We asked David Grissino, our Chief of Design and Construction, a few questions about his background, the extensive MCAAD building project, and construction during COVID-19. When he first joined the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream team, he knew that restoring three historic buildings in Washington, D.C. into a modern Visitor Center welcoming people from around the globe would be challenging, but he could not have foreseen the added challenges of operating an active construction site during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Why did you choose a career in construction and design?

In many ways, my career chose me. My extended family is filled with engineers and musicians and architecture sits somewhere in between those highly technical and artistic endeavors. I started my college career in political science, as I have always had an interest in public service and enjoy working with large diverse groups of people. In addition to my political science classes, I took a basic drawing course to fulfill a general education requirement and was immediately hooked. I went on to complete a Bachelors in Fine Arts with a concentration in interior design and then a Masters in Architecture.  

What does your typical day look like in your current role as MCAAD Chief of Design and Construction?  

A typical day draws on a whole range of skills and experiences, ranging from discussing technical issues as questions arise on the construction site to managing project finances to reviewing aesthetic design choices. Perhaps the most important thing that I do is help the large team of architects, engineers, construction personnel, and development managers work collaboratively and efficiently by building a culture of respect and camaraderie with the ownership.

Tell us a bit about the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream building project.

The building project involves the transformation of three historic buildings located at Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street in the heart of Washington D.C. Previously independent structures, these old banks are being connected together to enable a unified visitor experience, enhanced by the creation of a new auditorium beneath the original bank halls, the enclosure of an alley to create a new five-story atrium space, and the addition of a modern glass sixth floor space. Original details throughout the complex will be restored, including skylights that have been covered since WWII. New mezzanines will be inserted into the original bank halls to expand the capabilities for exhibits and special events.

You have a background in interiors, architecture, and urban design. How does this affect your approach to building projects, and this project in particular?

A building is always experienced at a range of scales, from the way the wood handrail feels, to the way you move through a series of spaces, to the way sunlight rakes across the façade, to the way a building relates to the sidewalk, street, or block. This particular project has beautiful interiors filled with exquisite craftsmanship and sits in such a unique location next to the White House and Treasury. It is such an incredible opportunity to be involved with these buildings and the mission of the Center that it makes not only me, but the whole project team, dedicated to its successful opening so that others from around the country and world can experience these treasures.

This is a strange and difficult time. Many businesses are closed, but construction is still happening in Washington D.C.  What changes have you made on the site since COVID-19?

Safety is always a priority in construction. It is inherently dangerous work and the goal of the collective team is to make sure that protocols are clearly defined, communicated, and enforced. COVID has been no different. We have established new rules and regulations, made sure that all workers coming to the site understand them, and react appropriately if someone is suspected of having been exposed to the virus. Masks are worn by everyone on site, distancing is followed, and the site gets shut down for deep cleaning if there is cause for concern. There also have been instances where crews are sent home to self-quarantine if need be.

David, what is your idea of the American Dream?

My idea of the American Dream is centered around the happiness and comfort that have been enabled by the ability to re-invent myself over the years and take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves. That has been true not only of my academic and professional career but in my personal life as well.