A Glimpse of Seattle's Architectural Future

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When it comes to the intangible feeling that defines a city, it's hard to beat the skyline in terms of first-impression impact. Good architecture creates an urban environment that is both inviting and exciting. And as architects around the world continue to explore new designs and materials for creating buildings that are more ecologically efficient, we can begin to visualize a future that looks drastically different from the cities of the past (You can browse hundreds of the best innovations in this realm in our Shelter archive).

In the United States, Seattle is an epicenter of cutting edge sustainable architecture, with one of the highest concentrations of sustainable buildings in the country. So who are the local firms to keep an eye on? This week, AIA Seattle announced the opening of a new gallery exhibit on display in its downtown office: New Edge | New Blood: A Dozen Firms Shaping the Future of Seattle Architecture.

Featured firms include: BLA, Build LLC, chadbourne+doss, Graham Baba, Heliotrope, Hutchison & Maul, HyBrid, Lead Pencil Studio, Pb Elemental, Pique, Workshop A|D, and Zero Plus.

Design credit: Hybrid; Photo credit: Lara Swimmer

The distinguished curatorial team responsible for selecting these 12 firms included: Ed Weinstein, FAIA of Weinstein A|U; Eric Cobb, AIA of E. Cobb Architects; and Carrie Schilling, AIA of works partnership architecture. AIA Seattle board member David Spiker of CollinsWoerman led the team, and I spoke briefly with him about the selection process:

Worldchanging: What were the most important criteria informing your selection of the winners?

David Spiker: We were looking for firms and individuals that will make a difference in the architecture of the region, that will challenge the status quo and that can reframe the ongoing debate on the nature of architectural practice. And we wanted firms with an “edge”.

WC: How heavily did you consider issues of sustainability in your decision?

DS: The selected firms have sustainability as a baseline in their work; it’s embedded in how they design. So, interestingly, we didn’t need to discuss sustainability as a specific agenda any more then we would discuss other aspects of project implementation. These offices have internalized the issue.

WC: What do you think this group of winners says about the future direction of architecture in Seattle?

DS: I think this group suggests that the future will be very rich and inventive. Both in terms of the actual design product and the ways in which that product is developed and implemented. Several of the offices are taking on the whole delivery system of architectural practice, not just the design aspect.

I was particularly struck by the absence of “northwest regional” idioms in the work of these firms. These practices are thinking and acting globally, not locally.

The gallery exhibition will be open to the public through September 26, at AIA Seattle, 1911 1st Avenue, downtown. Hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Top photo and design credit: Hutchison & Maul