About Us

What We Do

The Seattle Design Commission was established in 1968 to advise the Mayor, City Council, and City departments on the design of capital improvement projects that are located on City land, in the City right-of-way, or constructed with City funds. We provide key recommendations on the aesthetic, environmental, and design principals and policies applied to these projects. We give advice through the entire process, from the initial contract selection to the design concept and project construction.

We meet on the first and third Thursdays of each month in the Boards & Commissions room, located on the lower level of Seattle City Hall at 600 4th Ave. We review City-funded capital projects like community centers, park facilities, fire stations, and police stations. We also review vision plans like the Bicycle Master Plan and key transportation projects such as the Alaska Way / Viaduct Replacement and State Route 520.

We play a key role in evaluating projects that propose the vacation of a street or alley to allow new development, the construction of a new skybridge, or the reauthorization of an existing skybridge. We advise the Seattle Department of Transportation on whether the vacation of the street or alley negatively affects the remaining right-of-way and on how those impacts are mitigated through proposed public benefits. Public benefits are primarily public space improvements like widened sidewalks, new open spaces, or improvements to the surrounding streets or alleys.

Mission

The Seattle Design Commission advises elected officials and the public on design excellence in City facilities, infrastructure, and the public realm. Six values guide our work:

  1. Inspired Design - Inspired design unifies the public realm and inspires the community by embodying state-of-the-art practices.
  2. Contextual Integration - Integrated design responds to its context and enhances its neighborhood.
  3. Innovative Sustainability - Sustainable design minimizes environmental impact and provides long-term self-sufficiency.
  4. Social Inclusion - Inclusive design seeks to elevate the quality of life for all and responds fluently to its cultural context.
  5. Exemplary Partnerships - Design partnerships leverage public, community, and private resources, integrating design efforts across multiple disciplines and agencies to achieve greater results with the same resources.
  6. Effective Investments - Effective design provides high value for the investment by thoughtfully considering flexibility, longevity, and total life-cycle costs.

About the Commission

We require members of the Seattle Design Commission to have professional expertise in architecture, planning, engineering, urban design, or fine art. We also have one position for someone that is not in one of those professions. We recruit members in a variety of ways, including through other Commissioners and through outreach in professional networks, publications, and schools.

The Mayor ultimately selects Commission members who are then confirmed by the City Council. Commissioners can serve up to two two-year terms.  

The City also appoints a Get Engaged candidate for a one-year term on the Seattle Design Commission. The joint City of Seattle / YMCA Get Engaged program is dedicated to cultivating the next generation of leaders and advocating for the influence of young voices in City affairs. Applicants are not expected to have prior experience serving on a board.

Staff

The Seattle Design Commission is supported by four staff:

Together, they help us implement our mission and work, including:

  • Facilitating our yearly work plan
  • Developing written reports concerning projects subject to our review
  • Providing written minutes of our meetings
  • Communicating our recommendations to the Mayor, City Council, and City departments
  • Providing expertise to interdepartmental teams concerned with projects that affect the public realm or public places
  • Recruiting and training new Commissioners
  • Providing administrative and planning support for our special events

Commissioners

Ross Tilghman, Chair Ross Tilghman, Chair
Position: Transportation Planner
Term: Second
Term expires: March 1, 2019

Ross Tilghman is a transportation planning consultant with his own practice, the Tilghman Group. Working nationally and internationally, he tailors transportation plans for a wide variety of land uses to fit their environmental, historical, and cultural settings. He was also executive director of a downtown business improvement district participating in the National Main Street program.

Tilghman is a full member of the Urban Land Institute and regularly serves on advisory panels for communities across the county, most recently addressing public health consequences of urban design. Locally, he participates on ULI’s Sustainable Communities Task Force, where he helped organize the inaugural course for the Center for Sustainable Leadership. When not working or traveling, Ross is usually at the Mount Baker Rowing & Sailing Center, where he rows competitively and serves on the Boating Advisory Council, a non-profit organization that works with Seattle Parks and Recreation. He received a Master of Architecture degree in Geography from the University of Washington and Bachelor of Arts in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

John Savo, Vice ChairJohn Savo, Vice Chair
Position: Architect
Term: Second
Term expires: March 1, 2019

John Savo, AIA, is a Principal with NBBJ in Seattle and a leader of the firm’s commercial and corporate practice. For over 30 years, he has led urban architecture projects that emphasize innovation, historic preservation, and sustainability. A generalist, John has delivered a wide range of project types for his clients, including high-rise and mid-rise office and residential buildings, complex mixed-use projects, public infrastructure, corporate and institutional master plans, and historic building rehabilitations.

In addition to practice, John has taught architecture and design at universities in Boston and Seattle and has served locally on the Boards of Leadership Tomorrow, the South Lake Union Community Council, and the South Lake Union Chamber of Commerce for which he served as President in 2012. John is also Chair of the Citizens Advisory Committee for Seattle University’s Master Plan. Passionate about advancing a more sustainable future, he has presented at numerous conferences, including Green Leaders Summit, Green Build, and Code Green. Prior to joining NBBJ in 1985, John was with Olson Walker Architects in Seattle and Marcel Breuer Associates in NYC.

Justin ClarkJustin Clark
Position: Engineer
Term: First
Term expires: March 1, 2020

Justin Clark, PE, is a bridge engineer with WSP, an infrastructure engineering consulting firm.  He has worked on many high-profile projects for transportation, transit, and rail agencies, including SDOT, Sound Transit (ST), WSDOT, BART, and LA Metro.  Exemplified by his recent work on ST's Northgate Link light rail extension, Justin is focused on creating transportation infrastructure that effectively fits into the fabric of the city and region, positively impacting how people live and the ways that development occurs. 

  Outside of his design experience, Justin has been involved in committees with Leadership Tomorrow, American Public Works Association (APWA), and the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO).  He is also passionate about diving into the intersections between his day job and the communities that he's a part of.  One of those areas of intersectionality is the expansion of opportunities for minorities in the STEM fields.  Partnering with multiple education organizations, Justin frequently participates in educational outreach and mentoring, predominately focused on students of color interested in the field of engineering.

Ben-deRubertisBen de Rubertis
Position: Urban Designer
Term: First
Term expires: March 1, 2018

Ben de Rubertis is Creative Director of Genus Architecture, a diverse architectural practice focused on the use of advanced metrics for the development of cost-efficient, sustainable, community-responsive buildings. He serves concurrently as Design Director for Flad Architects. Ben has worked in many capacities as volunteer, public leader, master planner, teacher, artist, historian and principal designer for nationally recognized and published projects. He served as Design Principal for AR7 Architects, providing design leadership for higher education practice for the Western US. While a fellow with the Professional Schools Neighborhood Clinic, Ben worked with various local community development corporations to help endow several capital construction extending necessary services into inner-city neighborhoods.

In addition to his planning experience, Ben has worked on pioneering the sustainability movement within Colorado and Arizona. He has been the principal designer for two of the first three LEED Platinum buildings at University of Arizona. Ben’s professional focus on climate-sensitive building design as well as renewable energy systems and their systematic deployment in educational settings has earned numerous awards and teaching engagements. Ben has been active in both AIA and ULI, is an active committee member with the Colorado Water Conservation Board and has served as a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Denver Public Library. Ben earned B.A. and M.Arch degrees from Yale University.

Rachel GleesonRachel Gleeson
Position: Landscape Architect
Term: Second
Term expires: March 1, 2019

Rachel is a Senior Associate at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), where she has worked since 2001. Her work engages a wide range of landscape types, including campuses, parks, and gardens. Notable projects include the Campus Landscape Framework for the University of Washington, the redesign of the North End of Union Square Park, Chelsea Cover of Hudson River Park, and the CRC Garden at Rockefeller University. She also supports a number of MVVA projects through design writing. Rachel’s written work includes an essay on MVVA’s urban plazas in Reconstructing Urban Landscapes, as well as other journal and magazine articles.

Rachel received her Bachelor of Arts from Columbia College of Columbia University. She holds a Master of Architecture and a Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Virginia and a Master of Art in Art History from the University of Washington. She is a licensed landscape architect in Washington State.

Laura-HaddadLaura Haddad
Position: Fine Artist
Term: First
Term expires: March 1, 2018

Laura Haddad is an artist who has been working in Seattle’s public realm for the past twenty years. Her site-specific work derives meaning from the phenomena, utility, context, and history of a site. Fusing the temporal with the spatial and the conceptual with the functional, she strives to create art that forms a medium of exchange between systems, ideas, and interventions. In 2001 Laura co-founded Haddad|Drugan, a studio that operates at the intersection of art, architecture, landscape, and theater. Their large-scale environmental art, located in cities across the United States and Canada, is often integrated into urban infrastructure and realized through a process of working closely with design teams. Laura has also authored multiple art plans, including the Elliott Bay Seawall Project Art Programming Plan.

Laura holds a Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of California at Berkeley and a Bachelor of Arts in History from Bowdoin College. She has taught design studios dealing with art landscape at University of Washington and Rhode Island School of Design and served on the Port of Seattle’s Art Oversight Committee.

Brianna HolanBrianna Holan
Position: Urban Planner
Term: First
Term Expires: March 1, 2019

Brianna Holan, AICP, is a Principal Urban Designer at LMN Architects and a leading voice in the firm’s civic planning, and urban infrastructure work. With over 12 years of experience, her work has included public and private design and planning projects, including large civic infrastructure, district and sub-area plans, and streetscape design both locally and nationally. Brianna focuses on contextually rooted, sustainable design and planning solutions, with an emphasis on robust community and stakeholder outreach, including working with the City of Seattle on complex multimodal projects involving coordination between several public agencies and stakeholder groups. She takes special consideration towards social equity and environmental stewardship. Brianna's primary goal in her work is to contribute to the creation of community-oriented activated places. A member of the Urban Land Institute as well as the American Planning Association, Brianna is also serving on the Livability and Affordability Committee for the AIA Washington Council.

Mark JohnsonMark Johnson
Position: Architect
Term: Second
Term Expires: March 1, 2020

Focused on connecting people with place, Mark Johnson, AIA works to inspire design for humankind, using a combination of materials, function, light, nature, and sound. Mark founded Signal Architecture + Research in 2014 following a 15-year career at Miller Hull Partnership and Jones and Jones Architects and Landscape Architects in Seattle. His desire to work at multiple scales to connect people to their place in the world was founded in Signal and is supported by a studio of designers who are equally inspired to explore the range of opportunities through design execution.

  Mark has lectured and taught at UW for 15 years, and regularly serves as a juror for architecture and landscape architecture studios and thesis. His recent tenure with the 4Culture Public Art Advisory Committee following a board position at the ECOSS gave him an awareness for City and County function beyond the design studio. He sees his role on the Design Commission as an opportunity to support design excellence in our City.

Rick KrochalisRick Krochalis
Position: At-Large Representative
Term: First
Term expires: March 1, 2019

Richard (Rick) F. Krochalis was the Regional Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Region 10 office in Seattle, Washington from May 2002 until he retired from federal service in June 2016. In this position, Mr. Krochalis was responsible for the administration of FTA's capital, operating and planning grant programs totaling over $700 million annually in the four-state Western region, which includes Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska. Prior to joining the FTA, Mr. Krochalis served as director of design, construction and land use for the city of Seattle for ten years, improving the performance of Seattle’s primary regulatory agency, including implementation of a program for neighborhood design review of private development projects. From 1972 until 1992, Mr. Krochalis served as an officer in the U.S. Navy in a series of facilities construction and management positions, including program manager for the Navy homeport at Everett, WA, and planning and real estate director for the Navy’s West Coast operations.

Mr. Krochalis obtained a master’s degree from Harvard University in city and regional planning and a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in environmental systems engineering. His current memberships include: the University of Washington’s College of the Built Environment Planning Professionals Council, the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) Public Development and Infrastructure National Product Council, the American Institute of Certified Planners and American Planning Association.

Evan FowlerEvan Fowler
Position: Get Engaged Member
Term: 1 Year
Term expires: September 1, 2018

Evan Fowler, a fifth generation Washingtonian, currently attends the University of Washington School of Law and sits on the board of HD Fowler Company. He has degrees in finance, information systems, and political science.  Before law school he worked in the construction industry for his family's business. He worked as a project manager on large scale above ground water utility public works projects, such as pump stations and waste water treatment plants. He also negotiated and drafted contracts on behalf of his company with contractors, manufacturers, and material distributors. He is happy to have an opportunity through the Design Commission to participate in dialogue that is helping shape the City of Seattle.

Annual Reports

In 2016, we reviewed a total of 29 projects, plans, and permits valued at $4.2 billion. For details, see the Commission's 2017 Annual Report. Click here to see our annual presentation to the Planning, Land Use & Zoning Committee.

See past annual reports: