Ashley Marsh

Ashley Marsh

San Francisco, CA, US



Ashley brings over a decade of expertise in strategic design and planning for the built environment. She is passionate about non-linear design approaches and is most at home scenario planning the future of the human condition. 

Currently a Senior Director at MASS Design Group, she's helping advance the MASS philosophy that "architecture is not neutral; it either helps or hurts [...] to acknowledge that architecture has this kind of agency and power is to acknowledge that buildings, and the building industry that erects them, are as accountable for social injustices as they are critical levers to improve the communities they serve."

A former senior strategist with Gensler, Ashley has deep experience conducting user research relative to built environment impacts, and building change management and user experience strategies for large, complex organizations. She has worked at the intersection of learning, public, technology and innovative research sectors for a majority of her career. Additionally, she's a seasoned facilitator and engagement strategist. She’s proud of having facilitated in unique settings: the warehouse of a river rafting company in rural Idaho, in an empty parking lot on Oakland’s west side and at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin. 

Ashley is an alumna of The Third Teacher + design consultancy and in 2009, she co-founded Open Hand Studio -- a virtually-based social impact studio -- which garnered her a Design Futures Council Emerging Leader award and positioned her as an inaugural member of the Public Interest Design 100. Her Master of Architecture degree, received with honors from Washington University in St. Louis, explored interdisciplinary ecological design issues facing St. Louis’s most ambiguous urban conditions. In 2017, she was named '40 under 40' by the San Francisco Business Times and in 2016, her research and engagement leadership helped a school in her backyard (then Oakland, CA) win a $10 million XQ Super School prize.



MASS Design Group, Boston, MA, US, Senior Director

Helping advance the MASS philosophy that "architecture is not neutral; it either helps or hurts [...] to acknowledge that architecture has this kind of agency and power is to acknowledge that buildings, and the building industry that erects them, are as accountable for social injustices as they are critical levers to improve the communities they serve."

Aug 2018 - current

Gensler, San Francisco, CA, US, Senior Design Strategist

Oct 2014 - Jul 2018

The Third Teacher +, Chicago, IL, US, Social Impact Strategist

Jul 2013 - Sep 2014

Open Hand Studio_Cannon Design, Chicago, IL, US, Director

In 2009 I co-founded Open Hand Studio, a virtual studio and call to action, created to bring design to our most underserved and disadvantaged communities. The studio was crafted on the premise that critical engagement in community-based work can lead to a generative, outcome focused practice. Building on the studio's momentum which lead Cannon Design to shift its thinking about socially impactful practice, I edited a compilation of Our Stories, the Open Hand Studio Report. A chronicle of three years of measured impact to the communities in which we work, I used to the document to also publicly announce the strategic plan for Open Hand Studio, which I authored.

Jan 2009 - Sep 2014

CannonDesign, Chicago, IL, US, Architecture, Senior Associate

At Cannon Design, I focused on increasing architectural engagement through strategic and applied initiatives. Recent projects include co-authoring a pro-bono guide to Elementary Schools for the KIPP Foundation; strategic facilities planning for the Schools of the Sacred Heart, SF; University of Idaho's College of Education Strategic Vision; Upper School strategic plan and vision for St. Patrick's Episcopal School in D.C.; rehabilitation of Lincoln Hall at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; the School of the Art Institute Chicago’s campus identity and master plan, DePaul University New Theatre School; and visioning, programming, project design and implementation of a new home for the Adler School of Professional Psychology. I sat on the planning committee for Structures for Inclusion 2011 in Chicago.

Speaking Engagements
Paper Presenter Environmental Design Research Association Annual Conference, May 2013, presented in collaboration with Sarah Malin.

Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) Annual Conference, July 2012, Make No Isolated Plans—Integrated Planning for Educational Quality, Panel and workshop titled "The Challenge to Foster Inclusion in Campus Community".

AIA Central Oklahoma Annual Design Symposium, December 2011, "The 1% program of Public Architecture" and "Open Hand Studio: Integral Social Engagement", Invited Speaker

The Rooftops Conference, New York Law School, May 2011, Invited Panelist, architects and not-for-profits

AIA Illinois Annual Conference, November 2010, "Reinvention", Opening Plenary.

AIA Chicago Professional Development Conference, September 2010 "The case and place for pro-bono and reduced fee projects in your practice".

Jun 2007 - Sep 2014


Washington University in St. Louis, MArch, Graduate School of Architecture

Emphasis on ecological design and interdisciplinary urban issues.
Graduated with honors, work was selected for graduate publication, "Approach" and exhibited at the FAU-USP in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Sat on the Graduate Advisory Council and Graduate Admissions Review Team
Participated in a study abroad program at the Sociedad Central de Arquitectos in Buenos Aires, Argentina under the direction of Adrian Luchini and Gerardo Caballero.

Aug 2005 - May 2007

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Bachelors, Architecture

Study abroad at the Ecole d'Architecture de Versailles, 2003-2004.
Sat on the AIA Illinois State Board of Directors.
Active in AIAS (appointed to National Membership Committee, served multiple terms with local chapter leadership, delegate at Grassroots National Leadership Conference).
Volunteered extensively with the East Saint Louis Action Research Project (ESLARP), participated in the Women in Architecture mentoring program and was a Elwood E and Adelaide Schwenk Scholarship recipient.
Member of a University Chorus.

Aug 2001 - May 2005



Public Interest Design 100, Other introduced the Public Interest Design 100. A first-of-its-kind list highlighting 100 individuals or teams working at the intersection of design and service in the U.S.

"The growing public interest design field is fueled by a wide range of leaders, including architects, funders curators, communicators and connectors. The inaugural Public Interest Design 100 list seeks to honor many of the diverse passionate people at this intersection of design and services. It is a collective portrait of the future of a groundbreaking movement. Together, they are re-imagining the world."
-PID 100


Design Futures Council Emerging Leader 2011, Award

The Design Future Council's annual Leadership Summit on Sustainable Design brings together a delegation of 100 people from the world's most influential architecture, engineering, and construction firms to identify change drivers, analyze emerging data, and explore innovation in sustainable design.

One of the Design Futures Council's missions is to identify and recognize future leaders who are having - and will increasingly have - an impact on design practices, design professions, and the community.
The Emerging Leaders scholarship program, now in its fifth year, addresses this goal by selecting individuals who represent the future of design practice in terms of its broadening scope, service to society, sustainable design, and technological innovation.


AIA Designing Tomorrow's Architect Essay, Award

Organized around the concepts of innovating, envisioning, connecting, and empowering, the 2005 Conference dynamically explored its theme of “Designing Tomorrow’s Architect.” With more than 70 invited participants on hand, the conference provided a forum through which architectural internship could be strengthened and revitalized.

Twenty-seven emerging professionals—each of whom had written an essay as part of a competition that determined which young professionals would attend the conference— contributed a lion’s share of feedback. The advisory committee had selected a diverse group of young professionals who represented different firm sizes, experience levels, and geographic distribution.


Areas of Specialization