When LMN Architects was founded in Seattle in 1979, Microsoft and Starbucks were young upstarts and architects still drew by hand. And while much has changed, there are a few striking similarities between then and now, at least for LMN. Born during the energy crisis of the late ’70s, the firm embraced sustainable design from the start, and the commitment remains fundamental to its identity. And then, as now, the firm explores how civic buildings can have an outsize impact on the cultural identity of cities.
In recent years, LMN has won numerous AIA Institute Honor Awards for architecture, interior architecture, and regional and urban design, but its latest recognition, the Architecture Firm Award, speaks not just to the diversity and quality of its portfolio, or even to its pioneering commitment to sustainability, but also to the collaborative working environment that inspires its ideas. “What’s so gratifying is that it’s not an award for an individual or a project. It’s an award about the firm: the history, the culture, the people, and the work,” says partner Sam Miller, AIA. LMN’s greatest pride is not its buildings, he says, but the process that creates them.
LMN was founded by George Loschky, FAIA, Jud Marquardt, FAIA, and John Nesholm, FAIA, all of whom came from the Seattle firm NBBJ with the intention of focusing on public projects. “They saw a significance in public life and public places,” says partner Mark Reddington, FAIA, who has been with LMN for 29 years.
One of the firm’s first major commissions was Benaroya Hall (1998), a performing arts center, which was followed soon after by the Washington State Convention Center expansion (2001), which features a monumental glazed archway over Pike Street that acts as a gateway into downtown. Marion Oliver McCaw Hall (2003) transformed the former midcentury modern Seattle Opera House (itself a transformation of the circa-1928 Beaux-Arts–style Civic Auditorium) into a glassy, light-filled space. Both Benaroya and McCaw were noteworthy for their transparency and outdoor spaces, which helped to foster a sense of activity even when there weren’t any performances.
The Vancouver Convention Centre West (2009), included in the AIA Committee on the Environment’s 2011 Top Ten Green Projects list, was a transformative fusion of civic building and ecology. The 1.2 million-square-foot structure is sited amid 6 acres of parkland, with a bird-habitat-friendly green roof and a series of underwater terraces for sea life. “It’s a sophisticated approach to the building as an organism in a habitat,” Miller says. “We apply that to all our projects.”
The firm’s more recent work includes the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, in San Antonio, and the University of Washington in Seattle’s Sound Transit light-rail station, which knits together rail, bus, and bike infrastructure with a two-level glass entrance, all while framing views of Lake Washington and the Cascade mountain range. LMN partner Stephen Van Dyck, AIA, says that the station represents “a huge untapped role for creative design thinking in large-scale civic infrastructure work.”
Even as the scale of its projects has increased, LMN has retained a single office and studio for its 160 employees, so that “everyone is working on a project at the same time,” says partner Wendy Pautz, AIA. “We like to think that we’re big enough to do projects of scale and to have resources associated with that, like a big shop and seasoned veterans who know how to put a curtainwall together. But we’re also small enough to feel like one office, one group, working towards a common goal. We’re trying to find that sweet spot where we can kind of have it both ways.”
Younger hires can make an immediate impact through cross-mentoring. “We don’t see it as a one-way street,” Van Dyck explains. “Graduates are coming from school with an incredible array of skill sets that many of us who have been out of the academy for a while don’t have. It’s not just the seasoned 30-year professional distributing ideas about curtainwall detailing. It’s also the 26-year-old intern sharing ideas about working through software platforms.”
The firm also prioritizes community involvement, and not just pro bono design work, but advocacy. For example, LMN was a vocal proponent of removing the Alaskan Way Viaduct—an elevated highway along the Seattle waterfront that was damaged in a 2001 earthquake—in order to reconnect downtown with the waterfront and improve pedestrian access and public space. The firm also argued in favor of light rail and streetcars instead of expanding the city’s monorail, which dates to the 1962 World’s Fair, because the expansion would have blocked light from a major downtown avenue.
“We think carefully about what we believe is right and what we think’s going to help the profession and the community,” Reddington says. “That’s all part of making a culture and a firm that we believe in.”
To see more work by LMN, visit our project gallery.