Charles Williams & Associates has been steadfastly carving out a niche in Birmingham’s design community since it started in a garage in the mid-nineties. Today, the father and son proprietors, Charles Williams and Charles Williams II, are focused on building a legacy for future generations.
You two have created a brand and reputation for yourselves in the field of architecture, particularly with municipal projects and educational institutions. How did you get started?
Charles: I always gravitated towards art and aesthetics. I loved to sketch as a child, and when I got older and started thinking about college and what my options were, I decided to pursue architecture. I graduated from Tuskegee University and went to work as a project manager for a firm. A lot of architects, when they decide to go out on their own, end up taking clients with them. I didn’t have any clients, but one thing I had been in charge of with every project was roofing. So, I marketed myself to take on any roofing replacements. That eventually led to other opportunities that have grown into what we are continuing to work on today.
Charles II: I grew up immersed in architecture. When my dad started his own company in ’96, I was in middle school and going into high school, so I was thinking about what I wanted to pursue. I went to Alabama School of Fine Arts, but I didn’t have the same natural artistic ability that my dad has. I studied math and science but ultimately decided that I didn’t want to pursue medicine or science. Architecture offered a relief from the minutiae of numbers and felt like a good fit.
Charles, did you ever question following your dad’s footsteps? What have you each learned about architecture from inside the business that you didn’t learn in school?
Charles II: I think everyone questions themselves. When you’re coming up against adversity, it’s natural to think, “Should I be doing something else?” But, I also think probably 90% of any profession is just hard work and behind-the-scenes follow-through. What others see is usually the 10% that is specific to your particular job. Drawing, designing, and building is our 10%. We spend a lot of time marketing and hunting down the next project. Architecture involves a lot of listening to clients and talking through ideas and challenges together and finding ways to resolve issues.
Charles: You can’t run a business if you don’t have any clients, so relationships are key. When a project is complete and the lights come on, you’ve had to do so many other things before designing to get to that point.
What philosophies transcend beyond your current projects? What do you hope you impart with the success you have experienced?