The Edge: Jason Dries-Daffner’s Wise Advice

October 22, 2013 7 min read

Jason Dries-Daffner 2013

Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do

Jason Dries-Daffner: I am part of a really wonderful group of people at EDG Interior Architecture and Design where we focus on hospitality (hotels and restaurants) projects. Our projects range in scale from a pop-up Portable Dining Unit to the design of an entire resort in Bali, Indonesia. Our studio is made up of interior designers, artists, chefs, architects and graphic designers who bring a diverse set of skills and backgrounds to bear on complex programs – what most people think of as design. What we really “do” is take care of our clients and project stakeholders through high value design. While we live and breathe design, it is a mean to an end. This is to help our clients better take care of their guests and better operate their businesses.

Jason Dries-Daffner - EDG Architecture-HYLB_4

As Senior Director of Architecture for EDG, I am responsible for the firm’s architecture group, project management and technical detailing. For these items, the buck stops with me, but it is our talented group of project architects, job captains and project managers who are developing, detailing and documenting the design. Much of my work here is in the ongoing establishment and refinement of standards, quality control and continuing education. We always have a lot of work to do on these fronts, but it is incredibly fulfilling to see these investments pay off in the better services we can provide to our clients.

Additionally, I am directly involved in projects where I partner with our Senior Designers and the team. On the project level I typically act as project manager and technical lead as well as do some designing.

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Novedge: Why did you choose to focus on restaurants and hotels for your architectural practice?

Jason Dries-Daffner: EDG’s founder, the late Eric Engstrom, was a key part of the flourishing Bay Area food scene in the 1980’s, collaborating with chefs and restaurateurs on what are now some pretty landmark local institutions. Our President, Jennifer Johanson, has led the firm over the past 20 years as we have grown from a handful of designers to an international firm with offices in San Rafael, Dallas, Singapore and Bangkok. This growth has been fueled by clients who have recommended us around the globe. Our growing portfolio of full hospitality design (hotel public spaces, meeting and ball rooms, guest rooms…) as well as food and beverage design has been the natural development of Jennifer and the firm’s engagement with the larger hospitality industry. She provides innovative design thinking, building consensus around challenging design decisions. All the while she creates an experience of delight in the work and the process.

I grew up working in restaurants and have been designing hospitality projects for most of my professional career, so EDG is really where I feel at home. One of my first projects out of architecture school was as the junior member on a team designing a resort in Bali. Currently I am also on a team designing a resort in Bali. It is pretty fulfilling to see a similar project, program and locale, but from a slightly more experienced perspective (read: graying temples and crows’ feet).

My thinking tends to be analytical and technical, and I also enjoy entertaining and hosting meals and out of town guests. I feel these personal traits help me deliver thoughtful and sincere service to our hotel and restaurant clients. Hospitality projects have a great deal of back-of-house coordination complexity but all in the service of front-of-house guest entertainment and accommodation. I enjoy the industry personalities and want to see their projects succeed.

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Novedge: How do you collaborate with clients during the design process?

Jason Dries-Daffner: Collaboration is all about communication. If we are doing our jobs properly, we are constantly communicating and over-communicating with our clients and all of the project stakeholders. This is the ideal, and we can always clarify our intent through drawings or the spoken and written word. 

Our collaboration process includes in-person brainstorming, lots of online meetings and a ton of email and phone calls. With experience, we learn when collaboration really needs face-to-face contact, and when trading attachments will get the job done.

People laugh when we talk about “research”, but a lot of our client collaboration takes place by going together to restaurants and bars to share meals and drinks. This establishes personal connection and trust, which is crucial for collaboration and also gives real world common reference points. For example, we are starting on construction for a restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach. As part of the kick-off meeting last year, we spent hours walking around San Francisco with our client Jon Benson, Director of Food &Beverage at the hotel. In one evening, we probably stopped in at six or seven venues to compare the ambiance, taste the offerings and study operations. We were also forging trust, which absolutely facilitates our collaboration, especially as we face the challenges in any construction process. Jon still makes fun of me sprinting through the financial district to catch the last train home.

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Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?

Jason Dries-Daffner:  

EDG’s Senior Designer was Shawna Jacoby, who approaches each project with a methodical design process infused with a love for art and concept. You can see this passion in the final project, which is designed around a concept of “movement” (travelers arriving and departing), “flow” (goods in and out of the nearby port) and “exchange” (of ideas, the essence of California). Our architecture and interiors work includes custom, site-specific art wrapping around some of the walls.

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Shawna also designed an early phase temporary installation in the lobby. This included FF&E around a giant faceted tower with slowly transforming internal colored illumination.

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Hyatt is a great client. They are very design-oriented at the corporate level and the on-site General Manager and Director of Engineering care deeply for their building. The meeting rooms have been getting a ton of use since opening, so of course we are pleased. One of the personal successes of that project was the rapport and friendship I have developed with Hyatt’s project manager, a gentleman named Jim Kintz. As the project phases evolved, Jim and I went from unknown voices at the other end of the phone to true partners in realizing built projects. This probably results from spending the time to speak candidly with each other and working towards mutual understanding rather than trying to win every argument. Part of my motivation now is trying to make sure Jim can do his job well.

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Novedge: What software do you use?

Jason Dries-Daffner:

AutoCAD, Vectorworks, SketchUp, Revit, Photoshop, InDesign,Acrobat, Final Cut Pro, MS Project, Ajera, Skype, GoTo Meeting and pretty much any kind of word processing and spreadsheet software made for Macs and PCs. It depends on the individual user and the requirements of the internal and external team.

Most typical projects will be a combination of AutoCAD, SketchUp, and Adobe Creative Suite. Many of our external team members are set up on AutoCAD, which facilitates transfer of information. No software is perfect, and AutoCAD is simply an industry standard. SketchUp makes it very easy to generate and communicate three dimensional design ideas. We use a pretty wide range of raw SU models as well as post-modeling photo-real renderings as well as SU models as underlays for hand sketching. The Creative Suite software, like Photoshop and InDesign, are essential to effectively communicate words and graphics, especially when concerning colors and materials.

I like technology and enjoy learning to use new software and devices. However, one of my clichéd expressions (and there are many) is “it’s not about the software.” I expect our teams to stay current, but the technology is just a tool to better generate, develop and communicate design intent. The most important software to continually upgrade is simply human curiosity.

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Novedge: In your experience, what are the biggest challenges architecture professionals are facing today?

Jason Dries-Daffner: From what I see, the biggest and most obvious challenge is sustainability in terms of the environment, social cohesion and respect for human dignity. We must choose our own position in contributing to or helping to resolve these problems.

Aside from that kind of doom-and-gloom stuff, our industry is challenged to evolve and adapt to changing economic, technological and legal conditions. There is a tendency to assume that how the industry has been in the past should be a guarantee for how it should be in the future. Architects and design professionals need to continue to test different forms of project organization and leadership (IPD, lean management…). We also need to find ways to be relevant to our clients, to provide the services they need rather than the ones that are convenient for us.

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Novedge: What is the best advice you have ever received?

Jason Dries-Daffner: 

This is hard to answer. I’ve received a lot of great advice from some really accomplished people. Here is a sample of what they have often reminded me:

Ask questions, but ask yourself first – my friend Brian Wright

Architects don’t make buildings; architects make drawings – my friend and mentor Gene Sparling

Triple check

-Chance favors the prepared mind

I don’t know if they ever explicitly said anything, but both my parents led by example. My mom was always concerned about how other people felt— an invaluable lesson for team-based design work. My dad has always made time to talk to family or provide good counsel. When we were kids, he instructed his secretaries to take our calls no matter what he was doing or with whom he was meeting. If he couldn’t talk, he would at least pick up the phone to tell us he would call us back. Even today, if I am at his house, chances are he will be on the phone with one of my siblings, lending an ear and maybe sharing a sage word or two.   

 

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