As we turned the calendar forward to 2019, we asked WDA Founder and Managing Principal William Duff for his reflections on WDA’s 20th Anniversary in 2018:
Duff still remembers the nervous excitement he felt when he opened his own firm in 1998. His first “office” was a room in his house that held a computer, drafting table, and plotter. By 2000, he’d rented an office proper in downtown San Francisco and hired his first employee. Fast-forward to 2018, when WDA ended the year having relocated to its 4th office (back in SOMA, just blocks from the original) and grown to 29 employees.
When asked about the most important lesson he’s learned along the way, Duff didn’t hesitate. “Value people…both those we’re designing for and those helping us see our projects to completion.” WDA’s growth has been driven by our people—talented and committed architects who excel at creative problem solving through a shared set of core values: Communication, Creativity, Transparency, Excellence, and Growth.
As far as significant events in the firm’s history, Duff is hard-pressed to single out highlights, because he feels lucky to have been involved in many interesting projects for great clients over the years. The firm initially got its start in retail and residential projects, and retail was the engine. Duff designed and managed the international rollout of a new retail concept for EB Games that led to local boutique clients including the award-winning Timbuk2 store in San Francisco and restaurants Mixt and Split, which then paved the way for recent high profile design projects such as the restaurant a|Mano, and SFO’s new District Market and future British Airways lounge.
Duff’s creativity blossomed through the firm’s residential work. The Jacobson Residence garnered attention for its innovative transformation of a rooftop into a modern master bedroom. This led to the design of the Wheeler House, which culminated in a cover story in the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Magazine in 2007, which was a seminal project and laid the foundation for WDA’s selection as the architect charged with “elevating architecture to art” in the Big Ranch Road project, which earned a prestigious AIA Merit Award in 2018.
The strength of the retail and residential work helped Duff add a commercial studio to the firm to focus on tenant improvements and building rehabs. Projects completed by this studio include a series of creative meeting spaces for CBS Interactive, a new office buildout for Urthecast, the rehabilitation of a large historic building for San Francisco Unified School District and an adaptive reuse project for the City of San Francisco.
“Over the years,” Duff says, “we’ve consistently had fantastic clients who’ve presented us with engaging and innovative projects, and we’ve been fortunate enough to receive attention for the work we’ve enjoyed doing.”
When asked to offer thoughts about what changes we might see in architectural trends in the future Duff thought for a minute then said, “After the move towards open floorplan in both homes, offices, and restaurants over the past decade I think we’ll start to see private, introspective spaces make a comeback.” Stay tuned for more in-depth posts on those practice area reflections in 2019!