Keynote: Mithun: Design for Positive Change


Mithun: Design for Positive Change

Presented by David Goldberg, FAIA, President, MITHUN, at ENGAGE 2023 Practice + Design Conference.

The second keynote speaker of the 2023 AIA Colorado Practice and Design Conference was Dave Goldberg from the architecture firm Mithun. As president of the practice, Dave presented the projects and approach to architecture that led to the firm’s selection as the 2023 AIA Architecture Firm of the Year.

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Mithun was founded in 1949 by Omer Mithun in the Pacific Northwest and is now considered to be in its fourth and fifth generations of leadership. Dave focused on the evolution of the practice and their arrival at today’s mission of “Design for Positive Change.” 

Based on a spirit of design, education, environment, urban-placemaking, and civic engagement, the firm is notably structured as an interdisciplinary design practice that embraces collaboration. To make a bigger impact on the world, Mithun evolved from an architecture-centric practice to a collaborative interdisciplinary, project-centric practice that succeeds by integrating multiple design disciplines into the design process. Today, in addition to architecture, their integrated design model includes landscape architecture, urban design, planning, and research and development.

Dave presented the four pillars of the Mithun design firm: Collaborative Interdisciplinary Model, Centering Equity, Sustainable Design Leadership, and Innovative Research.

Collaborative Interdisciplinary Model

Meant to dispel the myth of the “all-knowing genius designer,” the new paradigm of architecture is to “collaborate, listen, and lead the process.” For Mithun, all disciplines having a “seat at the table” is both figurative and literal. In addition to each collaborator contributing input during design, the firm has been amplifying collaboration for years by embracing the laptop so that all team members can sit around the “big table” and screen to work together.

Centering Equity

While acknowledging the majority-white led firm and profession in general, Mithun is committed to using design to combat racism, bias, and discrimination in all forms. In addition to work on affordable housing projects and work with tribal and underserved communities, Mithun provides pro-bono design services by contributing approximately 1% of their net revenues annually.

Sustainable Design Leadership

Wide-ranging evidence of Mithun’s leadership in sustainability includes their early adoption of the 2030 Challenge, carbon-neutral operations since 2004, and seven AIA COTE design awards. Additionally, the firm helped develop the LEED Neighborhood Development program, Sustainable Sites Initiative, and created a Build Carbon Neutral online calculator to estimate the embodied carbon of construction projects.

Innovative Research

In 2016, Mithun formalized their R+D efforts to build upon past research and innovation success. Mithun R+D was created to sponsor internal project research, external partnerships, and intellectual research pursuits. Since the R+D formalization, the firm has funded over $1 million and 10,000 hours of research, with the participation of more than 100 Mithun staff.

Concluding the presentation, Dave shared their Louisiana Children’s Museum project that embodies the values and firm mission of “Design for Positive Change.” An AIA COTE Top Ten Plus Award winner, the project creates an outdoor learning laboratory for the children of New Orleans that exemplifies the triple bottom line of social well-being, environmental health, and a just economy. “Growing out of the trauma of Hurricane Katrina, the project became a model of resilience, integration of landscape, and bioclimatic design.”

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See more ENGAGE 2023 Practice + Design Conference coverage at

Also, keep an eye out for Dave’s conversation with Adam Wagoner on the Architect-ing podcast to be released in the coming weeks.

About the Author

Matt Honegger, AIA

Matt Honegger, AIA, has been practicing architecture for 15+ years in Denver on predominantly large-scale commercial and civic projects including office, convention centers, and airports. As his career evolves, airports have become a primary focus, and he is currently working on the future of air travel as an airport designer and terminal planner.

© AIA Colorado 2024
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