January-February 2011 | Bethesda HOME

Modern Man

Contemporary architect David Jameson is attracting a lot of attention. A visit to his Bethesda home shows why.

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Jameson’s final touch: Viewing the yard up to the property line as “in-between space,” the architect bought a 20-ton, 400-foot-long roll of Corten steel, the naturally oxidizing material that sculptor Richard Serra uses, and cantilevered it into the ground. Jameson says it “acts materially as a visual bridge between the planar stucco on the house and the organic stone walls.” He also built a sandstone wall with a rough look to contrast with the steel. In line with the front door, 35 feet away and just steps from the curb, the architect added a Spanish cedar gate with sandblasted aluminum and stainless steel water cloth—a Jameson signature. When the gate is closed, it sends the message: Keep out. But when it’s open, it looks like a sculptural element.

Nancy Jameson, David Jameson stands at the  Spanish cedar and sandstone front gate that frames his award-winning Bethesda home, “Jigsaw,” which started as a 1950s rambler.  who met her husband at Virginia Tech, says she loves the “feeling of a private villa experience on a small lot within a typical Bethesda neighborhood.”

The house won a 2009 AIA Honor Award for Interior Architecture. “The project seems designed from the inside out, with the user’s experience in mind,” jurors said.

North Carolina-based contemporary architect Frank Harmon, who has served on several juries judging Jameson’s work, says that what makes the architect’s structures stand out “is the clarity of concept and the faultless execution. Like Picasso, every building [that Jameson designs] is memorable.”

Jameson says houses should be viewed as “experiential art,” not just as “vehicles for domestic living.” He first experienced architecture himself as a young boy while taking family car trips out west. “You would see things that to this day still speak to me, like the St. Louis [Gateway] Arch,” he says. He also loved playing with what he calls “architectural building block” toys such as Legos and the game Jenga, which he encourages his children, 8 and 5, to play.

Growing up first in Montgomery County and later in Salisbury, Jameson was less interested in school than in baseball and playing in the water and sand. But on the Eastern Shore he was surrounded by people in the agricultural and industrial trades, which gave him a respect for the building “craft.”

He went on to play baseball at Virginia Tech, but was injured during his freshman year and turned his focus to architectural studies. He was hired after graduation in 1991 by Jacobsen Architecture, the prestigious Washington, D.C., contemporary architectural firm. He says he failed the Architect Registration Examination three times because he was “more interested in making a cool building” for the design section of the test.

In 1997, Jameson decided to venture out on his own, establishing an office in Alexandria, figuring the 45-minute drive from what was then his home in Chevy Chase would clear his head and help him create.

When an economic downturn hit a few years later, Jameson interviewed with a large firm but didn’t get the job. Soon after, his work started winning awards. In 2009, he was on a panel with the Washington, D.C., architect who rejected him. In front of an audience of architects at the National Building Museum, he told her it was the best decision she ever made.

Jameson’s work is currently in a juried show in Madrid that features international award-winning contemporary architects, including Renzo Piano, the recipient of the 1998 Pritzker Architecture Prize, the Nobel Prize of architecture. Jameson also is working on houses in California, Massachusetts, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Bethesda, as well as on a new winery and home near the Antietam Battlefield in Maryland. For that last project he’s reading a book about Abraham Lincoln to help him see how history “can be etched into the fabric of the project.”

It is this “rigorous approach” that has won Jameson the admiration of colleagues—even as it almost landed him in trouble that day in San Francisco. Nic Lehoux, a Vancouver photographer who was commissioned to photograph Piano’s work, also has photographed some of Jameson’s projects. He likens the Bethesda architect to Piano. “Making something simple look beautiful and refined is a rare talent,” Lehoux says. “Mark my words: Jameson will become one of the great architects in the next 20 years in North America and in the world.”

Potomac writer Carin Dessauer, a former executive with CNN and CNN.com, is a regular contributor to Bethesda Magazine.