Darrel Williams is transforming Charlotte communities through architecture, planning, and urban design. Before starting his own business, Darrel worked for 17 years in traditional architecture firms. Then, in 1996, he formed Neighboring Concepts, a multidisciplinary firm that serves the city’s most socially and physically challenged areas–the places that need the most help and get the least attention.
Darrel grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In his family, men labored and college was discouraged. Nonetheless, Darrel visited nearby Southern University, where he met up with an architecture student and saw the young man’s studio. There, Darrel connected his love of drawing and the construction work his father and uncle did. Soon, he was enrolled in Southern’s architecture program and at the top of his class.
After graduation, Darrel was eager to get to work, but quickly grew frustrated by the lack of access and opportunities. The enthusiasm that motivated Darrel in college began to fade. Then came a turning point: a job offer in Charlotte, and the chance to work with prominent architect and local politician Harvey Gantt.
“It was something I was born to do.”
For the first time, at Gantt Huberman, Darrel was able to participate in all aspects of architecture. No longer limited to the small details, Darrel was finally involved the creation of a project’s overarching vision, and his passion for the work reignited. Darrel was also inspired by the culture of Gantt’s firm–especially the civic spirit shared by its founders–and soon he began to draft his own vision for the city and surrounding neighborhoods.
Because Darrel grew up in a challenged community, he felt motivated to give back and help revitalize those communities. When Darrel and two partners started Neighboring Concepts, it was the realization of a dream–the chance to use architecture to make local neighborhoods better places for people to live, grow, and improve their lives.
The firm, which began at the former West Charlotte Incubator, has since taken on projects all over the city. Their first major projects involved planning for urban communities like Wesley Heights, Wingate, Ponda Rosa, and Grier Heights. Work on the Charlotte Trolley corridor also gave Darrel’s firm the experience they needed for the light rail to come. Another big break for Neighboring Concepts was the 485 parking deck, which resulted in a collaboration between CMS and CATS to build both a parking deck and attached playground for a nearby elementary school. And with the Mosiac Village at Johnson C. Smith University, Darrel’s firm helped provide high quality retail space and student housing that benefits the university, student body, and neighborhood. The opportunities provided by the city of Charlotte not only helped grow Darrel’s firm, they’ve also allowed Darrel and his partners to make a positive, lasting impact on the local community.
In addition to making use of the resources available in Charlotte, Darrel has also helped further develop the resources available to others. Through leadership in the organizations like the Community Building Initiative, Leadership Development Initiative, Queen City Forward, Darrel has helped make Charlotte a more inclusive place for individuals and entrepreneurs. And as an elected official, board member, and volunteer, Darrel continues to find ways to give back.
For the past nineteen years, Neighboring Concepts has been successful in using design to address the challenges faced by urban communities and improve quality of life in neighborhoods across Charlotte. Now, the firm plans to grow further, bringing sustainable design to other communities across the southeast. By taking hold of the opportunities available in Charlotte, Darrel was able to not only to lay a solid foundation for his business, he was also able to build a better future for his community.