Friday, May 28, 2010

The Family Man


He opens the gate, inadvertently flashing a purple cartoon band-aid on a finger of his left hand. David Jameson, architect and family man, self-described "enactor of change" (his definition of an architect), welcomes a visitor to the iconoclastic Jigsaw Residence he shares with wife Nancy and their two young children.

"This is not a big house in the world of Bethesda or D.C.," Jameson says of the soaring, 3,000 s.f. home his firm, David Jameson Architects, originally built for a client from the foundation and exterior walls of a post-war rambler. But in this nondescript Maryland neighborhood, Jigsaw Residence looms larger than life. And for Jameson, who grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore eagerly anticipating his local newspaper’s “Associated Press House of the Week” (something he’d always redesign), the home represents a lifetime of invention.

The View from Within

“I actually grew up in a pretty cool house myself,” Jameson recalls. “It was just a simple, single level house, but it was on a fresh water pond and the whole back was glass. Whoever designed that house, though it was very modest, knew that the value or pressures of that site were all about the water,” he continues, “so they made the back of the house tremendously open and porous.”

Sited on a busy suburban corner, and despite its 22-or 24-foot ceilings (Jameson wasn’t sure which), clerestory windows and prolific use of glass, Jigsaw Residence’s “views” include traffic and a series of redundant, characterless, corner-to-corner post-war ramblers and other reasonable facsimiles. With that in mind, Jameson splayed the house around a central courtyard from which, thanks to the glass walls, views of nearly every room are visible, as is the courtyard from the rooms. In this sense, the house embodies the concept of reflectivity.

“You’re both inside and outside and back inside again at once,” Jameson says, speaking to the juxtaposition of wall and glass, solid and void, that create a relatively unobstructed view without being directed outside to the street. “When you look through the etched glass wall of the stair tower, there’s a house 15 feet away, but you don’t feel it. When you’re in the living room, there is tons of glass, but it either looks toward the courtyard or looks toward the sky, above the houses outside,” he adds. As a result of its glass-to-wall ratio, a choreography of light, dark and shadows, which Jameson calls “tenebroso,” permeates and transitions through the house throughout the day, also directing its inhabitants’ interests away from the street.

Are You Experienced?

Inspired largely by his children, Jake, 4, and McKenzie, 7, the latter of whom he says constantly sketches and reinterprets things and can write almost the same story, week after week, “but with a different sort of experience,” Jameson – who closes his office early on Friday afternoons to be with them – defines his work as “experiential.” At the Warp and Weft carpet showroom in the Washington Design Center, its design is the antithesis of the way carpet showrooms are presented throughout the world, Jameson explains, noting that at most, one walks into them only to see massive piles of carpets that must be navigated and peeled back, but not easily removed from their stacks.

At Warp and Weft, Jameson incorporated ripsawn oak flooring, much like clients would have in their own homes, with carpets displayed as compelling “architectonic elements.” The carpets can then be pulled out and spread on the floor, as if in the customer’s own residence, for full effect. The showroom’s entry – a departure from conventional entrances where the prospective customer can actually choose to walk past – is an arch “where the ramp becomes almost a sculptural wave, skateboard ramp, fashion promenade, ledge for various types of chairs,” and which draws the client into the space. “Before you know it,” Jameson says, “you’re half way in to the showroom.”

Likening his brand of experiential architecture to the pre-war 1939 Steinway Model S piano in his home that replaced a less formidable instrument, Jameson calls the piano an art object. “When we pulled the old one out and put the new one in, you just hit the note once – you touched the ivory key – and you heard it. It’s indelibly different – a marking of space and time – a quality-driven experience emblematic of the way I think about architecture,” he said. A set of 1949 Hans Wegner chairs, their style made famous in the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates, punctuate the Jigsaw Residence’s dining room, something Jameson also calls “experiential, beautiful, compelling and poetic.

“If you look at the structure of these chairs - the arms in the back and the way they’re crafted, where it curves from the flat to the vertical - they’re at one with one another and they sort of nest together,” he explains. “It’s an experience by a furniture master from Copenhagen.”

Hearts, Souls and Renderings

Defining his practice, Jameson describes it as “somewhere between analog and digital,” and also “non-linear.” With sketching, testing, “recriminating of original thoughts” as much a part of the process as the use of 3D modeling software, Jameson also compares the firm’s work to an EKG. “The work gets a little better, then we learn something about it, and it goes backwards, gets a little better, goes backwards. There are many iterations,” he says, recalling a singular quote from a client who, at the end of a long project, said, “It’s nothing of what I expected, but everything I was expecting.”

Practicing since 1998, Jameson, who traded visions of a career in major league baseball (he went to Virginia Tech on a baseball scholarship) for a profession he calls “not so much a profession but a way of life,” reveals he would love to live in every project his firm designs. “There’s a part of my soul and a part of the client’s soul left in every job,” he says. “Building projects is a journey in life, not a business deal. It’s stressful because it’s about sums of money that are not inconsequential; there’s a lot of importance to almost every decision…Transforming the built environment is time consuming – emotionally-laden with the time, the cost, things that can go wrong. It’s tremendously rewarding, but not for the faint of heart.”

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