About the award
The Architecture Firm Award is the highest honor AIA bestows on an architecture practice. The award recognizes a firm that has consistently produced distinguished architecture for at least 10 years.
Mithun, founded by beloved University of Washington Professor Omer Mithun in 1949, is an integrated design firm that introduces positive change through its holistic, interdisciplinary pursuit of architecture. With a deep belief in design’s ability to change people’s lives and connect them deeply to place, the firm embraces its 70-year history of excellence but remains committed to addressing today’s critical challenges. In doing so, Mithun carefully balances three crucial outcomes of a successful modern architecture practice: beautiful design, an eager embrace of sustainability leadership, and commitment to the social contract.
At its founding, Mithun emerged as an award-winning firm producing Mid-century Modern work across the Pacific Northwest. True to Omer Mithun’s curious spirit, the firm engaged in early explorations in passive solar design. At the same time, his commitment to education shaped a strong culture and mentorship within its Seattle office. That spirit and the firm’s dedication to the environment, the communities it serves, and civic engagement endure. Today, the firm has additional offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles, but its 180 professionals espouse a “one studio, three doors” spirit as they advance Mithun’s mission: Design for Positive Change.
Mithun has remained at the forefront of the sustainable design movement since the 1990s and was among the earliest signatories to the AIA 2030 Commitment. Mithun’s portfolio includes seven AIA COTE Top Ten Award-winning projects, 11 net-zero energy buildings, and four Living Building Challenge target buildings. In addition, its sustainability research is shared widely with the profession through countless presentations and publications as well as design tools such as buildcarbonneutral.org, which design professionals across the country regularly access.
Mithun’s groundbreaking and inspiring work—such as a net-positive 30-acre campus expansion at Chatham University near Pittsburgh and 2060 Folsom, a net-zero carbon ready affordable housing development in San Francisco—has distinguished the firm as a leader in the profession. Its commitment to advancing research, one of the firm’s most essential attributes, is on view at the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans, where a transformative design entwines indoor and outdoor learning opportunities that support literacy, early childhood research, and environmental education.
As a multigenerational firm founded by a professor celebrated for his mentoring ability, Mithun has long explored ways to empower its junior designers and professionals early in their careers. The firm was an early adopter of emerging design and visualization technologies, centering those tools within a culture of mentorship and integrated design. The resulting concept, which Mithun called the coLAB, is a central component in its offices, allowing the next generation of design leaders to spur innovation. Within the coLAB, designers of all levels rely on digital and analog tools to uncover bold new ideas together.
To address today’s most pressing challenges, Mithun realized the need for a new model of a silo-smashing architectural practice. That thinking is embedded in every facet of the firm’s operations; for example, it resisted forming internal design studios so that ideas can be shared more broadly across its practice. With all design disciplines working closely together, Mithun has produced an authentic body of work that is steeped in place and community rather than the vision of a single designer. This, too, has shaped a new breed of architect: an inspirational collaborator and listener rather than an all-knowing designer.