Griz Dwight grew up in a handmade barn in Vermont and has loved architecture ever since. He spent his youthful winters ski racing and his summers working construction. Dwight received his Bachelor of Arts from Williams College with a major in studio art. He then decided to combine his love of buildings and his construction experience with the design ideas developed in the art studio. Dwight graduated in the top of his class at the University of Pennsylvania receiving his Masters of Architecture and moved to Washington, D.C. in 1999.
Prior to starting his own firm in 2003, Dwight continued to work in construction, completed architectural internships, and worked at Adamstein & Demetriou Architects. Believing that architecture can provide more than a shield from the weather, Dwight decided to open his own firm in order to push the bounds of creativity and strive to produce original spaces that maintain an awareness of historical context. “I think that it’s the drive to improve on the last project that keeps us fresh and innovative,” said Dwight.
My Definition Of Success | It’s not money. I think that if it was I would be on Wall Street or a law firm or in a hedge fund. I love the creative process and success is creating a space that people enjoy. One of the biggest kicks that I get is seeing a restaurant full of happy patrons for the first time. This view of success has remained more or less constant over the years and has allowed the firm to create some beautiful projects. We have chosen to turn down some of the “moneymakers “in favor of working with inspired clients on inspired design.
The Difference Between Good And Great | Being great at what you do is a little bit about talent and a lot about luck. In life, there is going to be a few opportunities and you need to make the most of them. I believe that everybody will get at least one shot, being great is what you do with that one opportunity. Make the most of it, step outside of the box, and take a huge risk. You may fall on your face, or you may succeed, but you won’t know until you take the chance.
A Key Talent | I know enough about building the things that we design to make myself dangerous. Not to sound too Howard Roarkian, but I know how to weld, I did a short apprenticeship with an electrician, I’ve installed plumbing, and I framed small additions, I pour concrete and resin, and lay tile. On the weekends, I build furniture and repair all of the broken stuff around the house. It has gotten me in trouble a few times but overall the knowledge has been a great benefit. I think that it’s very important to know how to build what we design because there’s always going to be bumps and challenges along the road. Many times I’ve been told that it won’t work or that it can’t be done for the budget. Understanding of the processes involved has gotten me through these challenges. If you don’t have a sense of how it’s built, you can’t go back to the builders and have a conversation about how it can be fixed. My advice to people starting out in this industry is to get your hands dirty. Take a motor apart and put it back together, learn how to swing a hammer, get shocked by the black wire, and buy a power tool or two.
Lessons I Have Learnt | Whatever the lesson learned or the mistake made, you need to be sure that you don’t make it twice. I’ve been burned by dishonest clients and have detailed things that don’t fit in the space allocated. We will all make mistakes but you can’t let them get you down and you can’t let them define you. I would like to tell you to make lemonade but that’s not always possible. Sometimes you just eat the humble pie and make sure that you don’t do it again.
Dealing With Doubt | I doubt myself on every project. It’s the fear that it’s not going to be any good, or that it’s not going to work that helps to drive me. We try to work with ideas that haven’t been done before. Nobody comes to us and says “I want you to build exact same thing that’s down the block”. That’s not what we’re interested in, and that’s not what makes a great restaurant. In a project that we did in Naples Florida, we came up with the idea of adding 1400 plaster ceiling medallions to the ceilings and walls of the restaurant. We then chose to paint them bright green. Every day I got a separate call from the owner and the builder asking me if I was sure that we should do this, and when I said yes, they both told me that they thought I was crazy. If you get told you’re crazy enough you start to feel like maybe you are, but I pushed them to install anyway and it’s become one of our most iconic projects. You have to work against the fear of stepping outside of the box and you have to push harder every time.
Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | You have to look everywhere. I don’t think that there’s one thing that will inspire every project, but I do think you have to draw from outside of your field. I’ve been inspired by crazy wallpaper in movies, by books about string theory and art in the national Gallery. One common inspiration is when I look at the world through the eyes of a three-year-old who’s discovering things for the first time. You and I will step over a line of ants walking across the sidewalk, but a three-year-old will watch it for hours. You need to always have that sense of discovery and imagination and draw on your inner child. It’s hard, but never become complacent.
The Best Advice I’ve Received | Life is like a box of chocolates…
Seriously, you need to make your own decisions and live with them. Advice is great, but it can never trump personal experience. Everyone, every situation and every decision is different, you need to self-evaluate and go with what you think is best. I don’t want to sound like a loner but I have not received much good advice in my life.
On Inspiring Others | Our senior team of studio director Michelle Bove and our senior interior designer Brooke Loewen & I have been together for quite a while. The key is to keep an open working environment where everyone can present their ideas and everyone has a chance to get their concept built. We have open design meetings where the best idea wins regardless of seniority. I create an environment where it doesn’t matter what experience you have, it matters how you think. It’s not easy to find these people but when you do, you can do great things together.
I Am Inspired By | My wife, my kids, the guys who jump off cliffs in squirrel suits, astronauts, coconut salesmen, the guy on a tight wire between the twin towers and all those out there who take risks both physical and mental.