David Tracz, partner at //3877, talks about friendship, making great spaces, and starting a firm

In 2011 David Tracz co-founded //3877, read about their journey and the important lessons learned in creating a dynamic Washington D.C. architecture firm.

David Tracz, partner at //3877, talks about friendship, making great spaces, and starting a firm

Interview with David Tracz, Partner at //3877

David Tracz, is Partner at //3877 in Washington, D.C. specializing in Hotels, Restaurants, Healthcare, Single, and Multifamily Residential. David has a unique combination of technical understanding, exciting design sense and total budget helps his clients to achieve the best possible design. Currently, David is managing several hotel and restaurant renovations including limited service and full service hotels from Marriott and Hilton.

Most recently //3877 completed the exterior and public space re-design of Marriott’s TownePlace Suites brand. In addition, he has designed and managed the renovations to Territory Restaurant, Homewood Suites, and several Springhill Suites, Courtyard, and Fairfield Inn renovations. He has also worked with TheSmith and Boqueria in bringing these elevated brands to D.C.

Hi David, tell us a little about yourself and the firm.

I’m David Tracz and I'm a founding partner, alongside David Shove-Brown, at //3877. We are an architecture and interiors firm in Washington DC, focusing primarily on hospitality and residential. These are projects like restaurants, hotels, multi-family, and even single-family residential.

David and I went to both went to school at Catholic University in Washington DC and graduated at the same time. We ended up working together at a few different firms. David went back there to teach and ended up being an assistant dean too where he was in charge of some of their foreign programs. We stayed in contact the entire time and we’ve been friends since 1991, so a long time!

How do you manage the personal and business relationship?

I think we’ve done a good job maintaining a friendship in such a way that we can speak very openly to each other. So that's allowed for our business relationship to be very robust and constantly on the same page.

I think a lot of it has to do with our personalities; being able to consider our conversations a safe spot so we can voice our opinions. It can take a long time to get to that place, but it's just about knowing and understanding that it's not meant to be a hurtful conversation, it’s meant to be an open conversation

There are two sides of the coin, one of how you perceive that information, but also how you deliver it so that it’s not given in an aggressive fashion. It's all about having a dialogue, be honest but not aggressive.

How does that look on a day-to-day basis?

It's a lot about creating space and time for that to happen. So we talk to each other, regardless of where we are, almost every day. Wherever we are at a job site or both at the office we will make sure that there is a check-in. Things like, how's the office? How's everything going with your projects? How's it going? How are things going with this or that?

We make sure that there is a constant line of communication between us in order to accommodate that well. We  also have a preset lunch every Friday where we talk about what is happening across the company.

It’s key to making sure we're catching up and planning ahead for the next week. There's not a strict agenda for that conversation but it usually covers: operations, marketing, those kinds of things.

Did these habits help you when you started the firm during the recession? Why did you choose to start the firm at that point?

It was a learning experience as well, but thankfully we had some good mentors around us. I'm a big fan of reaching out to experts for support. It could be someone like an accountant or lawyer that strictly works with architects. Getting that expert advice before, or sometimes even after, you've done something is very helpful.

At some point you’re talking to enough people on a frequency that you know you're going to get enough work to keep yourself busy. Then it's like, “Can we stay alive at a decent comfort level?” Then maybe you even get too busy and you start trying to figure out, how do we hire somebody?

What is the pitch you made to those early employees?

I think at that time it was about pay, so we tried to beat other firms on salary. Health insurance was a key thing and while we don't cover a hundred percent of healthcare insurance but we do cover 50% and we offer matching for employees’ 401K. We also have a lot of like other intangible components, like time flexibility.

As long as you get your work done, we're very flexible about time constraints and I think you’ll find a very relaxed office environment. It also helps that our studio is very “studioesque” and gets a little messy, but we like it that way. We also do things like office retreats and even do outings together, like going to see a D.C. United soccer game together.

The //3877 office with original artwork by Kelly Towles

As your team grows what do you see as the biggest opportunities for architecture in Washington D.C.?

I think DC is currently going through a transition into more of a “place”. There are a lot of changes happening around how we occupy the waterfront, for example. They took an area of DC that was a little bit decrepit and underutilized and completely re-dd it. Unfortunately, it created some displacement of residents but in the end it created this intertwining of elements and made a really beautiful place which is packed all the time.

I think DC is really starting to realize that it has a waterfront and is now looking to take advantage of it in a totally different fashion. They specifically put the baseball stadium one block away from the water. There's new buildings there now which present towards the water. They are working to connect the waterfront all along the Potomac and Anacostia to have this robust experience.

We are working to make this happen too. We play into it by working on a lot of the restaurants and some hotels that are being created along that space.

What makes a place somewhere that people desire to inhabit?

Sometimes it can be very specifically and tightly controlled and other times it becomes a background or afield to something else. Some of our projects tend to be more about a subdued background to a very serene environment and the question becomes, how do you pull those pieces together? That is part of the reason I enjoy hospitality because it is about how I feel comfortable in a space to stay, work, eat, and do all the things people do.

That's one of the best parts of architecture, being able to create places and spaces that people enjoy occupying and having any experience with.

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