Why did you join AIA Seattle?

I joined AIA Seattle to be a more involved part of our larger design community, and to solidify my connection to discussions outside the walls of my firm. I have great respect for the staff and other design leaders, who have also been inspiring mentors for me throughout my career here in Seattle – their involvement with AIA Seattle was also a motivation for me.

What is the value of AIA to you?

There are many, but the greatest for me is communication and connectivity to people.

What relationships have you created?

I have been practicing in Seattle for 17 years now, and have developed a wonderful network of colleagues and friends in our design community over that time, including much time spent at and for the University of Washington. This network has had strong overlap with and through AIA Seattle, and I look forward to expanding these relationships in the future.

What project are you working on now?

I have spent much of my recent career focusing on sustainable places for education, including museums, like the Nordic Heritage museum in Ballard, to K-12 and higher education institutions both here in Seattle as well as across the west coast. I have also been working on a number of mission focused workplace environments for value-driven institutions like the Seattle Foundation. All of these projects share the commonality of values and missions that are focused on inspiring growth, learning and greater sustainability and social equity. Creating built environments for this kind of work and growth has been a great personal joy for me in my career.

How do you explain what you do for a living?

My 11 year old daughter, having attended a recent fundraiser, thinks that meetings are just people drinking wine and walking around talking to each other. I am an architect and designer, and savor every moment I can spend making and creating, but given this question, I think what I do most is facilitate communication. There is little to no architectural education around communication and human psychology, but these facets of design occupy a significant part of my day to day work. No great building or landscape can be completed without myriad conversations, both internal and external to the design team, and this is part of what I do best – to help create ideas, but more importantly to help people understand and communicate these ideas to realize a collective vision.

What inspired you today?

My children, and my family, inspire me every day. Their unyielding curiosity about life and also their shared passion for design and discovery of built space is a constant source of inspiration. I love looking through their eyes at the buildings and spaces around us.

Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect?

Many places. My professional work has taught me the value of relationships, and how this relay of trusted relationships leads to new places and opportunities that are unique and varied, from a living building treehouse in West Virginia to a corporate campus in Dallas to high performing schools and museums down the street in Seattle. I have immensely enjoyed getting to know new places, new microclimates, and new cultures through my work. On a less geographic level, my career has taken me a steep leadership path that in many ways was not fully expected, but I take some pride in rising to every new challenge and opportunity – as a managing partner of a firm of over a hundred people, I now see the world of design in a very different way. It’s not just about my work and my career – I have a strong and somewhat paternal devotion to the health, the growth and the success of everyone around me, and spend much of my time on these goals rather than my own agenda.

Where is the field of architecture, engineering or construction heading?

Toward integration. I look to Japan and other areas around the world that are slightly ahead of us in the merging of technology, construction and design – all of these forces are overlapping in our industry. Much of my recent time has been devoted to design-build and P3 project delivery methods, where the idea of “team” is expanding at a constant rate. My earlier comments about empathy and communication are pivotal in these situations, where one has to understand the fears and motivations of each successive layer of the team to achieve success.

Can design save the world?

Absolutely. What we do is hard, but I have to believe in the larger purpose of this profession. Right now, I am creating sustainable places for learning and living on several university campuses. I continually think about the spaces I am helping to create as increasing the odds that these future researchers and graduate students will find a moment of lucidity, connection, and collaboration that will change all of our lives. The idea that landscape space, classrooms or social spaces might allow for the next conversation that inflects our societal trajectory in some upward fashion – this is what drives me to do the best work I can.

What do you hope to contribute from your work?

My work is less about objects, and more about creating positive change, both in the community and larger world, but also within Mithun and our design community. I want to help people learn, and importantly, to find joy and purpose in the hard work we do.

What is your favorite Seattle-area structure?

I think my years on the Seattle Design Commission have taught me a newfound respect and appreciation for the many and varied layers of infrastructure and transportation in our city. A third of our urban space is rights of way, and the power of these “in between” spaces and the systems they contain to be something more than car storage, really excites me as a designer, and also selfishly, as a cycling advocate.

If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?

Do cars still have bumpers? I feel like there should be a different name for that part that reflects the disposable nature of current auto design. Not a big fan of bumper stickers, but if I had to choose, I have always liked the EARTH stickers that contain and highlight the word ART within that. My “outlook on life” has always been to dig deep to understand the full potential and relevance of people and places – finding hidden meaning or purpose that may not be obvious is what is so much fun about design. How can a building reveal the predevelopment ecological conditions and history of the sits it sits on? How can a museum tell the parallel story of two cultural worlds thousands of miles apart? These are the kinds of hidden questions I love to answer through design.