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Credit: Sam Kittner

David Jameson, FAIA, principal of the Alexandria, Va.–based firm David Jameson Architect, has built a strong identity and over 150 award-winning projects in just a decade. In evaluating his firm’s work, awards juries typically call out a rigorous attention to detail as well as a consistent and cohesive design concept throughout. This is no mistake, Jameson says.

If we choose, as architects, to develop projects—either alone or with partners—those projects are, by definition, design-oriented. If they’re successful, they help bring in other work. And if we begin with the premise that “architecture” is about creating space—that the word starts with a capital “A”—then the development side is a natural role for architects. If you’re willing to jump into the trenches, you’re willing to work with all of the allied craftspeople and fabricators that are working on your project. When we have photographers come shoot our work, they always remark on the value we’ve created with so little. It’s because we’ve created consensus with all of the contractors and subs. Staying small allows consensus to occur more readily.

So when you talk about the braiding of the architect and developer roles in small firms, you’re talking about a very intimate process. My life is intertwined with my studio, which is intertwined with developing good work, and development circles back around to my life as principal of a small firm.

So what does it mean to run a small firm? Control. I have an intimate knowledge of everything that’s going on in all of our projects. When I say this, I don’t mean that you can’t care or have control at a large firm. But in a larger firm, you tend to settle in terms of winning the war, maybe, but not every battle. Running a small firm also allows you to be holistic. Landscape, interior, envelope, spaces—it’s about creating an environment.

So the question becomes: Is what we’re doing scalable? The answer is yes—if our studio has a culture in which everyone shares the same experience of input and concept. In our firm, we’ve proven that it can work in large and small residences. Right now we’re working in San Francisco; Hanoi, Vietnam; Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and in and around Washington, D.C. This idea of being holistic and scalable can be applied to any geography—no matter if it’s a house, interior, or small interventions. Can it be applied to larger projects? Yes, I think so, if the studio always shares the same culture. No matter where you are, if you’re doing work with intense review boards, the members of those boards are more receptive if you’re working at the grassroots level—if you’re directly involved in what you’re doing in the trenches. As told to William Richards.

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