Jeff King Talks With

San Francisco Architect David Armour

David Armour, Principal of David Armour Architecture, honed his skills while working with notable San Francisco architecture firms Gast Architects and Walker & Moody Architects before beginning his solo career and eventually starting DAA in 2014. DAA is a boutique architecture firm that specializes in custom residential projects in the San Francisco Bay Area. They are known for their unique ability to transform classic architecture aesthetics to meet today’s contemporary needs. We recently had a chat with David to learn more about what led him to pursue a career in architecture, what and who inspires his work, and how he unwinds when away from the office.

Clearly, you’re an accomplished architect, what inspired you to pursue this as a career?

I grew up in a town in New England surrounded by colonial-era buildings. Looking back, I remember being drawn to the historic homes and churches I saw, so much so that I chose to do a survey of saltbox style homes for a fifth-grade project on our town’s history. In high school, I took drafting as an elective, which taught me the foundational aspect of architectural drawing. Once in college, I first decided to major in historic preservation but broadened that to architecture during my first year. Today, my professional career reflects all of these points along my path.

That may help explain why classical architecture features so strongly in your designs. What do you find interesting about it?

I enjoy the rigor of classical design principles. Generally, I look to establish rational organizations, axial relationships and proper proportions in my work, whether applied to a traditional or modern design. Our portfolio includes a broad range of projects, from historic to modern, that feature this set of core ideas.

How do you maintain integrity for the history of a particular house or neighborhood in your work?

A core value of our firm is to steward our area’s rich architectural and cultural history while creating spaces that support how we live today. For each project, we study the patterns of the surrounding houses, neighborhoods, and region and find inspiration for the new design’s forms, material selection, etc. Whether a project is traditional, modern or somewhere between, our goal is to create an enduring design that meets the needs of our client while creating a dialogue between the past and present.

What architects or mentors have inspired you or influenced how you think about the discipline?

It’s a diverse list, ranging from Andrea Palladio, to the Bay Area’s early masters Willis Polk, Ernest Coxhead, and Bernard Maybeck, to modern masters like Tadao Ando and Richard Meier.

We’ve had the pleasure of working with you on a couple of projects, one of which we’re wrapping up now. From our standpoint, you work at a very high level, not only in your designs but also in your documentation. In your mind, what constitutes a successful relationship with a contractor?

This might seem obvious, but I think the foundation for a successful collaboration between architect and contractor is when each focuses on what they do best. In this era of abundant work, too many architects seem to be issuing sets of drawings that are thin on detail, leaving the contractors to fill in the blanks and, in essence, complete their work. We take great pride in the proper documentation so that the contractor can focus on execution.

Are there any trends in architecture that you would like to see go by the wayside?

The senseless gutting of old houses in San Francisco—removing all of the walls—is a sad trend. It’s essentially trying to turn a traditional house into something it’s not. The result is usually a house that’s less than the sum of its parts, degrading the cultural legacy of the City in the process.

What do you enjoy doing in your time away from the office?

My family and I enjoy the things that Bay Area life is all about: great food and wine; skiing in Tahoe in the winter; Giants games in the summer; and then travel—both within the country and abroad—usually inspired by our collective love of history and, of course, architecture.

Thanks for the great talk, David! See more of his work at David Armour Architecture.

Check out some of our other favorite design collaborators in our Industry Q&As series.