North Carolina’s largest city is witnessing the strongest urban growth of any city in the South, according to a May 25, 2017 article in the Charlotte Business Journal. Much of that growth began in the 1970s, when two international banks made the Queen City their home. Since then, Charlotte’s population has exploded and its urban center has transformed into a financial stronghold. Charlotte is now the second largest banking center in the country. Its economic development is reflected in the city’s imposing skyline, and many of the architectural firms listed below have contributed to this growth. Some of the firms have main offices out of town — or state. But they all share one thing in common: a mission to design commercial structures that reflect sustainable living and civic responsibility.

Top Architects

9) Wagner Murray Architects, PA

Featured Architects: Dave Wagner, AIA, and Michael J. Murray, AIA
Address: 601 South Cedar Street, Studio 101, Charlotte, NC 28202

“Not your typical firm” is how a blog post by the Arts Commission described this small, privately-held firm in Charlotte, NC. The post went on to praise Founding Principal Dave Wagner, AIA, for his “art-centric” doctrine, which is apparent in his company’s numerous commercial projects. That doctrine helps explain the firm’s focus on “integrating art” into its projects, including a pedestrian tunnel that incorporates 19th century color theory, a public park with large-scale sculptures, and a pedestrian tunnel with a vaulted ceiling that extends under three railroad lines, the latter of which won first place in a Collaboration of Art + Design (CODA)-sponsored competition in 2016. Wagner Murray Architects was founded in 1989. Along with Principal Michael J. Murray, Wagner and his team of no more than 12 employees has completed a stunning lineup of award-winning projects throughout the Southeast United States. However, the firm is best known for its art-centric public projects and buildings in the Queen City.

Featured Projects
When the Carolina Panthers football team embarked on a three-phase plan to renovate the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, the owners retained Wagner Murray. The first phase was completed in 2014. The $65M renovation included installation of the NFL’s fourth largest video boards, more than 2,600 square feet of ribbon boards, and 12 escalators connecting patrons to the 300 and 500 stadium levels. In 2017, the firm began renovating the lobby and exterior entry of one of Charlotte’s tallest buildings, 101 North Tryon Street (formerly known as One Independence Center), a 301-foot tower consisting of 20 floors and over 529k square feet of office space in the center of Charlotte’s business district. The project will consist of a 375-square-foot installation that includes mural-sized glass art and a lobby decorated with more than 400 illuminated acrylic panels.

8) Neighboring Concepts

Featured Architects: Darrel Williams, FAIA
Address: 1635 W Trade Street #1A, Charlotte, NC 28216

Louisiana native Darrel Williams, FAIA, spent 17 years working for architecture firms before starting his own in 1996. Neighboring Concepts is the multi-disciplinary brainchild of Williams, who focuses on serving Charlotte’s most challenged communities. The diverse team of professionals that Williams created began their work out of the West Charlotte Incubator. Nineteen years later, the team has completed large-scale projects throughout the state, particularly in urban areas. Williams studied at Southern University, where he graduated at the top of his architecture class. He is widely recognized as a thought leader in his profession and community, having served for nine years as elected County Commissioner for Mecklenburg County. His firm received the 2013 AIA Charlotte Urban Design Merit Award and the 2013 North Carolina Brick Design Honor Award.

Featured Projects
Charlotte’s Revolution Park Sports Academy, completed in 2010, was designed to serve the athletic and educational needs of the community. It was the first LEED-certified project for the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department. The 30k-square-foot “green” facility features a fitness center, a boxing ring, multi-use training areas for wrestling and martial arts, concessions, and a mobile computer lab. This facility won the 2012 AIA Charlotte Carole Hoefener Carriker Sustainable Design Honor Award. Williams’s team proved their planning expertise in numerous projects for the Charlotte Area Transit System. These included the design of the four-story JW Clay Parking Garage with 18k square feet of street level retail space along N. Tryon, and the planning and design of the CAT’s South Corridor Light Rail Project with a 465-space parking garage, which received the Federal Highway Administration’s Award of Excellence.

7) Tvsdesign

Featured Architects: Rebecca J. Ward, Assoc AIA, LEED AP
Address: 1230 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, GA 30309

This global architecture and interior design firm, based in Atlanta, Georgia, was founded in 1968 by Tom Ventulett, FAIA. The firm has locations in Atlanta, Georgia and Shanghai, China. It is consistently recognized as one of Atlanta’s top 25 architectural firms. Its commercial developments in Charlotte reveal ingenuity for urban design and a mission to build structures that will enrich society. Managing Principal Rebecca J. Ward, Assoc AIA, LEED AP, received her B.S. in Interior Design from Auburn University. She is a member of CoreNet, the International Interior Design Association, the American Society of Interior Designers, and the Design Futures Council. Among its many awards, Tvsdesign received the Urban Land Institute’s 2012 Global Award for Excellence for its work on the Levine Center for the Arts in Charlotte.

Featured Projects
Three Wells Fargo Center, at 401 South Tryon Street, is in the hub of Charlotte’s business district. It stretches 450 feet high, making it the seventh tallest building in Charlotte and one of the tallest buildings in North Carolina. The elegant granite structure has 32 stories and provides more than 930k square feet of rentable space, including fine-dining venues, a luxury hotel, and specialty shops. In 1995, the firm completed design of the Charlotte Convention Center at 501 South College Street. The structure, which features 280k square feet of exhibit space, a 35k-square-foot ballroom with banquet seating for 1,800 guests, 15k square feet of pre-function areas, and 46 meeting rooms, is now being expanded vertically to add 26k square feet of new meeting rooms, a public façade along Stonewall Street, and a green terrace that will connect pedestrians to a linear park that is currently under development. Located in Center City Charlotte is The Levine Center for the Arts, a project built for client Duke Energy Center that encompasses 1.5 million square feet. Tvsdesign created the master plan, provided full architectural design services, and coordinated the entire project for the tower, parking podium, and adjoining theater. The innovative design is based upon a whole building philosophy that aims to address human needs with responsible and sustainable development.

6) Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart

Featured Architects: Gil Garrison, AIA
Address: 3565 Piedmont Road, Atlanta, GA 30305

Breaking ground with innovative solutions to client needs has been the focus of this Atlanta-based firm since its founding in 1979. Proving that its designs meet the highest quality standards, most of the firm’s projects come from repeat clients in the commercial sector. Smallwood, Reynolds is consistently recognized as one of Atlanta’s top firms in architecture, interior design, hotel design, multi-family, and green design. The firm also has offices in Singapore. Atlanta Principal Gil Garrison, AIA, provides thought leadership through his industry and community affiliations. Garrison frequently speaks at the Urban Land Institute and NAIOP events. He supports architecture students through a scholarship he established at Georgia Institute of Technology, where he received a Master of Architecture. Singapore Principal Marko Dobrota also studied at Georgia Institute of Technology. Dobrota has spent the past 20 years gaining expertise in Asia and the Middle East, where he oversees the firm’s growing design services in those regions.

Featured Projects
The firm received the PCI Design Award – Best Office Building for the exterior and interior design of the dramatic 47-story Hearst Tower in the Uptown Urban Development District. The design for the tower’s massing continues the square-plan theme with inset corners seen on the nearby Mint Museum and Carolina Theatre. And — uniquely — it is near the top of the tower that the building’s largest floors are located. The shaft is crowned in glass and aluminum panels. This Art Deco theme continues throughout the interior, which showcases interlocking lobby spaces joined by elaborate staircases. The Hearst Tower is Charlotte’s third tallest skyscraper. “Architecture as performance” is how the firm describes its innovative design of the Charlotte Ballet. The building’s construction reflects its dual purpose of serving as a venue for public performances and a dance academy for training. The folded metal planes and stepped glass boxes that cover the facing symbolize dance movements.

5) Tobin, PLLC

Featured Architects: David Tobin, AIA
Address: 333 W. Trade Street, Charlotte, NC 28202

For more than 30 years, Charlotte-based Tobin, PLLC has focused on planning and design for commercial, retail, cultural, and civic architecture, mostly in the southeast United States and The Netherlands. Before founding the company in 1999, David Tobin, AIA, was a senior associate with Jenkins Peer Architects in Charlotte and an associate with the New York firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, which is known for “the world’s most recognized landmarks.” Tobin received his Master of Architecture from Oklahoma State University, where he had been a Lloyd Warren Fellow. The firm’s varied portfolio includes award-winning civic structures, high-rise mixed-use developments, and large-scale commercial and cultural developments. The firm aims for its work to reflect the vision and strategy of its clients. The Carnegie Hall Corporation, the University of North Carolina, and ABN AMRO, which owns the largest bank in The Netherlands, are some of the firm’s high-profile clients.

Featured Projects
The firm was part of the architectural team, headed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, to construct the $160M NASCAR Hall of Fame in Uptown Charlotte, which was completed in 2010. The structure consists of a 175k-square-foot Hall of Fame and museum, a 100k-square-foot ballroom, and a 1,000-space garage. David Tobin served as the principal-in-charge, project manager, and project architect for the exhibit and auditorium spaces. Every year since 1999, Tobin has been tapped to plan and design projects for the Carolinas Aviation Museum, which is home to an array of aircraft, including the “Miracle on the Hudson Aircraft Airbus A320.” In 2013, the museum became an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. The main museum and aviation library are located at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport.

4) Perkins & Will | The Freelon Group

Featured Architects: Phil Freelon, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C
Address: 215 Park Avenue S, New York, NY 10003

Headquartered in New York City, NY, Perkins & Will is one of the world’s top architectural firms. It has more than 2,000 employees spread across 20 office locations. It was founded in 1935 with the mission to transform communities with its landmark designs. A major focus today is to create a sustainable place to live and work. In 2014, the company merged with The Freelon Group of Architects, based in Durham, NC, to create one of North Carolina’s largest architectural firms. The Freelon Group was known for its landmark cultural and educational projects throughout the state and nation. Principal Phil Freelon, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, was appointed in 2011 by President Barack Obama to the National Commission of Fine Arts. He was featured in the PBS series, “Cool Spaces.”

Featured Projects
Phil Freelon’s 46,500-square-foot Harvey B. Gantt Center was built in Charlotte’s urban core to honor African American cultural achievements. Patrons gather at the four-story building to enjoy dance, music, theater, and visual and film arts, and to outreach in the community. The exterior stairs were designed to symbolize the hope and enlightenment expressed by the biblical story of Jacob’s Ladder. The structure’s exterior consists of metal panels that appear to be sewn together, resembling the pattern of African American quilts. The Watermark, completed in 2016, is a Postmodern, low-rise Tuscan development in the South End’s Dilworth neighborhood. The building is five stories and provides 30k square feet of office space. Perkins & Will designed the structure to be an optimal environment for tenants, with three walls encased in glass, offering breathtaking views of the urban greenway and midtown Charlotte.

3) Little

Featured Architects: Phil Kuttner, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C
Address: 5815 West Park Drive, Charlotte, NC 28217

This international design firm, with more than 375 employees, is based in Charlotte and consistently ranks as one of the city’s largest and most prestigious architectural enterprises. It provides in-house expertise in sustainable design, planning and land development, and architecture. Little has five locations in the United States and one in Beijing, China. It has been ranked by Architect Magazine as one of the Top 50 firms in the country. In 2013, it was the recipient of the North Carolina Firm Award, the highest AIA honor a firm can receive. Partner and Chief Executive Officer Phil Kuttner, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C, has served as a board member on AIA’s Charlotte chapter and has been a featured speaker at the AIA National Convention and INC Magazine’s CEO Symposium. Clients included Duke Energy, Bank of America, The Home Depot, Nike, and Time Warner.

Featured Projects
Little was the local architecture firm chosen to oversee the design and construction of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Uptown Charlotte. The building’s four floors include a 250-seat theater, restaurants, an outdoor patio, a 40k-square-foot ballroom, pedestrian bridges, a 1,000-space parking deck, a 33-degree banked ramp dubbed “Glory Road,” a TV studio, a 360-degree wall honoring enshrinees, and a glass-enclosed showcase for stock car racing artifacts. The structure fetched the American Architecture Award and Southeast Construction Best Architectural Design Award of Excellence. Discovery Place, which provides STEM education throughout the Carolinas, retained Little to renovate its science and technology museum in Uptown Charlotte. Little renovated 145k square feet of the structure and designed a 2,030-square-foot addition. Renovations included an expanded Living World Exhibit, a rainforest, a 3D science theater, and retail stores.

2) Pelli Clarke Pelli

Featured Architects: Cesar Pelli, FAIA, RIBA, JIA and Fred Clarke, FAIA, RIBA, JIA
Address: 1056 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT 06510

Based in New Haven, Connecticut, the internationally renowned firm has completed landmark projects throughout the world. Founded more than 30 years ago by Argentina-native Cesar Pelli, FAIA, RIBA, JIA, and Fred Clarke, FAIA, RIBA, JIA, the company has six locations, including offices in China, Japan, and Abu Dhabi. Prior to founding the firm, Pelli served as a project designer for the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport in New York, as well as in two colleges of Yale University where in 1977 he became Dean of the School of Architecture. He has published nine books. Pelli met his future partner, Clarke, while the latter was studying at the University of Texas at Austin. Clarke now teaches at Yale University and is widely published on the subjects of architecture and urban regeneration. Clarke supervises the firm’s New Haven and Asia locations. Among its numerous awards, Pelli Clarke Pelli received the AIA’s Firm Award, the highest for architectural work. In 1995, AIA awarded a Gold Medal to Cesar Pelli, which is the highest honor bestowed upon an individual architect.

Featured Projects
Top tourist attractions in Charlotte are the firm’s North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, the Bank of America Corporate Center, and Founders Hall. The arts center is home to the Charlotte Symphony, Opera Caroline, the Charlotte Repertory Theatre, and the Charlotte City Ballet. The structure’s largest venue is the Belk Theatre, which seats more than 2,000. The center also encompasses a 440-seat playhouse, a rehearsal hall, and pedestrian arcades along College and Fifth Streets. The building’s exterior features different shades of brick to mark the shape of the structures that are enclosed. Adjacent to the center is the 1.4M-square-foot Bank of America Corporate Center that features a 60-story tower gliding the Charlotte skyline and two landscaped plazas. The dark granite-clad tower base has marble columns at the entrances and 13 setbacks to the shaft’s curved sides. At night, the interior of the tower is illuminated. Founders Hall, a 75k-square-foot civic space, is connected to both the corporate and performing arts centers. The hall’s floors and walls are marble-clad; its columns and trusses are painted in shades of gold.

1) Odell Associates

Featured Architects: James C. Snyder, AIA, and Roger M. Soto, AIA, LEED AP
Address: 212 South Tryon Street, Charlotte, NC 28281

Since its founding in 1940, Charlotte-based Odell Associates has been the city’s premier architectural firm. Founder Arthur Gould Odell, who studied at Duke University and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, was president of the American Institute of Architects and the first Southerner to hold that position. Odell became known as a prominent modernist architect in the Southeast United States during the decades following the end of World War II. Odell was hired in 1965 to design Charlotte’s Center City plan. Under his leadership, the firm won more than 75 design awards. Today, under Principals James “Jim” C. Snyder, AIA, and Roger M. Soto, AIA, LEED AP, Odell blends the WELL Building Standard philosophy and the LEED Green Building Rating System into its commercial structures. With locations in three states, the firm is developing an international practice with its studio in Shanghai, China. In recent years, Odell’s 40 large-scale corporate and commercial projects in the city of Charlotte alone include three coliseums, an outdoor arena, and one of Charlotte’s tallest skyscrapers.

Featured Projects
Situated on 90 acres, just 11 miles from Uptown Charlotte, is the PNC Music Pavilion. This outdoor amphitheater seats more than 19k people. It is praised for its trendy concession stands and great acoustics. The state-of-the-art structure reveals Odell’s design philosophy of considering patrons’ comfort and convenience. One of Charlotte’s tallest high-rises is the Interstate Tower at the intersection of Tryon and Trade Streets. The postmodern skyscraper stands 462 feet high and has 32 floors with eight levels of parking. The exterior features limestone, granite, and marble, which sets it apart from the glass- and steel-encased buildings nearby. A significant commercial project that Odell assisted in designing is the Spectrum Center, a $265M stadium in Center City’s First Ward that has seating for more than 20k patrons. Renamed the Time Warner Cable Arena, the stadium hosted the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The indoor arena boasts an open design. Its center-hung scoreboard was once the largest in the NBA. There is also a 360-degree 3D mural of the Charlotte skyline that lights up.