How can architecture and design evolve to keep up with growing Seattle?

By: Editorial Staff Posted: 11/15/2019

Local industry experts discuss thoughtful design, sustainability, and public space


Seattle’s architecture industry is one of the city’s top ten industries employing creative workers – and also has a day-to-day impact on the places where people live, work and play.

At our Executive Speaker Series on architecture and design, Brendan Connolly with Mithun Design, Matt Hutchins with CAST Architecture, and Grace Kim with Schemata Workshop discussed trends and issues in the industry. Jonathan Bahe with NBBJ Design served as our moderator.

Three big takeways from the discussion:  

  • Put community front and center when planning, designing, and managing public spaces

Connolly pointed out that the choices architects and design teams make can help people feel more connected and welcome. Hutchins shared some examples from his firm's work, such as the Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands Education Building. CAST Architecture designed the building with extensive community input, leading to a facility that people with various needs and interests can use and enjoy - from adding a new functional kitchen where people can prepare food harvested at the farm, to office space so staff can be in the community year round, to a multi-purpose classroom that accommodates field trips and nutrition education.  

Kim noted that architects and design teams are also thinking more creatively about using "the fifth elevation"- rooftops - to add community amenities like gardens and dog runs. 

  • Density, affordability, and sustainability go hand-in-hand 

Panelists spoke about multiple paths to accommodate more people in a land-constrained city like Seattle. Kim said she is encouraged by a growing interest in co-residency and co-ownership, which are growing for economic reasons as well as a desire to live more communally. Hutchins pointed to backyard cottages as an opportunity for single-family neighborhoods to absorb more growth.  

As the city grows denser, there are also more opportunities to promote and adopt sustainable practices. Kim highlighted Capitol Hill’s ecodistrict, a partnership of organizations that registered to be one of the first officially certified ecodistricts in North America. The ecodistrict has made strides such as the first community solar project on an affordable housing building in Washington state. Bahe shared another example: Amazon headquarters’ super-efficient heating, which uses waste heat from a non-Amazon data center located nearby.

  • Equity and inclusion matter - both within the industry and in its work

The challenge of diversifying the talent pipeline coming into architecture is still an issue, Connolly said. He said that mentorship programs have helped at Mithun Design. Kim urged contractors to consider diversity when taking clients, and highlighted that her company, Schemata Workshop, is minority- and woman-owned.

Hutchins and Kim also talked about the role of design in combating inequity. Hutchins discussed how unaffordability in Seattle increases displacement and inequity. His commitment to designing and advocating for more housing options is also personal: he realized that if things stay as they are, his daughter would not be able to afford a house in her own neighborhood. “If I don’t build it, who will?” he asked himself. 

You can learn more about CAST Architecture, Mithun DesignNBBJ, and Schemata Workshop at their company websites.

The Seattle Metro Chamber's Executive Speaker Series showcases the many business sectors that make up the economic engine driving the Seattle metropolitan region. Each event focuses on a unique industry and features top business leaders who discuss the successes, challenges and opportunities facing their sector.