Locations: Seattle and San Francisco
Presidents: Bert Gregory, FAIA; David Goldberg, AIA; Bruce Williams, AIA
Founded: 1949
Size: 100 employees
Little-known fact: We have three shared office bikes named after famous aviators: Orville, Wilbur, and Amelia.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from your COTE Top Ten winner, the Sustainability Treehouse?

Brendan Connolly, AIA, partner: This effort re-affirmed for us the value in challenging program assumptions and preconceptions about each project. During the project’s early stages, we worked with the client team to reconsider program areas and leverage covered and open outdoor space to extend the functionality of a smaller program, thereby reducing site and energy impacts of a larger conditioned space. We shifted the focus away from thinking of the project as a building to instead consider it a choreographed experience of immersion and movement through interconnected vertical layers. By setting aside architectural preconceptions, we were able to create a powerful series of spaces that leveraged a small amount of building program into a much larger educational visitor experience.

Harley and Lela Franco Maritime Center.
Benjamin Benschneider Harley and Lela Franco Maritime Center.

What insights from this and other sustainable projects would you share with other professionals?

Beauty grows from richly integrated solutions. The Sustainability Treehouse is the product of a truly integrated process with numerous talented designers, engineers and contractors working in concert to craft an unconventional structure that performs at the highest possible level and offers a powerful experience for thousands of visitors.

David Brower Center and Oxford Plaza.
Tim Griffith David Brower Center and Oxford Plaza.

What is your firm’s philosophy on sustainable design?

A national leader in sustainable design and urbanism since 1949, Mithun looks for and finds connections and ways to balance the human and natural worlds. The firm’s work is an innovative blend of design, technology and nature to create places that excel in beauty, spirit and performance. Making these connections, we deliver enduring value that improves the health of individuals, communities and natural systems.

Chatham University Eden Hall.
Courtesy of Mithun Chatham University Eden Hall.

What kinds of sustainable solutions are non-negotiable for your firm? What are the baseline standards your firm aims to meet with every project?

With each project, Mithun strives to create positive change and broad reaching impact with sustainable design solutions that are tailored to individual programmatic, site, and climactic conditions. In recent years, our focus on sustainable design has broadened to include a more holistic evaluation of how the design of architecture and landscapes affects human health and behavior. We aim for every project to hold some benefit to human health and well-being, which can range from IEQ [indoor environmental quality] standards and mechanical filtration levels for interior environments to health impact assessment and urban planning strategies that connect underserved populations to accessible open space, transportation and other opportunities for social cohesion and equity.

Sustainability Treehouse.
Joe Fletcher Sustainability Treehouse.

What are the tip energy-saving features you put into your projects?

Optimization of building program and site orientation are potent strategies for energy reduction applicable to a wide range of building typologies and regions. We strive to optimize building programs and reduce needed conditioned area by creating flexible spaces that serve multiple functions, and by leveraging opportunities for outdoor space to extend the functionality of interior spaces. Basic manipulation of building orientation and siting, including relationship to foliage and other natural topographical features, can also reduce energy demand by significant amounts.

Sustainability Treehouse.
Joe Fletcher Sustainability Treehouse.

How do you think these types of solutions and products might become standard?

We exist and practice in a world where there are increasing societal and global economic pressures to do more with less, to extend life-cycles and functionality through adaptable buildings and landscapes that serve multiple functions and occupy less carbon and physical footprint than the spaces they are replacing.