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Aug 19, 2021

David A. Carlson AIA

David Carlson

All images courtesy David A. Carlson AIA

Director of Transition, Atelier Carlson


Bachelor of Arts, Harvard College
Master of Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design

When did you first become interested in architecture as a possible career?

In college as a potential fusion of skills and interests; working for stained glass studios in New York City reinforced this and whetted the appetite for more.

Who or what deserves credit for your success?

A particular set of attitudes; a macro viewpoint. And coworkers and clients (and family) who appreciated my skills and humor and were good enough to support me in many different ways over the years, despite my shortcomings.

What is your favorite Boston-area building or structure?

I have many 'favorites', in defiance of the meaning of that word. In Boston and Cambridge, aggregations or juxtapositions have more meaning than the individual. The Custom House Tower is a good individual example of a slightly different aspect of this thought - a juxtaposition both of buildings and uses over time.

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Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect?

Yes—for one thing, I didn't expect to stay in one place. Or to immediately do planning work. But I did. The fascinating (and initially unexpected in a professional public service environment) thing for me was the revelation that architecture wasn't just about architecture—it embraced urban planning, landscape architecture, history, culture, the environment, materials science, geology, art, graphic design, time, the universe, and everything. So I embraced the extended moment.

What has been your most proud moment as an architect/designer?

Not a single moment, but when I've seen an idea of mine take root and be appreciated, sometimes realized/incorporated in a design, by others. On its own merit, not because it was forced (as an architect in a regulatory position).

On a personal note, I designed a sunroom addition for my mother and stepfather and it became their favorite hanging-out space for the rest of their lives.

What are some changes that you have implemented in your firm (or for yourself) to address issues of equity in your profession?

Within the limitations of each position held at the Agency, I sought opportunities to increase diversity in representation among any consultant firms (emphasis on M/WBE-owned firms, i.e.), Commission representation, and staff.

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What do you see as the largest barrier to a zero-waste building, city, and world?

I see this question as an essay question, because any short answer generates a more complex conversation. One might answer: people, or plastics, or the forces of capitalism, or the forces of habit. An individual and societal balancing of convenience and responsibility seems a necessary prerequisite, an attitude that respects the riches of the earth and its life—so that we take only what we need. And build to last, or craft to be flexible—not just conform to codes and market demand.

Zero-waste in my view means taking responsibility for what we've already done...and we don't have that full picture, which will require a huge step back for the holistic environmental view.

In the meantime, many smaller actions—many hands makes light work. People are the largest barrier, but could also be the solution.

What is the greatest potential for architecture to shape a neighborhood community?

By listening to and understanding the community, through lenses of both the social/economic framework and the physical context and its history. The shaping can take the form of an organic planning framework, or via a single structure, if the structure inspires by embodying something of both the aspirations of the community and physical aspects of its context.

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What architectural buzzword would you kill?

All of them, including the term 'buzzword.'

Where do you find inspiration?

In a change of perspective.

What are you reading right now?

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson.

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What was your least favorite college class?


If you could redesign anything, what would it be?

Thought of the moment: Tremont on the Common.

What would you like to see change about Boston’s built environment?

A shift from contemporary to evolutionary thinking in those changes.