Mithun, based in Seattle, has drawn national attention for its sustainable architecture, landscape architecture, and planning work. Daniel Solomon Design Partners (DSDP) of San Francisco is one of the biggest names in New Urbanism, well known for its work on affordable housing. On Friday, the firms announced they had tied the knot, and the Mithun office in San Francisco will now be known as Mithun|Solomon. The Seattle office will continue to be called Mithun.
“Each practice has a lot of history in neighborhood revitalization,” says Bert Gregory, the architect who is CEO of Mithun. “They bring a tremendous array of talent in urban design, urban housing, and campus planning. We’re very busy in each of those areas.”
“We admire them very much,” says Daniel Solomon, the architect and founder of DSDP. “They have this conceptual framework about environmentalism at all scales, into which our skills fit very neatly.”
Both firms have received ASLA Honor Awards for their planning work. ASLA recognized Mithun for its contributions to the Lloyd Crossing Sustainable Urban Design Plan in Portland, Oregon (a plan created with Greenworks). And DSDP collaborated with GLS Landscape/Architecture on the award-winning plan for Hunters View Public Housing Neighborhood Redevelopment in San Francisco.
But the firms are as well-known for their leaders’ extracurricular activities as their design work. Solomon was one of six architects to found the Congress for the New Urbanism in 1993. Gregory played a key role in the development of the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system. And Debra Guenther, FASLA, a partner at Mithun, was awarded the President’s Medal from ASLA for her contributions to the Sustainable Sites Initiative.
There are many similarities between the firms, not least an eagerness to practice across disciplines. But Solomon seems to depart in his thoughts about performance metrics, which are a growing area of focus for many design firms. He wrote in a tract that reflects on 20 years of New Urbanism that although he agrees with the intent of LEED for Neighborhood Development, “the system as a whole is egregious non-sense.”
He continued: “LEED-ND is reductive modernist thinking, just like the thinking that produced the places that New Urbanists banded together to resist—the cities of sprawl, erasure and slab block modernism. Real cities, we should have learned, don’t fit universal formulae, let alone simple ones. It is not a matter of fiddling with the system until it is right; the problem is the very idea of schematicizing.”
Asked in a phone interview about those views, Solomon says: “That doesn’t mean that I think metrics are without their utility and their place. You just can’t measure everything, including some very important things.” He says he is finding ”plenty of room for lively discourse” within the Mithun and Mithun|Solomon offices and hasn’t found their differences of opinion to be a big deal.