Founded in 1947 by Fred Bassetti, Bassetti Architects began in Seattle and has since expanded into Portland, Oregon. Principal Lorne McConachie attributes much of the company’s success to their target market of nonprofit organizations.
“Most of our work is institutional,” says McConachie. “We design a lot of educational, civic and cultural projects, but the bulk of our work is with schools.” The company has completed numerous public and private schools as well as highly specialized schools such as Raisbeck Aviation High School, which is an institution that serves as a model for Washington’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) Lighthouse Program.
Joining the company in 1985, McConachie has been with Bassetti Architects for 30 years. McConachie graduated from the University of Oregon in 1977 and operated his own design-build firm for several years while completing his architecture degree before joining Bassetti.
Raised by a mechanical contractor, McConachie says he knew he wanted to be an architect at age 5. “My father would bring drawings home to do bids and I’d be sitting around the dining room table studying them, trying to figure out what it all meant,” says McConachie, “My mother tells a story about when I was a kid, I used to rearrange the furniture in our house because I was exploring different design options.”
McConachie is the co-author of the 2007 book “Architecture for Achievement: Building Patterns for Small School Learning.” The book discusses evidence-based design ideas that shape powerful schools.
Referencing the 1977 book “A Pattern Language,” by Christopher Alexander, McConachie says his book aims to examine the types of design patterns that create successful learning environments. “What we tried to do is take what Christopher Alexander had written about design in general and apply that thinking to the design of a school,” explains McConachie. “We wanted to figure out ways to design for multiple pathways of learning, not singular ones.”
McConachie says that solving design problems is motivation for him to go to work every day. “There’s always some new opportunity or new idea for us to explore,” says McConachie. “The quality of the projects we produce gives me the greatest sense of pride.”
A recent project to design a service center for a local school district is one of his favorites. “It was a place where they performed maintenance on the school buses and other services that make the school district function,” explains McConachie. “We designed the building, in part, to collect the rainwater that falls on the roof. This water is recycled and used to wash buses. This saves the district tens of thousands of dollars annually.”
In the early 2000’s, during a major expansion period for Seattle, the property development industry was experiencing a surge in growth as well. Bassetti Architects considered the options the company faced concerning growth. “We decided to get better, not bigger,” claims McConachie. “I’ve always felt that was a really good decision for us because we’ve focused on providing comprehensive services, rather than our own growth.”
In the architecture and engineering professions, providing the latest and greatest aesthetic features is a focal point for many firms. Bassetti has received numerous awards and recognition from organizations, such as the American Institute of Architects and the Council of Educational Facility Planners International, (CEFPI). McConachie notes that while recognition is nice, it is not the essence of what the company hopes to accomplish. “Our goal is to do really solid work,” says McConachie. “I want to design buildings that have a spirit about them, places that endure.”
Confronting a period of transition is a challenge for any company, particularly within a construction-related field. Change presents an opportunity for brilliance or failure and at Bassetti Architects, this opportunity has been accepted with confidence. A new generation of ownership will soon be stepping in to lead the company into the future.
Dan Miles has been a principal with Bassetti for more than a year now, and will be transitioning into a larger leadership role. Miles’ career has focused on master planning for public and private institutions, along with preservation, restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures. “This is an exciting time for Bassetti, we have a very strong presence in the education and historic markets, and I look forward to continuing that focus, while broadening our project portfolio” said Miles.
Caroline Lemay became a principal with the company on January 1, 2015. With a passion for historic projects, Lemay, who was also recently nominated to the King County Landmarks Commission- is working on small and large landmark preservation projects for the firm. She also has substantial experience with education projects with both new buildings and rehabilitation work. She is looking forward to take a strong leadership role as the company transitions: “I believe we have a very strong and dynamic team and I’m excited about the future of the firm; building on Bassetti’s primary focus of creating high quality projects for our clients,” says Lemay.
Passing the torch
During his 30 years with Bassetti, McConachie says he has grown to enjoy the process of teaching his craft and sharing his knowledge and experience with other industry professionals. “Every day I challenge myself to teach someone something new,” explains McConachie. “There are aspects of my work that I have done dozens of times over the years, yet my younger colleagues may never have performed the task”.
With retirement in sight, McConachie says he will remain active with the company to an extent. “I think I have about another four years before I start thinking about retirement,” states McConachie. “When that point comes I’ll probably take on a consulting role where I can still help out with certain jobs.”
McConachie says that through the transitional period of the company, the primary concern of Bassetti Architects is that clients are taken care of.
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