Self taught architect brings innovative designs to Duluth

David Salmela sits in his office, listening to classical radio, surrounded by countless architect magazines. His office, which doubles as his home, is neatly scattered with models of homes, buildings and studios. Down a small flight of stairs sits David Getty, Salmela’s assistant. David Getty met David Salmela when Getty was headed to a design conference in Finland.

“I was there studying,” Getty said. “We bumped into each other when he was there with his wife for his son’s wedding.” Getty has worked under Salmela since the spring of 2011.

“It’s just the two of us (at the office),” Getty said. “David has taught me how to talk with clients, that is something they don’t teach you in school.”

Salmela has learned much outside the classroom, perhaps because he never took architectural classes.

“Back then, experience was all you needed to take the architecture exam,” Salmela said.

Salmela did work for an engineering firm for four years before taking the test to become a licensed architect. The exam, which covers nine different subjects and is taken over a four day span, requires the applicant to score 75 percent or higher.

Salmela scored in the 80 percent range.

“I do not profess anyone to do it my way,” Salmela said. “(Without school) you miss things. It is hard to overcome nowadays.”

In the mid 1990s, Minnesota enacted legislation that would require documents for construction jobs to be computer generated. Salmela stills prefers to draw by hand and that’s where Getty comes in.

“We have a nice, relaxed atmosphere,” Getty said. “It is great experience for me, transferring his drawings onto the computer.”

Over recent years, Salmela has become somewhat of a Midwestern celebrity.

However, he doesn’t let it affect him.

“Nothing stays the same,” Salmela said. “You either are getting better, or you are getting worse. Things are always changing, the only constant is how you analyze the land.”

When analyzing land, Salmela says an architect in a northern climate has to account for different issues than those found in warmer climates.

“Up here, you have to design for windows that are exposed to the sun, to gather heat to help stay warm,” Salmela said. Salmela admits there is more to crafting a building than just knowing the land.

“You want to take into account your client’s background,” Salmela said. “Whether we know it or not, we react to things from our childhood.

“When you do a building for a company, or a couple, you want to complete it and have the people enjoy to be there. That’s the most important.”

Salmela has done work on hundreds of houses in the Minnesota-Wisconsin area. He has also done work in Michigan and Colorado, but has not tried his hand in warm climate areas.

“I think understanding the culture is important,” Salmela said. “It would be hard to create something in an unfamiliar place. I wouldn’t turn down a client, but I don’t know if that would be my ideal job.”

Salmela is currently working on projects in the Twin Ports area, from the Lake Superior shores in Wisconsin to Grand Marais, Minn.

“Throughout my career, I have been quite fortunate to have a lot of my buildings built,” Salmela said.

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