From Software Executive to Award-Winning Architect

Tracie Simmons Design

How does a firm select its market focus? For David Marlatt, it was the opportunity to pursue his longtime interest in housing and enter a  market with a low barrier to entry for a new practice.

When Marlatt founded DNM Architecture in 1999, Archicad was the logical choice for a BIM platform. A trip to Paris after earning his degree from Georgia Tech led him to a job with a little software startup in 1987 called Abvent, the second distributor for Archicad in Europe. He then took the reins of Graphisoft in 1993, and by 1998 what had been an unintentional side trip led him to a decision point – either focus on a growing role as a software executive or return to his professional roots in architecture.

Fortunately for his clients and the profession, Marlatt chose architecture.

DNM Architecture provides a high level of practical services – like escorting projects through complex permitting processes – combined with “a passion for creating captivating spaces for the home as well as the community.”

Archicad LEED Project

Marlatt cited the Urban LEED Platinum residential project as “emblematic of the firm, and also a great Archicad example for simulating energy use.” Archicad’s robust modeling capabilities were also put to use for the Sonoma Sips House, featuring a combination of active and passive design strategies to receive an exceptionally high score in the Green Point Certified House program. Marlatt and his team were able to simulate the airflow through the house to assure the clients would have excellent passive ventilation with no dead air spaces.

The firm portfolio also includes furniture design, which Marlatt admitted is a creative outlet and not a commercial venture. “It’s a joy to draw something that doesn’t require a permit and is completed in your lifetime.”

Working Virtually is the Norm

While based in the San Francisco Bay Area, the seven professionals on the DNM team are used to working virtually using Archicad as a key tool. “Our operations were hardly affected by the 2020 shutdown,” said Marlatt. “We already had it in our culture to work across time zones.” Like everyone else, they are currently discussing what the post-pandemic work world is going to look like.

While the firm has little turnover, they do bring interns on board. Finding someone already trained in Archicad is the exception not the rule. What’s important to Marlatt is having basic 3D platform experience. “If someone knows one platform, they can learn and get comfortable with another. It will take a few weeks and then they’ll continually improve.” Training is usually provided with in office mentoring, encouraging questions and a high level of standardization within the office.  He also recommends the Learn Virtual and Graphisoft tutorials as helpful adjuncts. With a suite of internal templates and an office stylebook, “anyone can be plugged into any project at any time.”

Staff flexibility is key to the DNM Architecture business model. The firm manages 35 to 40 open projects at any one time. When asked for a few final words of wisdom to a firm considering adopting the Archicad platform, Marlatt emphasized the architect centric nature of the software. “Archicad allows us to compete in the larger field. It’s an amplifier for small firms,” said Marlatt.

Written by Sue Lani Madsen, AIA Member Emeritus, Freelance Columnist
You can reach Sue Lani at rulingpen@gmail.com