David is often a guest juror at Catholic University of America in Washington, educating students in architecture and graphic presentation. He has spoken regularly at the Lodging Conference on the topic of Sustainability, and was most recently invited to serve on the Interior Design Future Green Design forum, advisor council. In addition, Mr Tracz is the Vice President of Administration on the board of the DC Chapter of Newham. Tracz holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a bachelor’s of science in architecture from Catholic University of America.
I Am Driven By | This is an interesting question. I have always had an interest in Architecture. From the very beginning, I loved to draw/sketch and design. My parents always pushed their kids; everything was about teaching, balanced with love and care. There were times when the lessons were hard, but they were always helping and pushing me. It turned out to be an amazing balance that continued throughout many aspects of my life and career. Combine my parents teaching with my love for Architecture, and they continued to enhance my drive to move forward. I truly love Architecture as a career, a business, and a passion. That love pushes me to build on every lesson, learn from it, and push forward. As I have gotten older, I have learned to use my friends to challenge me. As I have gotten better at business development and gotten to know my competitors, I have used their accolades and awards as a way to drive me forward. As I have gotten to know people who are more and more talented, it has helped me change my goals and push harder. I firmly believe that talent can help breed talent, and that my friends have helped to drive me forward. They are the first to help and guide as well. My parents started this trend, my love of Architecture set me on the path, and my very talented friends continue the trend to push forward.
My Highlights | I am and have always been proud of my work. I love working on Architectural projects in every sense. It is something that gets shared with the entire world, that people live in or work in every day. They may or may not enjoy the experience, but they always experience it. It is a pretty amazing business that I am privileged to work in. I have designed building lobbies, worked on government buildings, office spaces, houses, and many other spaces. The feeling that comes out when a project is ending or is close to ending is worth any pain that comes during the process. I have fought my way through many projects. My biggest victory so far was a hotel project that had almost every challenge rolled into one. Our hotel started with a challenging team who were new to hotels, a tight budget, and a tough building. The team suffered a bit, but rose to the occasion. Our drawings had been a tough part of the project, but we made it through. Once the project worked through the bid process, we selected a contractor. We started construction… slowly. Did I mention that during our drawing phase the project manager left and I was now leading the management and the design? As the project moved forward, the building reared its ugly head, showing that part of the concrete had deteriorated so much that the retail space in the building would no longer have a roof. We repaired the building and continued to push forward. The project delays mounted and the client and I were constantly on edge. We started to realize that the project was going to be late, very late. My first hotel and, my first project management project, were quickly becoming a very big challenge. Our firm’s attorney got involved in the project, and there was nothing more difficult than changing the language I used and understanding the magnitude of a lawsuit on your first hotel, first project management experience. I worked to print emails, write letters, and advance the project. As the project came to a close, things continued to get worse; inspections were failed, the building was flooded, and the project ended months late. Finally, this gruelling lesson ended in a mediation day, where everything concluded.
As I reflect on this project, I am proud of what I learned, proud of what I did as a project manager, proud of a beautiful project, proud of the friends I made, and proud of the project team. It was an experience that I wouldn’t have expected to be so rewarding, and even as I remember it now I am surprised I am writing it. I am proud to have fought through this project to result in something beautiful, and to this point one of my most proud achievements. I know there will be others, but this one taught me so much at one time it is hard to deny its significance.
A Key Talent | I think I my greatest strength is patience. This has been a great strength throughout my whole life. I have used it to my advantage in waiting to make sure I got into the right college that fit me, my personality, and my goals. When I am working on a project, pushing the design further and further, I am always patiently waiting to see what the next sketch will do, what the next adjustment will do, and how these changes will ripple through the design. In our business, this patience has also helped to reinforce another strength; persistence. It has helped me choose the right words that balance the delicate push to collect bills that have gone unpaid for long periods of time and the firmness needed to get them paid. In almost every case, we have been able to collect debts that have gone unpaid for long periods of time. In the world of marketing and business development, I take a slow approach to the process of meeting and greeting people, putting in the right time and getting to know the right people. It has meant for a slow but steady growth in our marketing and business development. The result has been a group of clients that I have gotten to know in such a great way, and believe in me and our team. I can go on with many other examples where my patience has been there to help me take a breath, slow down, and push forward. The key to this has always been knowing that I am always searching for the best answer to the question. Whether it takes me ten minutes or 17 years, I will always keep moving toward the answer.
Now how you help to use/manage the strength of patience better is always a difficult thing. People can sometimes lose themselves trying to maintain a level of patience, but not understand that it has to come to an end. Patience is a virtue that can help you to maintain, but it needs to be balanced and fired up with some level of drive to complete a goal. As with every other strength, you need to be able to understand what your other strengths and weaknesses are and how to tailor them to work together. Patience, drive, anger, and excitement are all great, but can swing from a strength to a weakness easily. As I have grown and built my career, it has been an ongoing lesson to learn who I am and how my personality might impact a given situation. I think the biggest thing to do is understand your thoughts, understand who you are, and how you can push yourself in a way that is tempered with patience. Taking opportunities to learn as they present themselves and knowing when to ask for help when not to. My patience has been strong, and it has helped me to slowly push myself out of my introverted shell. Taking personality tests like Myers-Briggs, finding a mentor or a coach, being willing to lean into tough situations and push yourself to change are all important. If you are willing, push yourself patiently forward.
Principles I Live By | I am a firm believer in being honest and fair, but also being driven and confident. I think that over time my beliefs have gotten stronger. People should treat each other with respect, but also with an honesty that can sometimes be painful. I want to stress that this is about respect and honesty, not tearing people down or building them up for no reason. It is about delivering a message that needs to be heard. That said it will also help to give people the right direction and help them build confidence.
Dealing With Doubt | This has been something I have struggled with my entire life. I have always been naturally reserved and humble. I am confident in what I do as an Architect, but have trouble translating that beyond the world of design. It is only as I have gotten beyond my desk and the office into other work-related activities that my confidence started to grow. At times I am fearful of things that might or could happen. My mind actively searches out the tough and challenging path. I can buckle down and head into it, but at the beginning I am full of fear. It isn’t until things start to change or come into focus that I feel like I have started to overcome that fear. As you can imagine, I spend a lot of sleepless nights worrying and am afraid of what might happen tomorrow or at the end of a project. It is this world of fear and negativity that I try to push down or push out. As my successes continue, and as our business continues to grow and gain momentum, it has become easier and easier to face and move beyond my fears. I do belong as a business owner and I am going to continue to be successful, that I know!
As you probably note from my previous statement, I continually have times of self-doubt and negative thinking. I can also tell you that I always push myself to move through those fears and try something new. My patience continues to prevail. I want to be great, and it may take a while, but I WILL get there. I have never been great at public speaking. I was invited to an event in Napa Valley to discuss issues related to Sustainability in Hospitality. Once I arrived, it seemed the format had changed and everyone was going to speak about their passions related to Sustainable Hospitality. This meant speaking in front of a crowd of people I had just met and probably were some of the best, most important, people related to Sustainability. I have never been so afraid in my entire life. I had pulled together some notes and ideas the night before, but I was about to stand in front of these people and try to really pull something together. I almost blacked out mid speaking, when the organizer deep in the back of the crowd made a really funny face. At that point, I was able to relax and finish my speech. I learned at that point that I needed to learn more about public speaking and how to be better at it. The next week I was back in the office and pulled one of the partners at my previous firm into a conference room and told him I needed to learn public speaking. (Steve, the partner at my previous firm, was one of the best public speakers I had ever met. He always spoke so smoothly and comfortably in every situation.) He told me a couple simple steps, none of which actually related to public speaking. They were more about knowing and understanding the topic. It was about the confidence regarding the topic. And ever since that brief, but very insightful conversation, I have never had a problem speaking in front of people. I am always prepared and always know the topic at hand. I then know so well that I can walk around the stage without worry or fear. I know what to say, I know what to do and make it happen.
Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | I have some amazing people in my life and I have always tried to make use of movies and music to drive and challenge me in my art. I regularly search for things in books; lessons and ways to hone and improve my business. My friends, like my competitors, are my biggest supporters, but also some of my biggest challengers. They help to push me, but are always there to hold me up. My business partner is by far one of my greatest friends, an amazing supporter, colleague and challenger. We are always working and pushing each other, we share a business, some amazing employees, and some powerful friends. My friend John has also always been a believer he is always there, helping, pushing, and believing in me. The three of us have been some of the greatest friends for as long as I can remember. Then there is Dave Delcher. He and I convinced each other we could renovate a house with our own two hands. It was an experience that I would never change; we were good friends and became amazing friends. Talk about a crazy challenge. As of the past couple of years, I have been looking for other types of support. I have been looking for mentors that help me to understand how I should look forward and how to deal with things better in the future.
Over time I have been able to meet several people who have become great mentors. They are partners at other firms that have been gracious enough to offer advice and feedback. Their advice over the time has been invaluable. It has helped me and my business partner to grow our firm, gain confidence and push through adversity. From choosing employees, choosing projects and keeping sanity, they have been great. Other forms of art are always great comparison, the invoke feelings and emotions just like we hope to with our spaces. I can tell you I have always been inspired by the Ocean’s movies. I have even gone so far to say I want to model our firm off them. Not in the aspect that they are creatively stealing someone’s fortune, but in the energy and life that those movies have. You can see in the movie that the cast has clearly had a great time and enjoyed every minute of it. I always want strive to make sure we are always having a great time every day. I have always loved music, all kinds of music! It can build energy and give you inspiration. I still remember a time in studio when Dave Delcher would put on Ned’s Atomic Dustbin at 3am when we were going to be there all night long. It would give us just enough energy to make it through. And lastly I will always have a love for Pearl Jam, they have created music that can help you jump around or slow things down and make you cry. They sustain and continue to make good music. I want to continue to push my career as well as they have!
My Future Dreams And Ambitions | I think over time my dreams and ambitions have changed. Early in my career, I think my focus was on building credentials and experience. Learning and gathering information to become a better and better Architect. I feel like now as time has gone on and now that I own a firm, those ambitions are more for our employees and the firm itself. I have still kept a couple major goals for me, but I think my focus is more on helping other people excel.
The Firm: I want our firm to be recognized as a top tier boutique design firm. I want us to be the people that people call in DC if they are going to create a restaurant or their new home. Where our talent in design drives business or re-sale. In the Hotel world my goal, is that known as the firm that people want to work with and might wait to work with. That despite our small firm size produces well thought out solid design that pushes the limits of design for hotels, both practically and aesthetically.
Our People: My ambition is that we are the sought after firm to work for. People in DC and potentially all around the world are asking to work for us. We can provide salaries, incentives and bonuses, but also an amazing working environment where our employees come in every day with an excitement about design and creativity that rivals that of the large design firms. It will be like we are filming an Ocean’s movie every day. Laughing can blend to design debate and back to laughing all while creating amazing work.
Me: My goals are to continue pushing myself to let go, but keep up the pressure. I want to give people the space and support to do their jobs and push their design creativity every day. I would also like to get back to teaching. I taught two classes at Catholic University and really enjoyed it. I liked giving back to the Architectural community, and building students’ confidence in being Architects and explaining what we do so we can change the profession from people who are willing to undercut each other to people that respect their profession and have confidence to charge what their worth. We work like lawyers, but aren’t respected like lawyers.
On Inspiring Others | The most challenging part of our job these days isn’t getting the work into our office, but finding people to do the work. Both Dave and I have taught at Catholic University and Dave has been doing it for a lot longer than I have. He has been great about keeping in touch with people over the years and waiting for them to get some experience and become more knowledgeable. Some of our best employees have come through his network of students. The best part is that they come into the office ready to go. They know Dave and his style and they always seem to fall right in step with the firm culture.
We are constantly trying to get our name out, building a reputation so students and potential employees alike get to know who we are and learn what we are about. Motivation is something I feel like we are good at; leading by example and coaching, but we are still working to be great! As I’ve mentioned in other answers, I really want our people to be exceptionally motivated. As I start to transition more from doing to teaching, coaching and motivating, I am hoping to learn more about how to keep our employees safely driving themselves forward. For my own motivation, I read books about management in design firms and creating creative confidence. I have now taken to bringing those books to our people for them to read in hopes they too will have a good takeaway. As our office continues to grow, we are also starting to implement some level of discussion related to books on Architecture or other topics that interest them. We want people to gain some understanding of what it is to be a smart creative person and really push themselves.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | I’ve always wanted to bring the real respect back to Architecture. I used to think I wanted to be the rock star of Architecture, but now I think I want to make sure that the world and profession of Architecture learns as a whole how to manage the emotional connection of Architecture as an art form, and the business and practical nature of Architecture as a business. We are talented and smart people. We have a unique understanding of the world, a strong ability to manage large amounts of information, and distill it to the most important parts. We also understand how to truly work with shape, space, and feeling. Architecture is truly a multi-dimensional profession. I think we are the most important type of Artist, we not only understand beauty in the world, but also how to make it beautiful while working with structure and human interaction. I want one day to work on a book that explains true importance practice of Architecture and motivates others to have confidence and make change in our profession. Understand the importance of what we do, how seriously we should take that responsibility, and how we should always be compensated for it.