Staff Spotlight: David Leitman

David, a skilled architect, joins us to discuss his inspiration, principles of design, passions, and more!

Photo of David Leitman
February 27, 2023
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This month’s staff spotlight is David Leitman! David has been involved withprojects in all phases of design and construction, primarily in highereducation. He earned both a Master of Architecture and Master of Urban Designdegree from Washington University in St. Louis and a Bachelor of Science inDesign from Arizona State University. David is currently working on the JonesPublic Library project in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Q: What inspired you to become an architect/designer?

From a young age, I was always fascinated by cities – how they werebuilt, and laid out, and what they were comprised of. My childhood play matprobably inspired me first, which had a cartoonish city plan motif. I playedwith Legos and toy cars on that mat imagining new places and cities. Though itwas make-believe, it ingrained in me a way of seeing the built environment andthinking about how buildings could relate to one another. Through this, I felta calling to be a part of the process, ensuring our built environment wasdesigned to serve people, build communities, and add meaning to place.

Q: If you could give advice to a young designer whatwould you say?

·        Stay curious and open-minded.

·        Accept that design is iterative and takes time.

·        Volume is just as important as square footage.

·        Remember that light is also a material.

Q: Do you have any guiding design principles in your process?

First, listen to the needs of the clients and end users. Sometimes what is noted in a program or brief may differ from what they say to you directly. Additionally, the subtext of what is said, and not their exact words, is critical to understand, as what they think they need, and what they need can be different. Our job is to help uncover and deliver on that.

Secondly, design for people. If the spaces we’re creating are not meeting the needs and functions of those who’ll occupy and use these spaces every day, the project may be unsuccessful. Designing spaces should not be purely based on aesthetics; the human factor and the user should always be considered.

Q: What have been some of your career highlights/proudest achievements so far?

Though many people have said it, there is nothing more profound than seeing a space you’ve worked on for several years finally being built. It’s an odd feeling walking in a space you know intimately but have never physically been in. It is truly humbling when that time, energy, and dedication have paid off and become a reality.

Q: Do you have a favorite city to visit for architecture?

No city carries the architectural gravitas as Rome does. I spent a short time in the city while on a summer study abroad and found it to be a truly memorable and magical city architecturally. With the layers of time evident throughout the city (old, new, and some crumbling), the human scale of the streets, the grandness of the civic buildings and plazas, and the spectacular views from atop the hills, every turn I made I was carried from one impressive site to another.

Photo of Piazza Navona taken by David

Q: Do you have a favorite building or perhaps a favorite architect?

Though it is very hard to identify a favorite architect, Alvar Aalto is one architect that stands out to me more than others. In graduate school, I spent a semester in Helsinki, Finland, and studied him and his work quite extensively. We toured more Aalto buildings than I can remember and studied everything from his bent plywood furniture to large urban plans for cities throughout Finland. His reach as a designer was immense, not only globally, but also in his ability to cross many scales. But what I truly appreciated most was his ability to connect the design of his work, with form and materials, both organically and naturally with the human-centered understanding, which creates quite timeless spaces. Even now, those materials and tactile spaces still look and feel contemporary.

Photo of Alvar Aalto's Villa Maria taken by David