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Building A New City: Weinstein A+U’s Perspective on 40 Years in the Business and Seattle’s Changing Built Environment

Weinstein A+U, Seattle, Banner Building, Firehouse 10, Jewish Family Services Campus, William K. Nakamura Federal Courthouse
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Center. Image Courtesy of Weinstein A+U

By Meghan Hall

Founded in 1977 by Ed Weinstein, architecture firm Weinstein A+U began as “two guys with drawing boards” who focused on single-family residential projects. Now, nearly four decades later, Seattle has exploded into a global city, and Weinstein A+U too, has felt the tug of expansion. The company is now a mid-sized generalist firm with a wide arrange of commercial, residential, institutional and civic projects under its belt, as well as more than 60 national and regional design awards. The most recent of those, which was awarded as Weinstein A+U began gearing up for a major leadership change, was the AIA Northwest and Pacific Region Firm Award, which highlights those who not only contribute in an outstanding manner to local architecture, but those who have a well-rounded, positive office culture.

Weinstein A+U has come a long way from its humble beginnings, although according to Weinstein that growth has been largely slow and consistent, tracking steadily with expansion of Seattle’s economy. 

“I would say that our method for growth is to just concentrate, frankly, on one building at a time,” explained Weinstein. “We do fewer buildings at a time and are conscious of the quality of the buildings instead of having a huge growth program that would force us to make certain decisions. We moved slowly and deliberately; I would say that we are old school in terms of the model and discipline of architecture, which is to focus on the service to the client and the quality of the product. We have been the beneficiary of the growing economy and scale of our city, so the size of our projects has also increased.” 

Weinstein and several of its principals agreed that the bulk of Seattle’s expansion—as well as Weinstein A+U’s—has been largely concentrated in the last five to 10 years, as major companies, particularly Amazon, have taken Seattle from a provincial-feeling, regional hub to an urban city. And while that growth has impacted the product types that Weinstein A+U has worked on, it has also emphasized the importance of careful design in a built environment that is ever-evolving.

“We don’t want to be embarrassed about anything we design,” chuckled Weinstein. But the firm’s approach to architecture goes beyond the baseline of potential design regret.

“I think that when it comes to this fantastic growth, we are all acutely aware of the fact that we are building a new city as we speak,” said Rob Kiker on a more serious note. “And we are also aware of the responsibility that entails. When we go into a neighborhood, there is a huge responsibility to make sure that we get it right.”

Principal Daniel Goddard continued, “Seattle is decidedly more urban, and…it is important that as buildings are built, there is an established framework for what is to follow. We are looking to establish good precedents; it isn’t just a matter of coming in and doing a good building, but setting an example for all of the buildings that are going to follow.”

That driving principle as led those at Weinstein A+U to work on numerous important projects milestone projects throughout the region and expand its name and notoriety. Principal Milton Won, who has been with the Weinstein A+U since its beginnings, stated that while there were a lot of projects that have contributed to the firm’s growth, one of the most memorable projects was the completion of the Banner Building in 1993. At the time, said Won, shell condominium buildings were rarer and form and design, and often had a tougher time getting financial backing.

“At the time, nobody did shell buildings because banks wanted finished products so they were not stuck with something they could not sell,’ stated Won. ‘But it turned out to be quite successful, and that was a while ago, so that was pretty important in getting the name of the firm out beyond single-family residences, which is usually the typical way a small firm works up to doing larger things.”

“I think the reason that project was impactful was because the building was also unusual for Seattle at the time. It wasn’t hiding the fact that it was an urban building. Up until then, most multifamily buildings did not attempt to make a big urban statement the way the Banner Building did,” added Principal Kirsten Wild, who also called out Seattle’s Fire Station 10 as key to introducing the firm to a wider array of commercial and civic projects.

Over the years, Weinstein A+U has also worked on the William K. Nakamura Federal Courthouse, completed in 2008, the new Jewish Family Services Campus, which wrapped in construction in 2012, renovations to the iconic State Hotel in downtown, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Patient Center, built in 2009. 

The key to a successfully designed building, even when tackling a variety of project types, was taking careful stock of the surrounding built environment while partnering with forward-thinking firms hoping to impact the community in a positive way. 

“We want to partner with clients who are helping the city in a really positive way, people who are building up the city to be a good community,” said Principal Matt Zinski.

In addition, said Principal Davi Parker-Garcia, the city of Seattle presents no singular architectural style, making the individual analysis of every project important. “I think as a result of that uncertainty and a burst of growth, [the architectural style] is pretty eclectic. There are a lot of new buildings going up, and they are all very different from one another. There is no single type to apply to that.”

The beginning of next year will mark yet another transition in the firm’s history, as for the first time, Weinstein will begin to take a step back from the helm of his company. 

“Starting next year, there will be a transition of equity or distribution, where the five principals besides Milton and I are all being encouraged to acquire equity to become owners and leaders of the firm for the next generation,” said Weinstein. “Obviously, that will have a very significant impact on the firm in terms of leadership and decision making. I find it terribly exciting and terrible challenging at the same time….more than any individual building, that’s going to occupy our attention for the next three or four years.” 

When the principals were asked what their aspirations for the firm were in the coming years, they all agreed that maintaining the culture and staying passionate while producing vibrant architecture were all key.

“I think we want to take to the values that Ed has inculcated in all of us and continue to do the absolute best work we can and continue to build our city in a manner that benefits this place,” explained Zinski. “On top of that, we obviously have to keep the firm going, and questions of growth versus stasis, ,we haven’t even gotten their yet. I think our big challenge will be to continue to pursue what we consider good work.”