Architect David Schwarz works in a world of fantasies.
Schwarz, one of Washington's young architects, sees his profession as a "service-oriented operation... in which you're trying to address yourself to a client's fantasies and mediate between a client's fantasies and what he really wants and needs."
For about a year and a half, Schwarz, 28, has run his own small firm, Architectural Services, out of a three-story town house in Mt. Pleasant that he is currently renovating. The atmosphere there is relaxed.
"We try and be very accessible," he says. "One of the things I tell my clients is I'm always here, feel free to stop in and have a cup of coffee and we'll talk about what's going on with your project.'"
Tommy Thomas of Intown Properties spent several months working with Schwarz on a renovation of an old restaurant at 3253 Mt. Pleasant St. NW. It was the first restaurant for both men.
"We did a lot of research," Thomas said. "We went out and ate a lot to get a feel for restaurants, the food, service, decor, architecture and the general functioning of a restaurant. We took a while doing it and it was a lot of fun."
"It sounds trite, but it's like a little family," said one Shwarz client, real estate broker Gay Thompson. "Everybody has a little part of what's happening." Schwarz is currently designing a three-unit residence for Thompson from an old town house shell in the 400 block of M Street NW. Instead of three apartments on three separate floors, Schwarz has separated the living and sleeping areas by putting each on a different level.
Thompson said she could have gone to an architect who would have charged less, but found the atmosphere at Architectural Services more enjoyable.
"You go into David's and you go into an old home." she said. "You get a felling it's a group of people that really care."
The firm employs a maximum of 10 draftsmen and architects at any one time and its clientele runs the gamut from young couples interested in restoring old houses to commercial and residential developers. "We will take any job as long as it's an interesting job." Schwarz said. "If someone comes up to me and says 'Design me a pseudo-colonial kitchen,' I'll say 'You've got the wrong person.'"
Schwarz knows the competition if fierce and says he is trying to get as much work as he can. But getting an architecture firm off the ground can be a long and often frustrating task.
Washington architect Arthur Cotton Moore says that "architecture is really an old man's profession. The young architect is really about 45 and gets swinging at about age 60. It's a long time in getting established."
Schwarz's work reflects a lifelong affair with design. He studied architecture at St. Louis' Washington University and went on to Yale's graduate school of architecture. He apprenticed with Arthur Cotton Moore, Paul Rudolph, Ed Barnes and Charles Moore. It was Rudolph who told Schwarz that "The greatest architect is he who wastes space best," an aphorism Schwartz says he has taken to heart.
One client, for instance, wanted to turn a four-unit apartment building near Columbia Road NW into a single-family house. Schwarz came up with a plan for a three-bedroom house that included two duplex apartments.
In renovation, Schwarz says he tries to keep costs down by urging private clients to save as much of the structure as possible. "If we're working for a developer we generally tend to gut a building because for a developer it's easier to gut a building, save whatever you want to save and put it back," he said.
Other methods Schwarz says he used to keep costs under control include performing the work as quickly as possible with as few changes as possible and obtaining increased bank financing for the client.
Schwarz is also involved in a number of new construction projects in the area, projects where he often includes references to the past, in keeping with his belief that "architecture is not product, but process."
For a building scheduled to go up next year at the corner of 15the and Q streets NW, Schwarz has created a synthesis of the old the new.
".... We're trying to create a piece of architecture that is very compatible with architecture in the District," he said. This new design "points out what has happened over time in the District and yet is a modern building," he added.
Schwartz accomplished this, in part, by borrowing elements from other structures in town: a bay from a building at 10th and Constitution, a window patterned after one in his own house. The result is a modern building that "mirrors past images."
In a house on Capitol Hill, it is a large, stained glass window that refers in its design to leaded glass found during the turn of the century. The window also contains allusions to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright."The whole house revolves around that window," Schwarz pointed out.
The architect says he is also at home with strictly modern, or what he calls "white" buildings, with stark, clean lines. He designed a raquetball club in State College, Pa., and a house in Florida that were both "white." But for the most part, he seeks a design that is aboundant in detail.
"Any building that is used for any extended period of time should have a richness and life that contributes to the enjoyment of the people who live there," he said.
Trying to translate people's individual fantasies about how they want to live into a workable building can often be difficult. Schwarz is currently working on a house in which the first floor reflects the picture the owner wants others to have of him -- spacious and impressive -- but the upper floors are his own world.
"It's an interesting dichotomy, trying to do both in the same structure," Schwartz said. "The staircase is the big question: How do you tie these two fantasies together?"
According to Schwarz, two of the more popular architectural fantasies today involve the kitchen and the bedroom. Many of his clients want a kitchen that doubles as a social gathering place. Many also want a master bedroom suite with a dressing room and luxurious bathroom. Schwarz sees this as a longing for "a real feeling of regalness, of dominating an impressive space."
But not all of Schwarz's clients have grandiose fantasies. He says also has quite a few "pioneer type" clients who, for reasons of both lifestyle and budget, prefer to do without things like baseboards and door trim.
But reality has a habit of intruding on even the most vivid fantasy. And for Schwarz, one of the realities is that affordable housing is quickly becoming a dream for most middle class Americans. In Washington, Schwarz sees a finite limit in the renovation market that could come in as little as five years. "Five years ago you could buy a house in the 9th and M streets corridor for $2.000.... Some people just bought a gutted shell at 9th and M for $85,000.
"I think renovation has a definite end and that's simply because there are just so many buildings in Washington, and once they're done, they're done."
Part of the reason for the steady decline in the housing stock in cities like Washington is that what were four and five-family dwellings are being turned into single-family homes.
Schwarz faults the federal government and conservative architects for failing to experiment with different housing forms.