By Meghan Hall
The Puget Sound’s increasingly dynamic commercial real estate market has provided a healthy incubator environment for growing architecture and design firms looking to make an impact on the region’s built environment. One rapidly growing firm, MZA Architecture, continues to be at the forefront of development in Seattle and Bellevue, where the company is based. MZA Architecture is currently pursuing an array of projects, including the 142-key Hotel Indigo in Everett, Shoresmith Condominiums in South Lake Union, which will total 110 units, and Cloudvue, three skyscrapers totaling 1.7 million square feet of office space, plus 515 residential units and 40,000 square feet of retail. Amidst all of this growth, MZA Architecture hired Mia Marshall, NCIDQ, IIDA, LEED, as a principal. The Registry recently spoke with Mia on the firm’s growth and its plans for the future.
Mia, what has it been like working for MZA Architecture during the firm’s expansion throughout the region?
It’s been terrific —everything I could have hoped for, and more. It’s the ideal fit on every professional level, and there’s tremendous opportunity for growth. MZA was founded on the principles of providing clients with world-renowned design, collaborative creation and local expertise,all values which I vigorously embrace. We also share the same appreciation for diversity – in people, the skills and expertise they bring to the table, and the product types we’re designing as a firm. To that end, MZA has long been known as one of the region’s top architectural-design firms, but we’re now moving quickly toward a more holistic, full-service offering to our clients. We’re still extremely adept at designing high-rise residential, hospitality and office projects, but we’re now active in mid-rise and many other project types, in a wide range of local neighborhoods. Additionally, my background in commercial interior-design opens us up to a host of other project opportunities.
To your understanding, what was the firm’s goal when it began its presence in Bellevue and Seattle? How do you see these visions and goals changed over time?
We were founded nearly five years ago by Ming Zhang, FAIA, a world-renowned and award-winning designer with more than 30 years of both local and global architectural practice experience. Ming was instrumental in the successful growth of the design brands at Callison and MG2. In fact, several other original MZA senior members —Craig Davenport, Frank Lo, Kant Chutikul, Pat Farley, Kevin Sutton and Peter Sherrill—also came from MG2, so there’s some critical continuity in design and business operations here. In the beginning, these principals had a huge, 4-tower project in downtown Bellevue that they were focused on, so our goal from the outset was to do great work for this key client. We’ve always taken a very boutique approach to the business by providing a close-knit team of exceptionally experienced designers that actively contributes to every project. That’s never going to change, not matter how much we grow in the future. And it’s a huge differentiator between MZA and many of the larger global architecture firms in the market. That said, we’re growing at a tremendous rate —we’ve made several other strategic hires recently —and we’re moving quickly toward a more integrated, full-service offering to our clients.
What challenges has MZA faces as it continues to establish its reputation in the region?
Like my MZA colleagues, I always tend to think about challenges in terms of opportunities. It’s just the way we’re wired. Since our firm began, we’ve been heads-down, delivering high-quality, globally significant design and leveraging a client-centric ethos that guides everything we do. And while a vast majority of our work is based here — we have a global footprint, but we thrive on our deep, local roots — MZA is still relatively a best-kept-secretkind of architecture firm. So, there’s an opportunity for us to be focused on being more intentional about telling the unique story of MZA Architecture, especially as we continue on this aggressive, game-changing growth path for our firm.
What is MZA’s strategy for continued growth in the region?
First, we’ll continue doing all the things that made our firm successful in the first place —notably, having a passion for award-winning design, being laser-focused on client delight, and makingpositive impacts on the communities where we work and live. Put simply, we’ll focus on what we do best: helping our clients to create meaningful places —for living, working and meeting — of all shapes, sizes and scopes. That’s just who we are. One of the reasons I was asked to join the MZA executive team was my deep relationships in this market. I’ve conducted business in the Northwest’s real estate space for the past 22 years. So, it will be important for me to leverage this network to share the MZA success story to developers, owners, investors and other project partners who may know very little about our firm and our world-class team.
What are some of the projects that MZA is most excited about in the region?
We work with a wide range of clients — from global institutions to boutique, locally owned and operated developers. With our clients, we’ve taken a significant stake in both downtown Seattle and Bellevue, and the neighborhoods that make this such a special place to live and work. Our hospitality project with R.C. Hedreen, a 34-story luxury boutique hotel tower, is moving forward as planned. The tower is right across the street from the Washington State Convention Center Expansion project, so it’s obviously well positioned in the core. And our Cloudvue project in downtown Bellevue with client Stanford Hotels is successfully moving through the public-approval process. Like our tower in Seattle, Cloudvue is in the center of the action, adjacent to some of the most exciting new development projects in Bellevue’s core, including Amazon’s planned 43-story high rise. While design for Cloudvue is still emerging, it will be one most visible, iconic mixed-use projects in the region – transforming the Bellevue skyline. We’re also the lead designer on a cool mixed-use project that just broke ground in the South Lake Union neighborhood, called Shoresmith Condominiums. This 110-unit residential project reconnects us to a long-term client of ours, Plus Investments. So, as you can see, we have put our stakes in the ground in the center of our region’s most vibrant, active urban neighborhoods.
Looking forward, what is MZA’s perspective on Seattle and Bellevue’s emerging commercial real estate market?
We’re obviously bullish on these markets, and that outlook likely won’t change anytime soon. But we do believe that many developers will continue to look for ways to be different —commissioning unique, globally relevant design that puts their own fingerprints on our city skylines. There will always be owners who take a more conservative route, and that’s fantastic—there’s a place for all kinds of interesting projects in this market. It is about the combination of what is in best interest in our clients success of their business married up with our expertise. Most of the properties with the fewest constraints are taken by now, so it will be important for us to continue to bring our clients creative design solutions for odd-shaped parcels, properties with landmarked buildings, tight urban sites, and other development challenges. That’s fine with us – at MZA, we embrace these situations, and our clients appreciate our customized, collaborative approach to every project.