We recently had the chance to talk with Seattle Architect, Paul Michael Davis about his background in architecture, his firm, in addition to checking out some of his stunning modern residential projects.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. Please tell us a little bit about your background in architecture.
I grew up in the Seattle area and went to the University of Washington. By the end of graduate school, I felt a strong pull to explore what other places had to offer. I moved to New York, and then Los Angeles, in search of big-city design experiences.
These moves, and a lot of luck allowed me to work for some outstanding architects, including Frank Gehry. At his office, I worked on huge projects like the Louis Vuitton Foundation museum. We used Digital Project, an advanced 3D software adapted from CATIA, which is used to design jets. The museum is a group of complex interior volumes covered by a second group of soaring glass canopies with roof gardens in between that look out over Paris. It was really inspiring to work at this scale.
In 2010, I founded Paul Michael Davis Architects when I got the chance to move home and work on my first solo project. I also collaborated with my college mentor, Dan Stettler at Stettler Design, and helped him design a fun, experimental house on the Burke Gilman Trail.
I have also taught design studios and theory classes in the Interior Design department at Bellevue College. When you try to teach others about design, you really have to figure out what you think design is in the first place. For me, it was defined by a combination of my Pacific Northwest roots, and what I picked up in Los Angeles and New York.
What are the guiding principles of your firm?
1. Be honest.
2. Work hard.
3. Experiment and take creative risks.
4. Iterate. Keep trying to get better.
Tell us about the team at Paul Michael Davis.
We are a small, close-knit team.
I work alongside Graham Day of Daydesignstudio, whom I have known since we were in college. We collaborate on most of our projects. Graham and I followed somewhat parallel paths: from UW to New York to Los Angeles—he for graduate school at SCI-Arc, and me to work for Gehry Partners—and back to Seattle. With this shared background, we can talk first hand about, say, how awesome the Schindler House in LA is, and how it could never withstand the punishing wet climate here in Seattle.
Tiffany Chow joined us about two years ago. She was one of my best students at Bellevue College. Like Graham and me, she thrives on exploration. She travels a lot and drags her husband to all of the architectural landmarks as soon as she arrives. Then she comes back with inspiration for the projects we have on our boards.
John Passmore, a fellow alumnus of ours from UW and SCI-Arc, Gehry Partners, and the Bellevue College faculty has helped us on projects for the last several years. He keeps us current on design technology and helps usher us through difficult deadlines. Mariana Gutheim, who hails from Argentina and studied at Tufts University, just joined our team as a consulting designer, and we are excited to have an international perspective on our work.
Tell us about your relationship to Northwest Regionalism. How does that influence your work?
Seattle was an awesome place to grow up. Like most Northwesterners, I developed a deep attachment to the green, rocky, incredibly beautiful landscape here. UW’s architecture program is strongly rooted in the practicalities of real construction, and a celebration of craft. Also, growing up in houses with mossy roofs and dark, leaky basements left me with a deep, personal aversion to buildings that are not responsive to this place.
While working in New York and LA, I realized that what I really love about architecture is its most basic aspect: form and space. Frank Gehry makes no apologies about designing crazy new spaces and forms for their own sake, and I found that refreshing.
We are staking out a middle ground between northwest regionalism and global formalism. Our work is rooted in the practicalities of building in this region: deep roof overhangs to shed rain, big expanses of glass to bring in the scarce winter light, and showcasing local, natural materials. We love to look at these practicalities of building in our region as opportunities to be innovative.
Please share a few examples of your work with us.
This project is a design collaboration with Stettler Design on a new house next to the Burke Gilman bike trail in Seattle.
Our design takes advantage of the width of a double lot and views of the lake, city, and mountains toward the southwest with oversized window walls. Primary living and sleeping areas are located on the ground floor. The upper level is loft-like and has space for guests and an office.
The building form is high and open at the front, and steps down toward the back, making the backyard quiet, private space. An angular roof form specifically responds to the interior space, while subtly referencing the conventional gable forms of neighboring houses.
We designed this new house for a large, gently sloping lot new downtown Bellevue. Our clients asked us to focus on creating sense of privacy and filling the house with natural light.
To meet these goals, we sunk the house down to create a private southwest-facing courtyard space. The great room and master bedroom are arranged in an L-shape around this outdoor room, and the house’s secondary spaces are arranged as a peripheral L-shape around those primary rooms.
Sloping roofs shade the primary living spaces from intense southern light and open up to the passive north light. The remaining spaces are capped with a low profile flat roof.
Woodinville Creeks House
This is one of the most dramatic and beautiful sites we’ve had the opportunity to work on: 6 acres of untouched Pacific Northwest forest with two meandering creeks coming together into one. However, those creeks come with a challenge: they regularly flood an existing house on the property.
These images show a future concept design for a complex, two-phase project. The first phase will lift the existing house, built originally to house a logging camp in the area, and added onto in a ramshackle way over the 20th century, onto a concrete plinth so that it is above the flood elevation.
The second phase will dramatically remodel the raised, old house with a series of wooden planes directing attention from the interior of the house to the converging creeks below. Our goals are to limit the design to three basic elements: a concrete plinth, wooden walls directing the view, and glass walls opening the interior up to the surrounding natural scenery and light.
This is a study of a house in its true context, instead of its idealized context—real nature instead of romantic nature.
The house is a long bar floating over a steep mountain foothill. A solid, concrete end of the bar containing private and service spaces is buried in the hillside. At the other end, a cantilevered glass living space dissolves above a hazy valley below. We brought light into the buried portion of the house with scoops into the roof and hillside. A detached cube further up the hillside has a garage and a space for visiting kids or guests.
And in answer to the contextual challenge we decided to tackle—the natural and man-made threat of destruction by wildfire—we surrounded our structures with a protective, second skin. Dark gray ceramic tile, which is naturally fire resistant, is layered over perlite insulation and cement board. This assembly acts as a sort of fireman’s coat around the primary structure. It also presents an opportunity for a liminal space between the second and primary skins which can serve as a covered deck that could open the house to the outdoors on temperate days, and shade the living spaces from direct sun. A series of sliding cement board panels can be closed in the event of evacuation during a wildfire, leaving the contents of the house protected.
Our renders show the house in its real context; its true nature. In one, a wildfire is visible in the distance. In others, smog and smoke surround the house and obscure the commanding view. We introduced a palette of blue-green, black and white to stand out from the contextual pinks and tans.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. If you would like to learn more about Paul Michael Davis, Please visit the website.