New Architecture and Design Firm Settles in Anacostia

Two men birthed their baby in January.

They call it DC Modern Design + Build.

As the name indicates, their baby is not flesh and blood. Their creation is the marrying of two concepts and businesses that calls home the Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Good Hope Rd. SE.

Owners Sean Lada and Michael Vallen owned their respective businesses previously and continue to do so. Lada owns Adela Design Construction, and Vallen owns Vallen Design Studio. Their collaboration came from coincidence.

"We met because a friend renovated his house. I was impressed with the work that was done," Vallen says.

According to Vallen, DC Modern Design + Build primarily does residential design and architecture, but also does some small commercial projects.

Co-owner Lada says, "It’s 50 percent design and 50 percent construction."

They work on projects in D.C. and the surrounding area, and they hope to increase business in Anacostia.

"We are bidding one right now. We hope that happens," Vallen says.

Their primary reasons for locating their business office in Anacostia were the openness of the community and the lower rent costs.

"We are sole practitioners who work from our homes. It is very expensive to rent in other parts of the city, and they are over-served, and Anacostia is completely underserved. It would be easy to locate to the suburbs in a plain vanilla box," says Vallen.

Lada says, "We like the idea of giving back to the community being a part of change. We would have opportunities to hire people from the surrounding neighborhood."

So far they have hired a woman who lives on W Street SE, Kristin Jackson. She works as an assistant to both men. She helps them on projects as a drafting associate and project coordinator.

According to Vallen, a "plain vanilla box" is either an industrial or suburban park with plain office space that is often closed off from the community.It tends to draw only people who know the business.  In Anacostia, a person may stumble into the business by accident due to the location and connectivity to the community..

Lada says, "It’s creating a buzz."

Perhaps one of the most interactive features of their business is the office that doubles as an art gallery for architectural photographs. The walls are colored blocked as if they were gigantic candy canes with their bold blood reds and the muted lilywhites. Atop these candy canes various pictures are mounted. The pictures range from a brick building contrasted against a thematic blue sky to an infinitesimally smaller sepia picture of two door handles ajar.

Vallen says the idea of the gallery is to "to engage the public and actually be doing our work."

Vallen’s unique business approach hopes to both clear up the "cloud of misinformation of what architects do," and "engage the public."

Lada says, "It exposes us to new ideas."

Throughout this experience both men have fallen in love with the area.

"I love D.C. I love all of D.C. I love that it’s green and there are a lot of parks. I love the architecture the people and schools. I hope I can stay in the area forever. I’m really excited to see how Anacostia will develop and excited to be there and see it happen," says Lada.