What I've Learned: Louis Cherry - "A Year of Transition"

North Carolina Modernist Houses recently featured Louis Cherry as a part of its ongoing series, "What I've Learned -- Insights on Life and Architecture from the North Carolina Design Community"
(February 2014)



A Year of Transition

For over twenty years I have worked to build a community-based architectural practice in Raleigh, North Carolina designing schools, churches, homes, libraries, restaurants, community centers, and many other civic and commercial buildings. My path to architecture was far from a straight one: I started off as an English major at Duke University and ended up with a BFA in fine arts from East Carolina University, with a specialty in printmaking and photography. After a few years of building homes, I realized that architecture united my passion for art and building, so I went to North Carolina State University to earn a Master of Architecture degree. 

I started Cherry Huffman Architects with Dan Huffman in 1992 as a two person firm. Within a month, we were a four person firm. We grew that practice to a twenty-plus person firm over the course of twenty years, with a focus on creating a collaborative design culture in our firm. Over the years we won many design awards and had the honor of contributing to the architectural fabric of the Triangle region. 

Like so many other mid-size, locally owned architectural practices in recent years, we decided to merge with a larger, out-of-state firm in 2010. My departure from that firm in 2013 has offered me the opportunity to refocus my practice: rethinking the kinds of projects I want to work on, my design process, and my personal involvement with clients and design. 

Much has changed about the practice of architecture in the wake of the recent recession. With so many nationally consolidated practices dominating the field, I believe that there is now, more than ever, a need for smaller, regionally- or locally-connected, design-focused, and personally-driven firms. I have spent the past year focused on residential and restaurant clients, and am beginning to expand my practice back into civic and commercial architecture. 

One of my greatest challenges of the past year has also been the most personal: I have designed and am currently building my own home in the Oakwood neighborhood of Raleigh. Although I designed and built my own office in downtown Raleigh over a decade ago, until now I never had the privilege and the pain of being my own house client.

I have always loved the process of making a building come into being—whether it was distilling a client’s needs into an architectural concept, working with craftspeople to refine construction details, or by actually being on site doing the physical labor of construction. I really believe in the tradition of the architect as a master builder. Craft, building science, and materials are key to making good buildings. 

It has been an intense year of transition, but the outcome has been reconnecting with my deep personal involvement in the design process as well as with construction, and rethinking what it means to be a twenty-first century architect with a focus on modern, sustainable design. 

What I’ve learned is that there are many things that are essential to being a successful architect that go well beyond the skills of the trade and the business of running a firm (whatever the size). Among the most important of these are flexibility and resiliency, as well not losing sight of the fact that architecture is fundamentally about people and personal relationships. The buildings we design and build are a reflection of those relationships.