The Source for Richmond Architecture and Design Information

Interview: Dave Johannas

Dave Johannas is the principal at Johannas Design Group (JDG), as well as a member of the planning commission for the city and the Commission of Architectural Review. We have previously featured the Mews at Cary Mill from JDG.

What is the underlying philosophy or mission of the work done at Johannas Design Group, and which projects do you think best exemplify these values?

We are overall community oriented, which is important in terms of working for the city and the future of how our city develops. Everything we do has somewhat of a planning oriented bent to it, as opposed to specifically architecture, and our goal in small-scale work is typically to beef up density in the city. Most of our work is incorporated into the central part of the city, working with or adjacent to historic architecture.

To me, the Mews on West Cary St is a really nice example of integrating modern architecture with historic architecture, infill that attempts to create density in the city, with stuff a little taller than the area was before. The integration of outdoor space, with every dwelling unit connected to the outdoors almost forming a pocket park, is a really important philosophy to the project and something that urban spaces need just as much as any other space.

What is your opinion of the architectural culture in Richmond? What would you say is our city’s chief strengths or shortcomings in this regard?

I’m going to go shortcomings. Because we’re not a city that tries to experiment or takes chances with our architecture, or promote modern or current architecture in itself. We do have a great architectural heritage with a lot quality historic buildings, but in terms of everyone projecting that into the future and thinking about where we’re going, we’re not trying to promote that ethic as a city. There are other cities that are trying to continue to have an architectural heritage, and we fall short of that. We do have talented people here, every city does, but as a culture, our city is not supporting high quality architecture.

You’re also a member of the Commission of Architectural Review (CAR). Can you speak to the importance of this organization and the success of its mission?

The CAR has been around for at least 50 years, and currently oversees about 6,000 properties in the city. The mission has grown and the level of professionalism has gotten more and more focused. It is a relatively sophisticated commission. Without the CAR, without the doctrine of old and historic districts, we would have lost a lot of our heritage and our urban fabric. It takes that type of organization to keep that essential fabric, which is what gives our city its character and culture.

And you don’t see modern architecture as at odds with an historic architectural culture?

Yes I do, no I don’t. You always have to deal with that conflict. At what point is it damaging? How far do you extend into modernity? At what point are you being too historicist? Our commission supports a lot of historicist detailing; good or bad, it will be supported politically. Very seldom do people have the energy, time or client to create modern architecture. The balancing point in neighborhoods can be so delicate, how far do you go or not go?

As a member of the planning commission for the city, what do you believe are the largest issues regarding the city’s urban realm that we face in the present and future?

I’m excited about the planning commission because I’m probably the first dedicated urbanist on it and really philosophically believe in the need for our central city to become more urbane. That’s the message, and I’m going to have the opportunity to keep on delivering it. It’ll be interesting to see where the commission goes.

We need to promote the central city and the level of density here, looking towards affording public transportation and a multi-modal society. Looking at the last thirty years, it’s no question that the cities that thrive financially are the ones that embrace urbanism and have dealt with them in an aggressive fashion.

Johannas Design Group:

Commission of Architectural Review:

Planning Commission:


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