By Meghan Hall
Mithun has long been an architectural pillar in the Puget Sound region and has established a highly regarded reputation on a variety of projects since its founding in 1949. Its growth has carried a steady trajectory and even as it has grown its partners have been strategic and thorough. At the end of 2019, Mithun merged with local firm Schacht Aslani Architects, a longtime collaborator, strengthening its presence in the Puget Sound and a rare occurrence for a firm that maintains it does not simply grow “for growth’s sake.”
The prospect of a merger between the two firms was not new; in fact, the idea arose at Schacht Aslani long before the two firms even collaborated on a project.
“We knew each other in the community; we knew each other and were friendly,” explained Walter Schacht, co-founder of Schacht Aslani. “But the idea actually began at Schacht Aslani as we began to envision what our long-term future was…We were aware of the fact that we needed to partner with folks who shared our values and help us compete in an environment where, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, it is hugely competitive because of the quality of firms.”
The two firms got their first opportunity to work together in 2016, on a State Capitol Development Study for the State of Washington’s Department of Enterprise Services. Together, the two firms worked to examine which buildings on the state capitol campus were up for replacement or rehabilitation, as well as potential development sites and infrastructure improvements. The collaboration was everything Mithun and Schacht Aslani had hoped for.
“It was a great partnership; it was everything we sort of imagined that being partners might be,” Schacht said.
Over the past several years, Mithun and Schacht Aslani have separately designed a dozen design-build projects together, totaling more than $800 million in construction value. Shared clients include the University of Washington, Seattle University, Seattle’s Department of Parks and Recreation and, as mentioned, the State of Washington. As they continued to work with one another, a merger seemed not just logical, but natural. According to both Schacht and Mithun’s President, Dave Goldberg, the transition occurred organically thanks, in part, to similar values and approaches to design.
“The firms both have a very strong culture of listening, listening to clients and not prescribing design ideas upon them but understanding what is really driving a client’s agenda around a project and coming up with beautiful design solutions that help to solve those problems, whether they’re financial, technical or programmatic…,” said Goldberg. “From a design standpoint, both firms are award-winning recognized by our peers in the industry…We share an aesthetic sensibility around contemporary, modern design work, around sustainability…and there’s just a collaborative spirit.”
As a part of the merger, all 20 of Schacht Aslani’s architects moved from their prior downtown space into Mithun’s offices at Pier 56. Cima Malek-Aslani, Walter Schacht, Eric Aman and JC Letourneau became partners at Mithun, and together, the firms total 190 people.
While there was a lot of work involved, noted both Schacht and Goldberg, employees and clients were excited about the transition.
“It was really just a logical thing in so many ways, and I think the community as a whole thought that way,” said Schacht.
Together, the firms have pursued seven projects as a team, have been invited to interview for all seven, and won the final bid for six—no small feat for an architecture firm in Seattle’s competitive AEC market. New projects include two additional office buildings for the State Capitol, a design build project for the University of Washington and Cascadia College, and another project for Washington State University’s College of Engineering and Architecture.
“It’s a good streak,” said Goldberg. “There are a lot of really, really good firms in our region, [who are] to be honest, our friends and peers in the community. It’s a good thing for us, and we’re honored and we’re happy.”
The merger has come at a time when the Puget Sound’s AEC community is at a turning point, when firms that were once strictly regional are now expanding beyond Washington State, achieving national, and in some cases global, notoriety.
“What we’re hearing is that the work that is being produced by Seattle’s firms, and Washington State’s firms as a whole, rivals work being done anywhere else in the country,” said Schacht. “It goes to the quality of the work, the scale of the work, and I think we’re all really proud of that, the level of collegiality, the camaraderie, the willingness to share ideas and support for a design-led community.”
Goldberg added, “We’re seeing more and more growth in the region, we’re seeing more and more national firms do work here. The flip side is because of the strength of our design community here I’d say more and more of the practices in our region are becoming national practices.”
Mithun itself has grown in the past ten years, opening its San Francisco office in 2008. In another merger this year, Mithun joined up with Los Angeles-based Hodgetts and Fung to establish a Southern California presence. With the future in mind, Mithun’s primary concern, is not to grow by numbers; employee count and revenue are not the firm’s focus when it comes to expansion. Instead, as Mithun moves forward with Schacht Aslani and Hodgetts and Fung, the goal moving forward will be to focus on a wide array of product types, high caliber projects and landmark buildings for corporate clients.
“The firm has never had any goals around growth in size…and we still don’t,” said Goldberg. “We definitely have goals around design quality, project typologies and working with more sophisticated clients who share our values of making a positive impact in the communities where they work.”