Summer Intern Series: Thomas Dougherty


For the past 18 years, David M. Schwarz Architects has maintained a travel fellowship program which offers undergraduate and graduate architecture students an opportunity to travel and intern in our office. Thomas Dougherty is a 2018 Summer Fellow from the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. He received his Master of Architecture degree from Notre Dame in 2018 and will receive his Master of Architectural Design and Urbanism degree in 2019. Keep reading to learn more about Thomas Dougherty and his plans to travel to London and Amsterdam.


Place in DC you want to explore: All the good architecture and all the accessory dwelling units (ADUs).

What is the most surprising thing about DC? More traffic than I thought!

What music are you listening to? Motown, mostly The Four Tops.

Favorite book: The Soul of the World by Roger Scruton

Do you have any special or fun skills and/or talents? I’m a carpenter; I did timber framing. Timber framing is a unique thing because it’s the kind of wood construction we had before conventional stick framing, before we could easily mill wood down to dimensional lumber.


What are you currently working on? 

I’m working on the Leander project; it's a mixed-use master plan for a new downtown in Leander, TX. It was recently approved by the City.

What is something you have done during your time at DMSAS that you had never done or tried before?

I haven’t done anything with Revit before, but it’s great that they’re willing to train me.

What do you hope to gain from your time at DMSAS?

Obviously as a Fellow, part of this is the traveling aspect, so that’s huge. But the experience of working at a firm like DMSAS that has this kind of caliber of work that I haven’t worked with in the past—that was very enticing to me.

What about DMSAS appealed to you?

One thing that I remember David M. Schwarz saying at the beginning is that what sets us apart is our use of precedent, and that’s key to the Notre Dame education as well and it is unique in that manner because it’s not following the current architectural and even cultural trends of our time, to look to the past to inform the future. The human person is somewhat constant so if I can look at the past and look at what’s worked well in the past, that can inform the future. And that was all thrown under the rug at the turn of the century by the modern architects and that ideology has informed almost all architecture schools and firms, so it was eye-opening to see that from David and also you can see that in their work.

What about your time working at DMSAS has surprised you the most?

The caliber of this firm is greater than any of the firms I’ve worked for. They’re working on projects that are both more involved but also of greater scope than any of the projects that I’ve worked on. For the Leander project, that will be master planning, which I have done before. What I haven’t done before is be involved with the civic buildings, so that’s what I’m hoping to spend some time on, basically transferring out of Leander into something I can create a model for.

Why do you study architecture?

I studied history and philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville and then I went through their Great Books program. And I grew up on a farm, so I was familiar with construction. I had been building buildings my whole life and throughout college I was working on different construction crews, but we were doing short-term, non-durable construction, which is ubiquitous in the United States. I studied abroad in 2010 and I was living in a monastery from the 13th century or so in Gaming, Austria, about 45 minutes south of Vienna. And that was fabulous; that was my first experience of humane, traditional urbanism and it was not necessarily the solution to, but it touched on a lot of factors that I’d missed growing up. I had grown up feeling the isolation of American urbanism and suburban sprawl. So when I came back to the states I decided to get into durable construction, so I got in touch with the Timber Framers Guild in the United States—most of the timber framers in the country are involved with them—and they sent me around to different projects for about a year after graduation. I skipped my graduation walk in 2012; I was working on a project up in Vermont. Then finally I was looking for a job in the Philly area and they got me in touch with a firm there. I worked with them for about three years. Then I decided to go back to school for architecture and urban design. I just graduated with a Master’s in Architecture and I’ll be around for another year doing independent research and at the end of that I’ll get a Master’s in Architectural Design and Urbanism.

If you weren’t studying architecture, what would you be doing?

If money were no object I would probably be reading some philosophy in the Alps in my own little Gaming or something.

Why did you choose your particular destination(s)? What do you hope to gain from your travels? Is your trip in support of an academic project or thesis?

I’m going to be traveling during the school year and it’s going to be two different trips. I’m going to fly to London and probably stay there for about 5 days and then fly up to Edinburgh for another 5 days—that’s over Fall Break. There I’m going to be studying the British mews, which is an alley system that had been a service alley and then has been converted over the last 500 years into residences, so you can see there are different examples of how developed that’s become. Then I’m going to fly to Amsterdam over Christmas Break. I’ll be there for 2 weeks and I’ll be based in Amsterdam and going out to different cities. Then I’ll go down to Belgium and spend a couple days in Bruges. There I’ll be studying interblock systems, so I’ll be studying the Bruges’ beguinage and the one in Amsterdam as well. They’ve ended up being these really amazing residential blocks and systems within these built-out, dense urban places.

Because it’s not on a Jeffersonian grid, you have the blocks creating these larger internal spaces and you walk through and maybe there’s a brick wall on one side and a chapel and you end up in in this perfectly quiet—because it’s brick so all the noises you left on the street—little green court, maybe there’s a fountain, maybe there’s a well and then all these very small residences around it so you have this semi-public, semi-private space that allows, say, the elderly to age with grace and dignity, which here in the States you often don’t find. You can look around and see the elderly being moved from their homes, for example, to age in a different place. The conversation about that (aging and dying) in the US has been talked about in the last 10 years valuably, and we are seeing the value of somebody being able to stay at home, the value of place and its role in memory and their sense of autonomy. You can see these internal block systems in Bruges which allow the elderly to still be able to walk out of their front door, through their court, onto the street and get the basic necessities of life without a need for a car.

My research will be about the internal block systems. So the potential transformation of the American alley into a secondary street system. You see huge developments in that since January 2017 when California declared that every city had 5 years to accept this accessory dwelling unit by-right development.

I had grown up on a farm that was actually adjacent to other small towns and cities but because of the way that our infrastructure works, I couldn’t get around until one, I had a license, and two, I had enough money to buy my own car. So we have a situation in which, within your lifespan, you’re only autonomous when you have a car. When you’re too young to have a car, you’re not autonomous and when you’re too old to drive or if you don’t have the finances, you’re a second-rate citizen and often you can’t break those class barriers or those different economic strata barriers.

Once you arrive, what are you most looking forward to?

I’ve never been to England, so I’m looking forward to going through London, and then Edinburgh and probably also Poundbury.

Are there any souvenirs (free or bought) that you want to bring back with you?

Definitely sketchbooks filled with drawings, a bunch of photographs, but more importantly the sketchbooks.

What techniques do you most enjoy using to document architecture—photos, sketches, watercolors, 3D models, etc.? What techniques will you use during your travels?

Photographs are pretty passive. You’re going to observe way less and be able to pull out way less. If I take a photograph I’m just picking up everything all at the same detail so there’s no analysis, there’s no interpretation involved. But if I’m going to start drawing, even unconsciously I’m picking out the important aspects; I’m analyzing the space and focusing on the order and form that is most important to me. Models are one of the things I’m hoping to do here.