Interviewed by: Denise Jackson . Art Consultant and Curator . Denise Jackson Art Advisory

William (Bill) Carpenter, FAIA, PhD, LEED AP is a nationally recognized architect and educator, and founder of Light Room, an internationally award winning design firm.  He’s received the National Young Architects Citation, the National ACSA/AIAS Educator of the Year Award and was elected as a Fellow in the AIA by his peers.  

When Bill Carpenter greets me at the entrance to Light Room, I smell fresh paint. The lower level is being prepped for a large sculpture and video installation by artist, Bojana Ginn.  The open loft space with glass storefront is ideal as a gallery space.  He is collaborating with Bojana, and they’ve been selected for the Venice Biennale, the original contemporary art fair on which others around the world are modeled. Light Room was selected, which is rare for an American architectural firm. It’s also special for an Atlanta artist, and an example of Bill’s advocacy for the arts.

We walk up through the second level, where much of the design work takes place, and on to the third floor live space. This year Bill is serving as President of AIA Atlanta, the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, which has a membership of 1700.  He has also served on the National Board representing the Southeast.

What is one of your goals for AIA Atlanta? A current goal is to connect AIA to the Arts Community.  I want to see everyone come together, architects, museums, galleries, artists.  For AIA to take leadership in the arts in Atlanta with ideas, lectures, promoting exhibits. I like the 1% concept.  I would like to see it in the private sector, to give back 1% to the arts, the community.

It’s evident you embody the AIA vision to advance the quality of life  in our communities.  What is your project with Root City Market?  It’s a concept project in the works.  We will be making a community garden with a campus of tiny houses, some of which will be art studios or galleries.  We’re designing all of it. The garden is meant to engage with the community.  There will be plots people can use, and plots that can be used for income from produce sold at farmer’s markets.  It’s a $4 million dollar project inside the city.

Another broad project to engage community with architecture is Modern Atlanta (MA), which includes a Modern Architecture Tour. When did you become involved? I’ve been helping since the beginning (2007).  I’ve always had a project on the tour.

What will you have on the tour this year? This year I will most likely showcase a house near Emory, owned by a young Argentinian couple who just had a baby.  It’s an important project.

Why is it important?  On the third meeting, they told me they loved me.  That doesn’t always happen.  We have become good friends; they gave me white oak from a barn they took down to use for my cabin at Lake Hartwell.  The building is their private residence and also a Malonga, which is where 30 or so Argentinian families gather to tango.  I like how the house can transform into something else with the Malonga.

What are you working on now?  My current project is renovating a historic cigar factory in Newnan into a modern residence.  The owners, Brandon and Gary, are in love; that is inspirational.  I like the idea of the City of Homes, which is Newnan’s slogan and redefining what home is by transforming an urban building into modern architecture.  

I’ve seen photos, and it looks like a major undertaking. I hope we’ll see it on a future Modern Atlanta tour. We’re designing all of it from light fixtures to restoring the existing structure.  A modern building will respond and rejoice in its history.  

What are you passionate about? I am passionate about saving buildings.  In 2015, we saved the historic Bell Building near Woodruff Park slated for demolition to become a parking lot. (Note, this was no small feat.  As the century old building was state owned by GA State University, it was exempt from the city’s demolition process.)

Light Room is a design practice that includes web design, graphic design, interior design, as well as architecture. It’s a unique approach with modern architecture at its core with a strong regional and environmental focus.  How did it come about?  Light Room starts with teaching.  I started it with a former student from Kennesaw State University, Kevin Byrd, now a fine artist in San Francisco, and his brother, Aaron.  We wanted to redefine and reinvent architectural practice. We wanted to incorporate design, websites, branding, graphic design, film.  In the first year, we were in Print Magazine with an Award of Excellence, won a 48 hour film festival and two awards in architecture.   

We were hired to do branding for Moxie, Armchair, Razorfish, BBDO.  Their hiring us to do concept was exciting.  We followed with a project to rebrand 22Squared (the fourth largest advertising agency in the US).  I owe a lot to those two guys.

You have an appreciation of the role of academia and practice.  Students go on to do great things.  What’s best about the circle is teaching inspires, but you don’t know what it will become.  There’s a connection between academia and practice.  Academia inspires practice, and practice inspires academia.

Bill himself holds a doctorate from the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (UK) and a Master of Architecture from Virginia Polytechnic Institute.  While earning his Bachelor of Architecture at Mississippi State University, he studied under renowned architect, Samuel Mockbee FAIA.  As a young person growing up in New York, he was inspired by New York architect, Norman Jaffee, who is attributed with pioneering the design of rustic Modernist houses in the Hamptons and being an innovator in using natural materials, passive solar and urban design.

Who has influenced you? New York architect, Norman Jaffee, was my mentor. And I studied under Samuel Mockbee, founder of Auburn University’s Rural Studio in Alabama, who was the first architect to win the McArthur Foundation fellowship (informally known as the Genius Grant).

Where do you find inspiration? Architecture is art; well, it’s creative expression.  I find inspiration from art. Artists like Donald Judd, Richard Serra, William DeKooning, Helen Frankenthaler, they were my neighbors when I was working under Jaffee.  There were only four of us in his studio at that moment in time.

You grew up New York and could practice anywhere. Why did you choose to live and work in the south?  My father is from Duckhill, Mississippi, and my mother is from Brooklyn.  Every summer growing up, I would come to Mississippi.  I fell in love with Eudora Welty and William Faulkner.  When it was time for college, I went to Mississippi State, and I was sitting next to Faulkner’s nephew.  I passed Eudora Welty on the street.  It was all connected.

So I see the romanticism with the South, yet you practice modern architecture. I like the idea the South has a voice. It’s really powerful. I try to use these materials and spaces and vernaculars and run them through a minimalist filter.  All the work is connected.

Why Decatur, Georgia? My studio is here, because my daughters went to high school here.  I want to achieve balance between life and work.  Putting my daughters at the center of life is my life.

Photographed by Scott Reeves Photography  Photographed at the LightroomApparel by Commonwealth Proper Bespoke Custom Suits     Directed by Maryan Aiken for PaperGlass