Portrait of an Architect: Christopher Dameron and Dameron Architecture
Back in June of 2012 we featured The Bushwick Motorcycle Garage and Garden, a project by Christopher Dameron, an architect based in Brooklyn, USA. I’ve stayed in touch with Chris since then and thought he was due for a feature on RenovatingNYC. Soon, we will be featuring one of his residential renovation projects which merits its own attention…
Christopher Dameron, founded Dameron Architecture pllc in 2009. He is a registered architect, NCARB-certified and member of the AIA. Recent and current projects include private residential renovations, the Whiskey Bar at Metlife Stadium, a garden and event space in Bushwick, and the aforementioned Motorcycle Garage and Garden. Born and raised in Danville, Virginia, Chris studied Architecture at the University of Virginia and received his master’s degrees from Parsons.
We sat down (virtually, of course) with Chris to get to know him, his approach to design, and his current projects.
What did you do after graduating from school and what led you to start your own firm?
I worked for architecture firms in Virginia, then New York on large scale public and institutional projects, always with the idea that I would start my own business. I have always been a creative person at my core and wanted to create a company with a culture that aligned with my values and way of design thinking.
I had the great experience of writing and directing plays in high school and that gave me my first taste of what it was like to harness the energy of many talented people into a single creative enterprise. I’ve been inspired to recreate that atmosphere ever since and luckily I’ve been able to do that- considering clients, employees and contractors as collaborators in a shared endeavor. Architecture was a natural inclination and pursuit, but the business side of things was something hardwired into my creative process from an early age- the need and ability to bring people together, to create and to make something new, to deal with the technical details of making that work- as well as the negotiating the diversity of personalities and worldviews that go into every creative project.
Was there a major moment or event that influenced the start of your business?
The recession was a real launching point. I went out on my own when work in the field had tapered off. I realized I could utilize the downturn to hone other aspects of architectural practice other than pure design, which I had been involved in for quite some time. I was able to work with some interesting non-profits on long-term planning and spend more time getting into the practical and organizational aspects of business. The recession was a real blessing in a way because it infused a burst of creative energy that propelled me into collaborations that ultimately became my practice.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by science and nature. I am particularly inspired by the studies of the human brain and matters of memory and perception. I often look to psychology and neuroscience for architectural inspiration.
What is your firm’s specialty?
We provide innovative architectural solutions at all scales, including conceptual and building design to master planning and landscape development.
The practice focuses on site-specific architecture, believing that design begins with respect and appropriateness to its place. We seek solutions that are socially conscious and environmentally aware. We expand the practice of architecture into a realm of inspired collaboration with clients and designers and work towards common goals and budgetary concerns, achieving great, even visionary, results through problem-solving, creativity and technological innovation.
Have you, your firm or any of your projects been featured in any other publications or press?
Our most recent press was on our Motorcycle Garage and Garden in Interior Design Magazine, issue #3 in 2013, in an article “100 Big Ideas”
What resources or tools do you find most helpful for running your business?
Using the latest software is a must because it increases efficiency. If you take the time and money to invest in new technology, it ultimately pays off. Software is getting better and more user friendly by the day. You can spend more time doing the aspects of the job that you are interested in.
What were your biggest mistakes when starting out with your business?
My biggest mistake was working on too many competitions. Architectural competitions are great if you are exploring ideas, strengthening a portfolio or if there is a real chance to get something built. They aren’t great for business in the sense that often, competitions are businesses in themselves. Architects pay fees to enter, print boards, spend absurd amounts of time on work that may have little impact. Why pay someone else to come up with ideas for theoretical projects? Do it yourself. I started to see results when I focused my creative energy toward real projects, or speculative projects that I tailored to my own interest or contributed to the development of my practice.
What have been your key successes in terms of generating business or creating your product?
The key successes have all been client relationships. Establishing and maintaining a trusting relationship with a client is the essential element of architectural practice. Almost all of my work comes from referrals because of successful client relationships.
Do you have any advice for someone interested in being an entrepreneur or working in this industry?
I think the biggest mistake that architects make when starting a business is not understanding the concept of “service.” Architecture is a service. We don’t make buildings, we work to understand the needs of clients and help them. We are trained in architecture school to be designers. Being a good designer is necessary, but it’s only half of the equation. This is something you learn after going through the full cycle of design to building multiple times- it’s about the client as much as it’s about the building. People want to work with people they trust and can build relationships with, that’s a skill to be honed and cultivated. If you are a talented designer, good architecture follows good relationships and intentions. You have to earn that trust by listening to people and behaving ethically.
What specific part of your business are you most passionate about?
I am passionate about the act of creation. I thrive in the moment where an idea comes to life. I am fascinated by the translation of those ideas to forms and concepts that can be understood universally. Nothing makes me happier than when a person sees merit and value in a design or piece of art, or a design helps people see the world from a different perspective. I am fascinated by the concept of creativity and how unconventional thinking can solve real world problems, in business, in design. I like being at the forefront of the process, leading people into uncharted territory and surprising myself continually with new experiences. If you are open to it, these are experiences that happen naturally as an entrepreneur and design professional. It’s about learning to enjoy and relish the process and the people you come into contact with.
We then asked Chris some personal questions.
Favorite meal? Any Southern-style vegetables cooked with pork fat.
Recent purchase? A nice looking Smoke Alarm/ Carbon Monoxide detector (very rare)
Hidden talent? I brag about all my talents!
Guilty pleasure? Sudoku
Book or Film recommendation? A great kids book. “Ballad” by Blex Bolex
Restaurant recommendation? Frontera Grill, Chicago
Transformative travel experience? Punjab, India.
Favorite neighborhood? Brownstone Brooklyn
Dream holiday? A month of nothing but reading.
What publications do you subscribe to? Architecture magazines, The Economist
Are you involved with any charities or support any philanthropic causes? Work to Ride, Philadelphia, a non-profit that teaches inner-city kids to play polo!
What tech gadget can’t you live without? An analog watch. So I can see the time without looking at my phone and getting distracted.
What are your goals for Dameron Architecture?
My goal is to build the company to a large enough size that I continue to selective with the projects and clients that I take on and also produce quality work on increasingly larger scales. I am convinced that long term success is defined by cultivating a culture and process and helping others to realize their potential.
Connect with Chris: