WESLEY CURTIS JR: THE DEAN OF HIGH
SCHOOL ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN
By Richard L. Williams
Most 4-year-old boys dream of becoming a firefighter, or a police officer, or president of the United States. Young Wesley L. Curtis Jr. had more modest ambitions; he only wanted to draw houses.
“Growing up, my father and mother were both teachers and my father taught drafting,” Curtis says. “I had an inkling about drawing when I was 4, and drawing houses was what I did most and it was something that I enjoyed.”
As he got older, Curtis’s interest in drawing only grew stronger and he became more and more involved in some of the finer aspects of architecture and design. Eventually, he was steered toward the appropriate high school classes in order to study architecture and design in college.
His acute interest and probing curiosity as a child are paying handsome dividends as an adult as Curtis, now 60, is president of Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce Architects P.A., an architectural, planning and interior design firm based in Winston-Salem. He is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company and leads the management team in helping make sure the firm’s short- and long-term projects are on task.
the “go-to” guy
Curtis has more than thirty-six years of experience developing designs for schools, office buildings, institutional and commercial projects. He has become the “go-to” guy for designing high schools in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, including Reagan and Atkins high schools that were built with his designs in 2005. He also designed the Career Center and Walkertown High School, which were built in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
His particular research interests include energy conservation, sustainable, “green” buildings, and utilizing technology in architecture. He says communities are increasingly eager to see sustainable, “green” design applied to their buildings. Curtis says he enjoys working with clients to deepen their understanding of these strategies and processes; demonstrating how environmental-friendly design can be affordably and attractively integrated into projects of various sizes.
He joined Walter Robbs in 1986, became an associate in 1990, a partner a few years later, and president in 2016. Curtis says he never had aspirations of becoming president of the firm –only to be the best architect in the world.
“I define that as being able to produce projects for owners that they are proud of,” he says. “It’s not just our ego; it’s something that we have given someone else that they can use for their benefit and that they’re happy in it.”
A graduate of the University of Tennessee School of Architecture, Curtis is a member of the American Institute of Architects, the National Organization of Minority Architects, and the Council of Educational Facility Planners International. He also is NCARB Certified and LEED Accredited.
He says his workday has changed nominally since becoming president of the firm two years ago. While there continues to be a lot of collaboration on the firm’s projects, Curtis now must now carve out time to handle any sort of administrative issues that arises at the firm.
“There is no king at the top telling everybody what to do,” he says. “It’s more of partners getting together, discussing our different projects, and coordinating the work going on currently and planning for the future about other projects that we’re looking to go after.
“About the only way my role has changed is changing hats,” he says. “As president, the difference now is dealing with the day-to-day operations of the business – while at the same time continuing to be an architect at the firm.”
Despite his increase in duties, Curtis still finds time to give back to the community. He is a strong believer in community and he continues to find time to uplift his by mentoring young boys and girls interested in becoming an architect. He says he often speaks with youth about careers in architecture and design and students occasionally visit the firm’s offices on Trade Street in downtown Winston-Salem.
“We have a mentorship program at our firm, we partner with schools, and we open our doors to young people to mentor them and show them computer design and architecture so they can get a better feel for what architecture and interior design is like,” he says.
“It’s important that they know what that means, and the only way you can do that is to meet some architects, go by their office and talk with them, and get a firsthand view of what it’s like – pros and cons,” Curtis says. “I basically tell them to find something that is in your heart and that you’re passionate about and that you like and then focus on it.”
Curtis is an Eagle Scout who serves on the executive board of the Old Hickory Council of the Boy Scouts of America and is a member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Utility Commission. He is a former member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Community Appearance Commission, the S.G. Atkins Community Development Corporation Board of Directors, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Planning Board, the Winston-Salem Urban League Board of Directors, and the board of the North Carolina chapter of Association for Learning Environments (formerly Educational Facility Planners International).
A native of Athens, Tenn., Curtis graduated in 1981 from the Knoxville campus. It was there where he met his wife, Cynthia. Upon graduation, he accepted a job in Nashville with one of the oldest African American firms in the country. A few years later, he and his wife moved to Winston-Salem.
Curtis is a deacon at New Bethel Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, where the pastor is the Rev. Kendall Jones. Curtis also serves as a leader in other interdenominational groups across Forsyth County. New Bethel is a church deeply rooted in the fight for civil rights in the city, and where the Rev. Jerry Drayton pastored for 62 years before his death in 2012 at the age 96. Drayton worked with local organizations such as the Winston-Salem Urban League to help desegregate city departments, like the fire and police departments, and in 1977 was appointed by Gov. Jim Hunt as the first black chairman of the N.C. Human Relations Council.
“I felt like God led me and Cindy to that church,” says Curtis, who has been a member since 1982. His wife is a media coordinator at Reynolds High School and they have three adult children. “We felt like there was a lot that we had to offer and that God had led us there to that vineyard.”
LAKE PARK DEVELOPMENT
Curtis designed his home when he moved his family into a new subdivision in eastern Winston-Salem in 1994. He was one of the first homebuyers to move into the new upscale Lake Park development in the predominately African American section of the city. Last month, the city of Winston-Salem proposed changes for Lake Park that they hope would spark new interest in the development.
Curtis says he welcomes the city’s involvement and the opportunity for the development to experience new growth.
“I think it’s a good thing for the homeowners, I think it’s a good thing for East Winston, and I think it’s a good thing for the city of Winston-Salem,” he says.