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August 19, 2015

Center for Architecture & Design: branding Seattle as a design city

Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce

Lynn Porter

Seattle is home to lots of architecture firms, known nationally for sustainable design, and in the midst of a building boom that is changing the skyline almost every day.

Yet people are more likely to associate cities such as Copenhagen and New York with great design.

The Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects and some other architecture groups want to change that by opening what they call the Center for Architecture & Design.

The center will be in a 4,500-square-foot space in the National Building at 1010 Western Ave. AIA Seattle, Seattle Architecture Foundation, Design in Public and AIA Washington Council will move there before the end of the year.

It will give the organizations a greater public presence, allowing them to present programs on broad themes in the city, from growth and development to healthy urban environments. They can also provide a wider range of exhibits, tours, lectures and workshops, and host talks by design professionals and community leaders about issues such as sustainability and affordable housing.

The center is not a new organization, and the groups will remain independent while collaborating on some programming. The goal is to reinforce "the brand of Seattle as a design center," said AIA Seattle Executive Director Lisa Richmond.

Design is thriving here, from architecture to landscape architecture to graphic design, yet it doesn't often get its due, she said.

"I feel it's certainly under-discussed or under-recognized," she said, "the importance it plays in our economy and our city."

Stacy Segal, executive director of Seattle Architecture Foundation, said with the new center "hopefully architects will hear what the public is saying and the public will feel like it has a voice as well."

AIA Seattle is a 120-year-old organization that serves architects and related professions through classes, workshops, public outreach and advocacy. It has 1,974 members in King, Kitsap, Snohomish, Chelan, Jefferson and Clallam counties. Most live and work in Seattle.

Seattle Architecture Foundation became a committee of AIA Seattle in 1980 and an independent charitable organization in 1982. It offers tours, exhibits and programs about architecture in Seattle and the region.

Design in Public is a nonprofit that produces the Seattle Design Festival. The AIA Washington Council now is based in Olympia and advocates for legislation that impacts the practice of architecture. It represents the six Washington AIA chapters.

The council's president, Geoff Anderson, said, "We were looking for a little more visibility and access to our members, and that really was in Seattle." The council will continue to have a lobbyist in Olympia.

The lease for the Center for Architecture & Design is for five years with an option to renew for five more. Kirk Johnson, Craig Hill and Sandra Hill of NAI Puget Sound Properties represented the center in the negotiations. Mike Grainger and Jim Lovsted of Kidder Mathews represented the landlord, King Western, Inc.

Segal declined to provide the lease rate.

She said many groups are helping to create the center. Suyama Peterson Deguchi is designing the tenant improvements; Krekow Jennings is the general contractor; and OAC Services is the project manager. All are working pro bono.

Fundraising is under way for materials and other labor for the TIs and for developing programs over the long term. So far, $800,000 of the $1.25 million goal has been raised. Donations may be sent to

AIA Seattle and Design in Public now share space near Pike Place Market. Seattle Architecture Foundation is in Rainier Square, which is slated to be redeveloped.

Richmond said many major cities have design and architecture centers - and Seattle's couldn't be better timed, given the extensive development here. "When you look at Seattle, design is a very significant part of what's going to make it better as we grow," she said.

The groups at the center will continue to do independent programming, but coordinate on some, providing different perspectives. AIA Seattle may, for instance, offer workshops on healthy urban environments, while SAF could lead tours on that topic, Segal said.

Each year the center will offer workshops, lectures, exhibits, tours and films that focus on themes related to Seattle's future and how good design can make it better, said Richmond. Some programming will look at how different disciplines contribute to that, from user experience design to industrial design.

Richmond said downtown Seattle is a perfect place for the center - and for a conversation about urban design. Most of the Center for Architecture & Design - with its expansive storefronts - will be devoted to public gallery and exhibit space that can also be used for meetings and events. There will also be offices, a resource library on AIA Seattle member firms, and a catering kitchen.

AIA Seattle has launched the sustainability programs AIA+2030 and Getting to Zero, which have since gone national, and this region has had a big impact on sustainable practices nationally and internationally, Richmond said. The city also is attracting a lot of design talent, she said.

Seattle expects 120,000 new residents and 115,000 new jobs in the next 20 years.

A higher profile for the Center for Architecture & Design should help locals and others globally understand the role design plays here and what Seattle designers have to offer, Richmond said.

© 2015 Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce. All rights reserved.

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