Jim Graham Marks 10 Years at Graham Baba Architects
Co-founded by architects Jim Graham (M.Arch ’92) and Brett Baba in 2006, the firm has enjoyed a growing reputation for its work, which includes adapting existing buildings, creating thriving public market venues, designing residences that highlight craft, and developing commercial projects that focus on user experience. “To get the opportunities we’ve had—and to earn the trust of our clients—has been humbling,” says Jim Graham. “Hiring an architect can feel like a leap of faith, emotionally, intellectually, and financially. It all starts with clients who come to us with a vision and challenge us to find solutions for their needs. It has been our honor to work with them. Our success represents the hard work of so many talented people—our staff, consultants, craftspeople and builders.”
The firm found early success transforming existing, underutilized buildings, as exemplified by Seattle projects Melrose Market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and the Kolstrand Building in Ballard. New, mixed-use infill buildings (including Building 115, which features retail and office space and a residence) were also part of the firm’s early work. Projects of this type continued with 325 Westlake/MadArt, an adaptive reuse project that merged an art-making studio with residences, and the MadArt foundation’s headquarters. “In many ways, repurposing existing buildings and urban infill projects are the future of architecture,” notes Baba. “Finding ways to invigorate our cities by capitalizing on the embodied energy and hard-earned legacy of existing structures while protecting existing unbuilt land is essential to rational development.”
Working with owners to redevelop their buildings led directly to working with the tenants who occupy them. The firm soon began creating signature spaces for some of the city’s top chefs, including restaurants for James Beard Award nominees and winners. “Osteria La Spiga was our breakout restaurant project,” notes Graham. La Spiga was followed in quick succession by Miller’s Guild for Jason Wilson, Westward for Josh Henderson, Revel for Rachel Yang, The Walrus and the Carpenter for Renee Erickson, and Bravehorse and Serious Pie for Tom Douglas, among many others. “Working with chefs and restaurant entrepreneurs has been incredibly exciting,” says Graham. “Their artistic spirit is inspirational. The commitment they bring to their work is what we look for in every project.”
Residential projects have been an important part of the firm’s work since its founding. “From the very start, we made a commitment to maintain a balance between residential and non-residential projects,” notes Baba. “Residential design is incredibly personal. It’s the most elemental form of architecture and serves as a springboard for everything else. Working with residences allows us to explore detail and craft in greater depth. We can then bring that knowledge to our other projects.” The firm is currently at work on residences throughout Puget Sound, in Yakima, and in Pebble Beach, California.
By 2010, the firm’s work had expanded to include office space and public markets. Pybus Market in Wenatchee, completed in 2013, further solidified the firm’s expertise in creating successful public venues. “Working in smaller towns is an incredible responsibility,” notes Baba. “The lower volume of construction activity in small towns means that whatever you do will invariably have a significant impact. In big cities, the responsibility to ensure civic vitality is spread out among a lot of projects.” Cowiche Kitchen and Ice Bar, in Baba’s hometown of Yakima, received a Main Street Award for its impact in revitalizing downtown Yakima, while the Washington Fruit and Produce Co. headquarters project, also in Yakima, was recently recognized with a 2016 Northwest and Pacific Region Honor Award and a Seattle AIA Merit Award.
More recently, the firm has been sought out for its ability to provide experienced design for large-scale development projects, which has enabled the firm to scale up its practice. Collaborations include work with ZGF, Kieran Timberlake, and LMN Architects (with whom they are working on the Washington State Convention Center Expansion and 4/C residential tower in Seattle). “We recently realized,” notes Baba, “that if you add up the street frontage of our civic engagement projects—work such as restaurants, retail, public markets, and so on—that it would reach over a mile in length. We were pleasantly surprised. It represents our commitment to the urban realm and the betterment of cities and communities.” Graham adds, “Working with other firms has been incredibly rewarding. We’ve been fortunate that other architects have found value in our work, and that together we are creating something special. It is a trend we hope will continue.” The firm’s recent project, Chophouse Row, designed in collaboration with SKL Architects, was a finalist for Urban Land Institute’s Global Award for Excellence, which recognizes projects for their positive civic impact.
Other current work encompasses a variety of cultural and civic projects, such as the Pratt Fine Art Center; a gallery for artist Lino Tagliapietra in Seattle; the Yakima Public Plaza in collaboration with GGN; a plan for a new Madison Public Market in Madison, Wisconsin; and the adaptive reuse of a historic train station in Napa, California.
As for the future, Graham notes, “The potential for architects and designers to positively impact our world is as strong now as ever. The ongoing merger of technology and craft is providing architects with amazing opportunities to explore traditional as well as new materials. We look forward to finding ways to celebrate the craft of building and community.”
Graham Baba Architects is a Seattle-based architecture firm recognized for the successful place-making of commercial, residential, and cultural spaces.