Williams, Carter F., FAIA (1912-2000)
- Raleigh, NC
Styles & Forms:
Modernist; International style
Fred Carter Williams, FAIA, (June 13, 1912-April 23, 2000) was a prolific Raleigh architect who practiced, mainly in the Modernist mode, from 1940 into the 1990s. Trained in architectural engineering at North Carolina State College (now University) before the establishment of the Modernist-focused School of Design, he also studied at the University of Illinois and Columbia University. He established an eponymous firm that remained in business for roughly half a century and made an indelible mark on the architecture of Raleigh. He is regarded as a Modernist but also as a practical architect who delivered projects that met his clients’ needs and did not simply satisfy his own design preferences. Well connected in Raleigh, Williams and his firm won numerous prominent commissions and appeared frequently in articles in the Raleigh News and Observer.
Williams was born in Churchland, near Lexington, North Carolina. He grew up in Greensboro with his parents and younger siblings and graduated from Greensboro High School. Williams then studied at North Carolina State College, earning a degree in architectural engineering in 1935 while participating in Army ROTC. Next, Williams earned a degree in Architectural Design from the University of Illinois in 1939. From 1939 to1941, he was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture within the engineering school at NC State College. In 1942, the US War Department appointed him, still a captain in the Army, to a teaching position in topography and graphics at West Point Military Academy. He did additional graduate work at Columbia University in 1944-1945.
Williams was also practicing architecture in the early 1940s. He designed a few houses in Raleigh and New York State and a restaurant in West Point between 1940 and 1945. Williams had married Alice Virginia “Avie” Poe of Rocky Mount in the late 1930s, and they soon started a family, raising two daughters. They lived in a boxy, hip-roofed house of Williams’s design at 809 Gardner Street in West Raleigh in this period, and Williams maintained an office and photo studio in the basement. The significant Modernist dwelling he designed and built for his family, Blue Haven, was completed in 1959 on Rest Haven Road in Raleigh. He and Avie lived there until 2000.
Williams established his architectural firm in 1946, upon returning to Raleigh from his time teaching at West Point and studying at Columbia. Early commissions centered on residential and retail projects, but the firm quickly expanded into health care, education, government, and institutional contracts. He is known for his residential work in the humanist Modern mode, incorporating wood, brick, and stone structurally and decoratively inside and out and blending interior space with naturalistic settings through large windows and window walls. A News and Observer article credits Williams with designing the first Modernist church in eastern North Carolina in 1947, the Wendell Christian Church. While the article noted that “church leaders” as well as Raleigh architects John Holloway and Ralph Reeves cited the lower cost of Modernist architecture for churches—eschewing costly colonial trim or expensive Gothic designs—Williams was more philosophical in preferring Modernism. “We do not make lasting contributions nor truly revere the past by adapting for today’s needs the evidence of former progressive minds,” he told the newspaper. Larger, later projects employed other Modernist idioms, including Brutalism and New Formalism.
In 19489, North Carolina State College established its decidedly Modernist School of Design, replacing the architectural program that had been housed in the School of Engineering. Dean Henry Kamphoefner was a strong Modernist and a devotee of the Wrightian mode. Williams was an associate professor at the School of Design in its first year. Most of the new faculty were, like Williams, practicing architects as opposed to pure academics. This group of designers would go on to produce a significant body of Modernist work throughout the state.
Williams’s progressive design work was being recognized as early as the late 1950s, and he won design honors from the NC AIA on multiple occasions. He was also prominent in the state and national American Institute of Architects. In 1965, Williams became the thirteenth architect in the state to be recognized as a Fellow (FAIA) by the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), a national distinction that honored his body of work. Ten years later, the AIA presented him with the Edward C. Kemper Award for service to the architectural profession. By that time, Williams had cycled through nearly all the elective positions in the state chapter of the AIA. In 1977, the AIA recognized his work on the 1883-1891 Queen Anne-style North Carolina Executive Mansion with a Historic Preservation and Restoration award.
By 1955, Macon Smith, FAIA, and Turner G. Williams, FAIA, Carter’s younger brother, were partners in Williams’s firm. Later partners included Gene W. Jones, AIA; Mark R. Dickey, AIA; and G. Thomas Wells, AIA. In 1987, the firm merged with Willis Architects, a Morehead City, North Carolina practice, but retained the name F. Carter Williams, Architects, P.A. James B. Willis, AIA, became a partner at that time. The firm is credited with over 600 projects, including houses, schools, churches, university buildings, health care facilities, and government buildings. Williams retired from the practice of architecture in 1991.
Williams was as active in the Raleigh community as he was in the architectural field, serving on the city Board of Adjustment, Parks and Recreation Board, and Planning Commission. He also served on the board of directors for Raleigh Savings and Loan and the board of trustees for Campbell College, and maintained memberships at many local clubs and civic organizations. He was also a member of White Memorial Presbyterian Church. To honor his memory and his contributions to North Carolina architecture, the NCAIA’s highest honor is named the F. Carter Williams Gold Award. It is presented yearly in recognition of an individual’s distinguished career or extraordinary accomplishment as an architect. The building list presented here features only a fraction of Williams’s extensive work.
“Architects Honor Two as ‘Fellows,” News and Observer, May 9, 1965.
“Architects Name Officers,” News and Observer, January 20, 1958.
David R. Black, “Early Modern Architecture in Raleigh Associated with the Faculty of the North Carolina State University School of Design, Raleigh, North Carolina,” National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form (1984).
Cynthia de Miranda and Jennifer Martin, “Fayetteville Street Historic District,” National Register of Historic Places Nomination (2008).
Cynthia de Miranda, Heather Fearnbach, Clay Griffith, Jennifer Martin, and Sarah Woodard, “West Raleigh Historic District,” National Register of Historic Places Nomination (2003).
“F. Carter Williams Obituary,” News and Observer, April 25, 2000.
“F. Carter Williams,” NC Modernist Houses website, http://www.ncmodernist.org/williams.htm.
F. Carter Williams Drawings and Files 1928, 1940-1994, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Jane Hall, “Architect F. Carter Williams Pushes Toward Future,” News and Observer, October 10, 1965.
M. Ruth Little, “G. Dewey and Elma Arndt House,” National Register of Historic Places Nomination (2011).
“Little Known City Boards Occupy Many,” News and Observer, December 18, 1955.
New partners’ announcement, News and Observer, June 30, 1985.
Merger announcement, News and Observer, March 7, 1987.
“Raleigh Architect Honored,” News and Observer, May 27, 1975.
“Raleigh Man Heads Tar Heel Architects,” News and Observer, January 30, 1955.
Jeff Scullin, “Influential architect F. Carter Williams dies at 87,” News and Observer, April 27, 2000.
Robin Yigit Smith, “The Warmth of Glass and Stone,” Our State Magazine, February 26, 2019.
“West Point Gets State Professor,” News and Observer, August 3, 1942.
Alexa C. Williams, “Church Design Going Modern,” News and Observer, October 14, 1956.
- Contributors:F. Carter Williams, architect; Richard Bell and Associates, landscape architectDates:
1959Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
6612 Rest HavenStatus:
This is the second and most architecturally significant dwelling that Williams designed and built for his family, moving in when his daughters were in junior high and high school. Walls of Carolina blue fieldstone—including at the hearth wall in the living room—make the house iconic and contribute to its name. Window walls open to a deck that overlooks a partially wooded naturalistic setting designed by friend and landscape architect Dick Bell. Carter and Avie Williams lived here for 41 years.
1962Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
1806 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, NCStatus:
The small modernist bank was constructed as a branch to serve nearby NCSU. It originally had a stained glass mural by NCSU professor and artist Joe Cox, which was removed in a late 20th century remodeling. The landscaping was by Richard Bell of Raleigh.
- Contributors:F. Carter Williams, architect; George Matsumoto, architect; Turner G. Williams, architect, architectDates:
1954Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
50 Pullen Rd, North Carolina State UniversityStatus:
The North Wing is an International Style addition to the two-story Neoclassical-style Brooks Hall designed by Hobart Upjohn and built in 1927. The north wing features Miesian glass curtain walls with blue and gray panels. The design won an honor award with special commendation from NC AIA in 1957.
- Contributors:F. Carter Williams, architect; Charles Kahn, architect-engineerDates:
1965Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:
14 Circuit Dr.Status:
A phytotron, according to Carter Williams, is much more than a greenhouse; it is a laboratory where scientists can grow and study plants. The building allows a fine degree of control over the growing environment. Willams designed another phytotron around the same time at North Carolina State University at a time when few existed in the world and only one other in the United States. The Duke University Phytotron is a steel-framed structure with glass curtain walls and repeating pyramidal roof forms.
1962Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
2806 Hillsborough St.Status:
Roughly the front half of this flat-roofed office building stands on stilts above Hillsborough Street and features a ribbon of windows encircling the building just under the overhanging eave. A brick-clad first floor supports the back half of the building.
- Contributors:F. Carter Williams, architect; Davidson Construction Company, builder; Karl Gaskins, architectDates:
1960, 2000Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
1428 Canterbury Rd.Status:
ResidentialImages Published In:
The Arndt House is a post-and-beam dwelling with exposed structural elements at both the interior and exterior and an open floor plan in the public living areas. The house is built into a sloping parcel, allowing for a two-story rear elevation that comes as a surprise after encountering the modest single-story gabled facade. Deeply recessed porches are at both elevations. The house was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2011; it is also a Raleigh Local Historic Landmark.
- Contributors:F. Carter Williams, architect; Alvis George, architect; Macon Smith, architectDates:
1955Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
5008 Leadmine Rd.Status:
This post-and-beam Ranch house typifies 1950s Modernist residential design, featuring Roman brick walls, built-in cabinetry, and window walls at the rear elevation that overlook a broad brick patio at the back yard. Porta Vallas, who emigrated from Greece at age 16, established National Art Interiors, an interior design store and firm and a fixture in Raleigh.
1964 remodel of ca. 1900 buildingLocation:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
126 E. Hargett St.Status:
This small retail shop typifies the trends of the 1960s, a period where architects were playing with design to help the larger effort to draw shoppers back into downtown commercial areas as shopping centers were drawing them out to suburban locations. The gold-toned screen that covers much of the façade is a defining feature of this trend and a particularly artful example. Located in a key block of E. Hargett Street, which was renowned as Raleigh’s “Black Main Street,” Hamlin Drug Store was already an institution before the owners commissioned this remodel from Williams. It had opened in 1904 as People’s Drug Store, but was known as Hamlin’s from1907. The business moved to this building in 1964 and celebrated a century in business before closing in 2017. Pharmacist J. M. Johnson ran the store for 50 years. The business was recognized as the oldest African-American pharmacy in the state and the oldest drug store in Raleigh.
- Contributors:F. Carter Williams, architect; George Kane, contractorDates:
1965, 1989Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
233 Fayetteville St.Status:
This Brutalist building is unusual in North Carolina both for the early use of the style as well as for the polished black granite Williams employed at the exterior. This choice combines the elegant materials of the sleek corporate adaptation of the International Style with the blocky, geometric profile typical of Brutalism. Delicate glass curtain walls at the double-height first floor façade are recessed beneath the angular mass of the stone-clad building. The project won a design citation from the NC AIA in 1958. A 1989 addition is nearly seamless. Market Plaza, immediately north of the building, was Williams’s idea, and landscape architecture firm Richard Bell and Associates designed the outdoor space to complement the bank building. The plaza has been altered but some elements of the original design remain. The building is a contributing property in Raleigh’s Fayetteville Street National Register Historic District.
- Contributors:F. Carter Williams, architect; Leif Valand & Associates, architectDates:
1968Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
109 E. Jones StStatus:
Following the New Formalist lead of Edward Durell Stone, designer of the classically derived Modernist Legislative Building to the east, Williams produced an elegant and minimalistic building clad in white marble panels. The panels were replaced decades later with granite.
1947-1949Location:Wendell, Wake CountyStreet Address:
421 Mattox St.Status:
The gabled, brick-clad church building is simple in massing and minimalistic in detailing. Large stained-glass windows line each side elevation and a recessed stained-glass window at the façade fills the center portion of the gable end above the double-leaf entry. A minimalist steeple tower stands alongside the building, distinguished by a recessed cast-concrete panel at its front elevation that is topped with a cross.