Wednesday, October 10, 2012

10 Questions with ... Eric Colbert

10 Questions is a new weekly feature in which we interview some of the leading District figures in real estate, architecture, development, and planning. This week's subject ... architect Eric Colbert.

As much as any architect working today, Eric Colbert is responsible for the look and feel of contemporary D.C.  Once called "the architectural god of 14th Street," Colbert and his firm, Eric Colbert & Associates, is known for his subtle but artful aesthetic, and his projects are everywhere.  Whether you know it or not, when you think about District architecture, you're thinking about Eric Colbert.

1.  What’s a typical day for you?

Wake up at 5:45 and am on the Potomac River by 6:20 am in my kayak doing a workout near Brookmont.  In the office by 9:00 am.  Most of our projects are local and I often make a site visit to one of our construction sites during the day.  As the owner of the company, it is my responsibility to distribute work to the employees and insure that our resources are being used efficiently.  At least 3-4 times a week potential clients come to me with possible projects that they want me to analyze.

I normally work through lunch.  Leave office around 7:30 pm.  I have no TV and usually read a couple of hours in the evening.

2.  What or who is your biggest influence?

When I started my company, for many years I shared offices with the developer, Sandy Wilkes.  He taught me a lot about how to organize and run an office, and remains a close friend and client.  Gary Squire is another long-time client that has taken a strong interest in my company and has been an effective mentor.

3.  What neighborhood do you live in?

I have lived in numerous DC neighborhoods, including Adams Morgan, Eckington, Penn Quarter.  I currently reside in Chevy Chase, DC.

4.  What is your biggest DC pet peeve?

Phobia about building height.

5.  What is the #1 most played song on your iPod.

I play a lot of songs from Cold Play’s “Mylo Xyloto” album and Leonard Cohen’s “Old Ideas” album.

6.  Favorite DC haunt?

9:30 Club.

7.  What’s your favorite thing to do on a Sunday afternoon?

Be outdoors, kayaking, hiking, etc.  I just returned from a 2 week, 227 mile kayak trip through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River.

8.  If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

I travel quite a bit and always enjoy returning to Washington, DC.  There is no place else that I would rather live.

9.  If you couldn’t be an architect, what would you be?

If I couldn’t be an architect, I would probably want another type of job in the construction or design industry.  I love all aspects of creating a building, furniture, or any built form.

10.  Name one thing most people don’t know about you.

I am addicted to crime novels.


Anonymous said...

Doubtless the haters and glass-half-empties will add their negative comments. But before that happens, as one who has worked with Mr. Colbert, I wanted to note that Eric Colbert is indeed a very good architect. He has a great sense of proportion, which is critical to architectural success, and he applies functional planning solutions that are at once common-sense and brilliant, critic for success with clients, community groups, and contractors.

Moreover, I observe that the quality of the firm's work has improved greatly over especially the past decade. The eye which mostly brought well-done simplified historicism in the 90s and early 2000s (e.g. the Regent, the Gatsby, the Matrix) has morphed into the eye that has brought confident modern visions (e.g. the Allegro, Rainbow Lofts, the Floridian). This eye is currently bringing the Louis and Furioso's commercial building at 1525 14th Street, among others, demonstrating a maturity.

Colbert is not the only D.C. architect who has improved. I would put Phil Esocoff and Shalom Baranes in that category, too. Many of the national firms that have local offices are good to very good, and we have many strong contenders up-and-coming. We still have plenty of unskilled architects who somehow still get prominent commissions, of course, and we have no lack of visionless developers, too-greedy site sellers, and unreasonable community activists. Nevertheless, it's an exciting time for real estate in D.C., and Eric Colbert is positive part of that excitement.

Anonymous said...

The above comment is interesting. I agree that Colbert's work has generally gotten better over the past few years (and the same is true for a number of other DC architects). I think we are finally breaking away from the stuffy attitudes that produced a lot of really embarrassingly boring buildings in the 1980's and 1990's. I really like the drawing of the building that Colbert has designed next to Posto on 14th street. I hope it gets built!!

Anonymous said...

I have watched Colbert's career with interest over the last 15 years. He was certainly a major player in the heady early days of the DC development revival in the mid-late 90's. At that time, I thought he was well on his way to becoming the next local "starchitect". Then something happened. At first, I was a bit embarrassed for him as he seemed to fall back into obscurity. But, I have since realized that he simply shied away from the limelight and seemed to take on only what he can handle comfortably. This takes incredible willpower, modesty, and maturity to resist the urge to go "big time". I tip my hat to you, Mr. Colbert.

Anonymous said...

The District generally requires that those units be spread around a building and identified ahead of time on building plans. Affordable units don't have to be located on the top floor — the point isn't to create subsidized penthouses, or to wrest from developers their most profitable real estate. But they can't be clustered on the bottom floor, either.
In theory, this ensures that affordable units, for which the public has paid a price granting the developer some concessions, aren't just wedged next to the laundry room or the back door. But the hope is that less tangible benefits will emerge, too, in the interactions among residents of different backgrounds and income levels.

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