Best of Home 2009: Top Architects

Our annual round-up of the area's top architects

Category: NW Home Articles


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Firm of the Year:
Cooler Shade of Green
David Vandervort brings a sexy sophistication to sustainable design

When David Vandervort was 11 or 12, he attended an open house at a wooded Lake Forest Park property designed by legendary Seattle architect Paul Hayden Kirk—and a lifelong love of architecture was born. 

Seeing the wonderful integration between indoor and outdoor spaces showed him the power of architecture, remembers Vandervort, who earned his architecture degree from the University of Washington in 1981.

After college, Vandervort worked for three Seattle firms before opening his own firm in 1994. He says that he decided to strike out own his own because he “began to recognize architecture’s connection to sustainability, and felt a disconnect [among most architects] about the importance of caring for the beauty of the land.” Vandervort, who soon added associates Mike Butrim and Mark Wierenga to his fledgling firm, schooled himself on green techniques and built his business on the model of environmentally sensitive design, focusing on new construction, remodels and small-scale commercial buildings.

“In the beginning, I looked at things we could do without spending money, such as orienting a building to take advantage of the sun’s natural energy. I’d have practical discussions with clients: “Do you really need that third bedroom or two-car garage?”

Of the firm’s design aesthetic, Vandervort says, “We don’t design to a certain style. Rather, we design holistically within the context of a community or site, as a response to place. Our goal is to make a house look like it’s always been there.”

Vandervort takes advantage of the now plentiful and reasonably priced eco-resources available, such as FSC-certified lumber. He also is appreciative of the public’s growing green consciousness; during pre-project discussions with clients, he now inquires how they feel about complex environmental techniques, such as on-site composting and gray-water reuse.

An in-progress project called zHome (, spearheaded by the City of Issaquah, is giving Vandervort the opportunity to push the green scale to its limit. The 10 attached townhouses in the Issaquah Highlands will use no more energy than they generate when they are completed. Earth-friendly features will include an integrated rainwater reuse system, a photovoltaic system with metering so that residents can measure their energy production and consumption, and on-site gardens where they can grow their own food.

“This project will demonstrate a deeper green,” says Vandervort, who adds that one of the townhouses will remain unsold for five years to serve as a touring and educational model. “It’s a melding of state-of-the-art technologies with more organic elements, such as being able to see where your tomatoes come from.” Jennifer Schaefer

David Vandervort Architects, AIA, 2000 Fairview Ave. E, Suite 103, Seattle;
Team: David Vandervort, founder; five associates and one administrative staff member
Year founded: 1994
Vandervort’s inspiration: “Bob Berkebile of BNIM in Kansas City, Missouri. In my opinion, he’s t