People describe David Jameson, FAIA, in strikingly varied terms. According to general contractor and frequent Jameson collaborator Steve Howard, he’s “not your typical architect.” Jameson’s fellow Washington, D.C., modernist Mark McInturff, FAIA, calls him “an architect through and through.” British magazine The Architectural Review refers to the “sophistication and subtlety” of a Jameson project, while his friend Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, says he’s “a guy you want to have a plate of ribs and a beer with.”
All of these seemingly conflicting descriptions ring true, and that’s what makes David Jameson intriguing. He successfully combines worldly skills and knowledge with a down-to-earth personality in a way that few architects can pull off. Jameson grew up on Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore, in a community where, he says, “not a lot of people went to college.” Now he lectures at top architecture schools and is designing homes in Vietnam, California, and Massachusetts, as well as closer to his D.C. home base. He wears tennis shoes to work and enjoys hole-in-the-wall restaurants, but he also drives a Mercedes G-Class and favors Danish modern furniture. Jameson loves confounding people’s expectations of the stereotypical black-turtleneck-wearing, square-bespectacled architect. “I think the casual quality we have in the office is good for the work,” he says. He aims to be accessible and approachable, citing Peter Bohlin, FAIA, as a model.
Don’t confuse Jameson’s relaxed attitude with a lack of intensity, though. He’s one of the most serious architects around, having carefully studied the career paths and firm structures of historical greats like Louis Kahn, not to mention contemporary practitioners such as Peter Zumthor and Tadao Ando. A year ago, he gathered his eight-person firm and moved it from a charming but cramped Alexandria, Va., space to an open, white-walled office in Northwest D.C.’s Tenleytown neighborhood. The group sits around a Corian-topped communal table, atelier-style. Some employees, such as project architects Ron Southwick and Matt Jarvis, AIA, LEED AP, have worked with Jameson since the early 2000s, while others are more recent hires. Project architect Frank Curtis, AIA, joined the firm from a commercial builder. “So we have an in-house contractor, in a sense, with an architect’s eye,” Jameson explains. Many staff members hail from prestigious international firms such as OMA, Zumthor, and Herzog & de Meuron. Jameson, who as a teenager spent summers working on construction sites, often invites engineers and contractors into the office to help him analyze material performance and detail fabrication. Consultants like landscape architect Gregg Bleam and lighting designer David Tozer regularly stop by to brainstorm and critique.
It takes a certain confidence to establish a strong architectural voice, and Jameson, now 45, found that self-assurance early in his career. After architecture school at Virginia Tech, he worked for Washington’s best-known modernist, Hugh Newell Jacobsen, FAIA. At age 30, Jameson completed his first independent project, the multiple-award-winning Meeker Garage. The little Capitol Hill renovation, done in 1998, made a big impression on the local architecture scene. “It was this tiny thing, but had a wonderful sense of light and space and materials,” recalls Mary Fitch, Hon. AIA, the director of the AIA’s Washington, D.C. chapter. Robert M. Gurney, FAIA, another top Washington modernist and a longtime friend of Jameson’s, noticed the project’s originality, which was rare for a young architect coming out of a firm with such a well-defined aesthetic. “David came out of Jacobsen’s office and wasn’t doing Jacobsen’s buildings,” he says.
Not only was Jameson not imitating anyone else, he wasn’t even repeating himself. And he still doesn’t. “There’s not a lot of repetition,” Fitch says. “He’s always trying something new.” Jigsaw Residence, a Bethesda, Md., house that won a national AIA Honor Award in 2009, uses interlocking, white-stucco-coated geometric forms to create privacy on a tight suburban lot. On the Eastern Shore, the House on Hooper’s Island is divided into several small, shed-roofed buildings, clad in horizontal standing-seam metal and resting atop concrete plinths. And Barcode House, an urban addition in Washington, features glass walls held in place with exposed, horizontal steel rods that match up with the datum lines of the surrounding row houses.
These three projects look so different that you wouldn’t necessarily assume they’re by the same architect. Yet they all show a bold inventiveness driven by a persuasive architectural logic. They respond creatively to the site and programmatic conditions, always with a pragmatism accompanying the artistry. “A lot of architects are only into the beauty and not how people actually live,” says client Chad Sweet, who lives in the Jigsaw Residence and has commissioned Jameson to design a new house for himself and his family. “David isn’t like that.”