shared with the community, enabling a smaller footprint overall? Can we repurpose existing resources on the site?

We have a project that is using natural landscaping for a play area instead of a traditional playground because the site already has trails and paths. We’re using the slope of the site to provide an environment for the kids that is amazing.

These are fun ways to see design evolve as entities work together, rather than in silos. This kind of thinking can also lead to different age groups and socioeconomics occupying the same spaces, which also builds community. At the end of the day, we’re all just humans and breaking down those barriers is a good thing.

Do you have any advice for young people who want to take a career path similar to yours?
I always had an interest in leadership. In high school I attended Future Business Leaders of America. Those types of decisions put me on a strategic path. I learned that I like to see how pieces of a project fit together and move them forward.

I’ve been lucky to work in a firm that has let me grow in an organic way. But it was up to me to be curious, ask questions, and expose myself to more aspects of the business, and learn that I enjoyed them. You can go further being curious than by thinking you should only do what you’re told you can do.

With that mindset I was able to get the experience I wanted and to help the company grow. There were many times when I asked for opportunities, or the liberty to try new things. That didn’t mean I knew what I was doing right away or didn’t have guidance. But I asked for the opportunity to try.