For the Love of People February 28, 2023

He’s on a mission to create more inclusive architecture

David Carter's professional journey shows us how diversity drives architectural innovation. Today, his work on projects like the San Marcos School District are building a better future for students and designers alike.

“What we make for the world mirrors who we are.” David Carter is musing about his greater purpose as an architectural designer–a career born of his love for art and drawing.

David Carter's art
Buckhead Skyline by David Carter

“To me, architecture is another form of art, a way to manifest our personal and shared values. That is why there’s so much power in diversity and representation in design. We can design places that really reflect the communities we’re creating for.” 

Carter’s journey has not been an easy one. Growing up between Atlanta and Baltimore, Carter saw the needs of underserved communities, and he experienced periods of homelessness as a child and teenager. “We often take things for granted like being able to keep the lights on, a warm meal, or a bed to sleep in,” he explains. “I was staying in shelters with my parents, and it was an experience that really stuck with me. When I could put together enough to cover the cost of pencils and paper, drawing allowed me to step outside my day-to-day and dream for a little while.” This sparked an early interest in housing, creating safe and comfortable places that make people feel at home.

"I looked at cities around me and wondered how they could be better, and who they are designed to serve."
David Carter

Carter’s curiosity of the built environment continued into his high school years. With a more stable place to live, it underlined the value of architecture and a place to call home. As serendipity would have it, in 2012 he met an architect who helped change the course of his life. “When I first saw his work, I realized David is a person who would leave his mark,” says Brooke Trivas, a principal at global design firm Perkins&Will. “I saw his high school portfolio at the Baltimore School of the Arts, and I thought, he can draw, and he can paint. He’s incredible hardworking, determined, and always ready to take on the work in front of him. He has a natural curiosity, and his art draws on lived experiences of city skylines and architecture. It was personal, impactful, and a reflection of his own perspective.” 

From their first meeting, Trivas was committed to supporting Carter’s growth, becoming a trusted resource for him and providing mentorship and guidance throughout his high school years. She shared her experiences in architecture and encouraged him to apply to college at Morgan State University’s School of Architecture. At MSU, Carter found platforms for sharing his perspective and learning from others in class. This stemmed from work with his professor, Gabriel Kroiz. “David was always present, always listening to others and asking for their ideas,” says Kroiz, who advocates for providing career pathways to underrepresented and minority students of design. “He was dedicated, and in turn, the work he produced elevated design.” 

“David is a Black man in a field where there are far too few."
Larry Carr, Senior Project Interior Designer

In 2017, Trivas—continuing to play an active mentorship role in Carter’s life–Introduced him to interior designer Larry Carr, co-chair of Perkins&Will’s council on justice, equity, engagement, diversity, and inclusion (J.E.D.I.). Carr invited Carter, then still a junior at MSU, to shadow him.  

“The first step to change architecture and help drive innovation is to acknowledge our lack of diversity. David became active in discussions about more engaged and inclusive work, and it felt just as great to learn from him as it did to show him the ropes.”

Left to right: Larry Carr, Brooke Trivas, David Carter at Perkins&Will's D.C. Studio in 2018

Carr created space for Carter’s voice to develop and be heard, and they both saw the benefit that this kind of engagement can create. Carter was committed to breaking the cycle he experienced growing up by pursuing a professional career and making his dream of being an architect come true. His experience with Carr cemented his desire to make a better life and help others. 

As Carter came to learn, there is a business case for diversity and inclusion. According to the World Economic Forum’s report on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, companies with more diverse talent have 19% higher revenues. Highly innovative teams bring new ideas to reality faster, and they do by exchanging different perspectives on problems and projects. These results are enhanced when there is diverse representation—for example, across age, culture, ethnicity, gender, physicality, and socioeconomics.  

"What I love is the iterative process of architecture. When more voices are present, we can leverage the backgrounds of people from different cities, architecture schools, or cultures. I came to understand that we all have different definitions of home."
David Carter

“We each design and build in our own way, and each approach is unique,” Carter explains. “Together, we can try out ideas and find the best solution.”

For Carter, the most important goal is to create an environment where people feel welcome to share their ideas and who they are. Carter’s early experience at Perkins&Will would then pave the way for stints at architecture practices in Missouri.  

Leaving Baltimore was a significant move, one that brought the 22-year-old Carter to a city over 1,000 miles from home. It was a journey he took alone, finding housing on his own and setting up a new life for himself to learn and grow. Over the following years he gained experience working for firms in both Springfield and Kansas City. “Each architecture practice provided me with first-hand experience evaluating building envelopes and project delivery. It was like architecture boot camp that prepared me for future work.” Looking back, Carter considers his moves as chapters in his professional and personal growth. He was exposed to entirely different ways of life compared to what he was used to in Baltimore, and his work continues to be shaped by the cities and experiences that made him who he is. 

Carter worked at both firms in Missouri with the intent of settling within his project designer roles, but in the back of his mind he wanted to use his new skillset. In 2022, Carter received an offer to return to Perkins&Will—this time as a full-time architectural designer at the firm’s Austin practice. He accepted, excited by the opportunity to come back to a firm that had supported him and his growth. Now he is working primarily on schools, including a master plan for the San Marcos School District redevelopment, which he says gives him a chance to pay it forward. 

“For me, it goes back to my experiences in Baltimore. How could a place be better, and who is the built environment designed to serve?” he says. “The San Marcos school district wants to empower students to feel productive and fulfilled throughout their education. I hope in a small way, I can help the district improve learning and quality of life. We are creating a development that will be around long after we are gone, and I want it to continue to serve San Marcos in new ways.” 

In sharing his story, Carter hopes others can better imagine their own path into design. “I went from the depths of poverty to working in an environment at Perkins&Will that supports me and provides a lifestyle I could only dream of. There are many people that have been a part of my journey into architecture, and it changed my life.”  

Through his perspective and his desire to create better architecture for others, Carter’s professional journey reflects the impact we can have when all voices have a seat at the table. His work has already left a mark.