Seattle-based Mithun always considered itself a regional firm with a strong focus on residential planning and design work, but in 2008 the collective opened a San Francisco office in a move forward as a more diverse and, it hopes, recession-proof company.

“Residential work has always been a core part of our office, but it's now balanced with civic projects for cities, governments, institutions, nonprofit groups, and universities,” says David Goldberg, AIA, the firm's managing principal. “When there's a downturn in one market or the other, we do feel it, but the other sides pick up.”

Still, the firm isn't immune to the ups and downs of the economy and has reduced staff. “The workload has dropped as clients are unable to get financing due to the credit crisis,” Goldberg says. “We strategically adjusted staff size to keep it in balance with the projected workflow.”

During the housing boom, the 60-year-old Mithun became selective, favoring only the best projects, says principal Jay Janette, AIA. “We kept condo work to 30 percent, just to minimize our exposure to market fluctuations,” he explains. It also hired people capable of handling different project types if the market shifts and integrated landscape architecture and urban design to tackle more geographically diverse work. In recent years, Mithun has strengthened its commitment to sustainable design. “A number of years ago, we instituted a policy to accept only residential planning and design work that had a density of eight units per acre,” Goldberg says. But in 2007, “we moved it up to 14 units per acre. That was about positioning ourselves for the wave of urbanization and transit-oriented development that's happening around the world.”

The strategy may be paying off. “As we have begun to focus on more urban development—specifically transit-oriented ones—what we're starting to see is a surge in public/private partnerships,” Janette says. “That has created an opportunity to stabilize during a downturn.”

Jay Janette, AIA (left), and David Goldberg, AIA
Mithun, Juan Hernandez Jay Janette, AIA (left), and David Goldberg, AIA

age of firm: 60 years
firm specialty: Multifamily residential, mixed-use, and community master planning
staff: 149 (2005); 212 (prior to layoffs in early 2008), 189 (end of 2008); 189 (2009, projected)
total revenue: $29 million (2005); $32 million (2008); Unknown (2009)
completed projects: Withheld