Durham is a regional hub of fine dining, top-notch universities, and fast-rising startups. Nourishing inclusivity, the city welcomes a diverse set of entrepreneurs and artists who contribute to its colorful history and atmosphere. Commercial clients interested in establishing their offices and buildings in the area should consider working with the firms on this list of The Best Commercial Architects in Durham, North Carolina.
Our editors assembled this list featuring firms of broad experience and knowledge. We carefully looked into their services and their portfolio of award-winning projects. These firms also practice a hands-on design management process led by talented and creative principals.
3101/2 West Franklin St., Chapel Hill, NC 27516
Phil Szostak is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s College of Design and has over four decades of experience in the practice of architecture. He launched Szostak Design, one of the nation’s most prominent architectural practices, in 1980. Today, his firm maintains its reputation as an award-winning architectural design firm known for its philosophy of creating meaningful experiences by uniting places and cultures through architecture. While offering a full range of professional design services, the firm also provides design-build, real estate development partnerships, and general contracting services for residential clients.
Szostak Design is a recipient of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) North Carolina Firm of the Year Award, the highest honor a firm can obtain from the AIA state chapter. This distinction led the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to entrust the firm with the plan for its dining hall addition and renovation. The team designed a 3,950-square-foot glass building, maximizing visual transparency and conserving the sense of open space in a high-traffic pedestrian corridor. This pavilion is also separable from the existing dining hall during low traffic hours, ideal for hosting classes or events.
Cline Design Associates
125 N. Harrington St., Raleigh, NC 27603
Van Alen is a 275,000-square-foot apartment project designed by Cline Design Associateson on a 6.1-acre lot near Durham Bulls Athletic Park. One of the property’s two buildings is a 12-story tower, holding 74 units with floor-to-ceiling windows and large balconies, an amenity center, and an indoor sky lounge. The second is a five-story building accommodating 344 units with ten-foot ceilings, an elevated pool, and a parking garage. For the convenience and entertainment of its residents, the property includes a game room, cyber café, conference rooms, a gym, saunas, a dog park, and garages. The Triangle Business Journal noted the exceptional quality of this project and honored it with the 2020 Space Award for Top Multi-Family Development.
Van Alen is one of the many projects, including offices, healthcare, corporate, mixed-use, municipal, university, and auto dealership projects, that Cline Design Associates has designed in the past three decades. With every project, the firm always begins by understanding the client’s goals and visions and the site constraints. This process reflects founder Gary Cline’s passion for promoting a vibrant and thriving design environment that brings people together. As the firm’s president, Cline’s leadership on numerous large projects has led the firm to build a successful portfolio of lasting work.
208 Rigsbee Ave., Durham, NC 27701
Alliance Architecture consists of a dynamic team of architects, designers, and industry thought-leaders. The team’s shared mindset examines and embraces all factors influencing the design outcome. The firm creates designs for the workplace, keeping in mind productivity, brand identity, and the overall impact on the environment.
Directing the projects and leading the design team is John Warasila, a technical expert with extensive experience in interior architecture. As the founding principal of Alliance Architecture, Warasila effectively develops design concepts that recognize stringent budget and scheduling requirements. His leadership has allowed the firm to flourish and establish offices in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and North Carolina. The group provides design and project management, interiors, workplace design, base buildings, and adaptive rework of historic structures.
One of the firm’s projects was the renovation of a segment of downtown Durham’s Chesterfield Building. Nutanix, the client, recognized its need for an office that accommodates and facilitates its adaptive approach to the fast-paced environment of the technology industry. As a response, Alliance Architecture created a design intended to simplify client communication while integrating a piece of Durham’s rich history. This project also features open workstations, conference rooms, a cafeteria, and a recreation room where teams can brainstorm and transform ideas into solutions.
New City Design Group
1304 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, NC 27605
New City Design Group specializes in commercial and residential architecture, ranging from concept development to modeling and rendering, site analysis, feasibility studies, rezoning and community relations, project management, historic preservation, interior design, and construction administration. At the start of the project, the firm acquires an understanding of the project task and goals. It then assembles a team of designers, architects, engineers, and artisans best suited to carry out the concept. Until the grand opening, this team utilizes its expertise and experience to ensure the client’s project is a success.
The Duke University Bookstore in Durham is an example of the team’s work. New City relocated and extended the Duke University and Gothic bookstores to over 20,000 square feet, with upgraded storefronts and exterior entry. Stone wall cladding dominates the façade of the rectangular structure, featuring glass doors and windows to provide a glimpse of the shop’s merchandise.
333 Liggett St., Durham, NC 27701
The Emory University Student Center is a 118,000-square-foot facility that serves as the heart of campus, providing welcoming and inclusive spaces that complement Emory’s academic experience. The firm succeeded in replacing an outdated, inwardly focused monolithic building with a new structure that opens to daylight, invites student engagement and fosters academic success at the crossroads of the central campus. The two new pavilions are separated by a Central Commons and maximize transparency between indoor and outdoor spaces. A terra-cotta roof trellis unifies the pavilions while also providing shading for the first LEED Platinum building on campus. The Center addresses growing demands for student-oriented space; a desire for larger, more flexible, and efficient dining, technology, and infrastructure; and more room for student organizations, socializing, and gathering.
Duda|Paine Architects believes the architectural design process and the buildings they create are most influenced by the people involved. The firm’s projects are individually unique because they discover how people learn, collaborate, and gather, and help them function better through their buildings and understanding of what makes communities thrive. Turan Duda and Jeff Paine lead the practice from a single studio based in Durham, North Carolina. Turan approaches design as a deeply exploratory, analytical, and intuitive process, while Jeff sees the architectural process as an opportunity to expand the power and function of design. Together, their balanced, cross-disciplinary approach creates projects that bring new life to cities across the southeast.
Ellen Cassilly Architects
600 Foster St., Durham, NC 27701
Ellen Cassilly received her Bachelor of Environmental Design degree from Texas A&M University and Master of Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. After her studies, she began her architectural career collaborating with other competent architects and artists and working for widely recognized firms. Her experience includes commercial, residential, recreational, religious, and educational buildings.
O’Brien Atkins Associates
5001 S. Miami Blvd., Durham, NC 27703
Over its four decades of practice, O’Brien Atkins Associates has completed over 120 projects with a total of over 6,100,000 square feet of designed space. It has established a strong regional presence and has undertaken projects as far as the eastern seaboard, Canada, and even India and Saudi Arabia. The firm’s projects lean towards science and technology, custom corporate environments, academic research, and civic projects. In light of the company’s distinctive portfolio and its high rate of repeat clients, AIA Carolina recently recognized O’Brien Atkins Associates as the Firm of the Year.
One of the firm’s clients, Duke University, retained the design team for the creation of Trinity Residence Hall. This project completes the Bell Tower quad the firm previously helped develop on the southwest campus. In association with Andre Johnson Architect, the firm designed this structure to accommodate more than a hundred double rooms, six ADA bedrooms, ten Resident Assistant rooms, two graduate assistant studios, and a three-bedroom faculty-in-residence apartment. Kitchen facilities, a gaming room, and a common space suitable for hosting events add to the residential quality of student life.
Little Diversified Architectural Consulting
410 Blackwell St. Suite 10, Durham, NC 27701
Little Diversified Architectural Consulting is an internationally distinguished firm providing architecture, engineering, and interior architecture services. It develops exceptional design solutions for the community, healthcare, and retail industries. Believing that collaboration is a powerful source of breakthrough ideas, the firm relies on a diverse team of designers with a variety of expertise from different cultures and generations.
Managing this team is John Komisin, who earned his Bachelor of Architecture degree from The Pennsylvania State University. Komisin advocates for sustainable design and green building principles and leads firm-wide initiatives to ensure superior design solutions and excellent client service. Joining him in leading the firm is Phil Kuttner, an active member of the AIA CEO Large Firm Round Table and a previous AIA Charlotte Board member. Kuttner maintains a culture of empowered people who are enthusiastic and imaginative. He ensures that people at Little Diversified Architectural Consulting actively use their talents as designers to perform their role in creating a sustainable future.
220 Horizon Dr. Suite 221, Raleigh, NC 27615
Principal Edmund J. Gontram III, AIA, LEED AP, utilizes his three decades of architectural experience to lead Gontram Architecture. From residential to multi-million dollar commercial projects, he has developed an unparalleled potential for designing a wide range of projects. He is currently a licensed architect in six states and a certificate holder from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). Establishing his firm, Gontram aims to use these capabilities to provide clients with flexible architectural services, emphasizing cost control, contract administration, and design excellence.
When it comes to commercial projects, Gontram Architecture offers comprehensive services. It studies the location, researches necessary zoning conditions, and formulates a strategy for translating the client’s needs into sketches and structures. It also routinely renovates and upfits offices, retail stores, restaurants, and schools. It always begins by studying the existing buildings and considering the present circumstances.
For the Bar Marcel project, Gontram Architecture transformed an old restaurant to fit Urban Food Group’s Italian concept and culture of excellence. Upgrades to the dining and bar areas deliver a fresh and cozy ambiance, while the outdoor patio creates an additional street-side cafe flavor. The firm also redesigned the kitchen to allow space for pizza preparation.
501 Washington St. Suite G, Durham, NC 27701
MHAworks is a commercial architecture firm founded in 1988 by Michael J. Hining, AIA. It has established offices in Durham, Greenville, and Asheville, collectively providing architecture, interior design, and planning services to clients in North Carolina. Working with a collaborative approach, the firm has built a design portfolio in offices, multifamily housing, mixed-use, worship, technology, commercial, health care, government, education, and historic restorations.
Believing that a reputable local presence is essential, MHAworks ensures it stays familiar with local development requirements and employs regional consultant staff. This approach allows the firm to create relationships with local contractors and contribute to the communities it serves. Its team also possesses an adaptive mindset and stays current with best practices, design trends, and products.
Bella Trio Studio is one of the firm’s projects that has received media attention locally and beyond for its exceptional layout. It complements the campus-wide industrial ambiance and features exposed ceilings, a clean and inviting style, and creative storage solutions.
Center Studio Architecture
107 E Chapel Hill St., Durham, NC 27701
Center Studio Architecture (CSA) believes that continuous and collaborative learning broadens its knowledge and allows it to challenge biases, assumptions, and outdated preferences. The firm’s diverse team is uniquely adept in different styles, working in challenging environments, and partnering with a large client base. Prioritizing equity and inclusion, CSA honed this team to pursue projects and partnerships that support unheard voices and advocate for marginalized communities.
An example of CSA’s work is the Unscripted Durham building. Previously a hotel, the old building underwent a complete refurbishment. CSA worked for Austin Lawerence Partners to upgrade the prominent building and offer it a second lease on life. Today, the Unscripted Durham holds 74 boutique rooms, a full-service grab-and-go coffee restaurant, a roof deck, and a publicly available pool. This revitalization shows how CSA employs its creativity and expertise to create a design that results in functional spaces.
3608 University Dr. Suite 204, Durham, NC 27707
Since 1987, RND Architect has been realizing its clients’ architectural aspirations and providing lasting design solutions for the government, healthcare, higher education, and commercial industries. The firm consists of a team of creative and interactive architects and designers serving clients throughout North Carolina. They work together to engage clients in the design process and encourage open communication throughout the project life cycle, resulting in refined design solutions and efficient project execution.
With a proven ability to lead multidisciplinary teams, Charles Nickelson, AIA, manages RND Architect and guides it in becoming a local force contributing to the growth and development of the communities it serves. He has special expertise in renovation design and planning, and a thoughtful leadership style. He uses his familiarity with state and local government ordinances to help clients achieve their goals. This expertise has earned the company a long list of repeat clients.
The Europa Center Renovation is an example of the firm’s achievement and its passion for renovation. RND Architect provided architectural and interior design upgrades to the atrium, restrooms, and hallways of the building. The firm’s concept resulted in a cozy common area work environment and modernization of the front façade of the Class A office buildings.
121 South Estes Dr. Suite 100, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Gurlitz Architectural Group, PA, is a full-service architectural firm providing planning and design for clients in governmental, health care, commercial, corporate, and institutional sectors. This small business based in Chapel Hill pursued an uncompromising commitment to exceptional design and client service since its establishment in 1988. Its portfolio includes a diverse set of project types, design applications, and detailed design solutions for new construction and renovations.
One of the firm’s projects is the La Quinta in Manassas, located in the heart of the historic district, with easy access to shops, restaurants, and museums. Featuring complete amenities for comfort and convenience, this establishment has free WiFi, a business center, meeting spaces, a seasonal outdoor pool, a gym, an on-site bar, and an airport shuttle. This project shows that Gurlitz Architectural Group, PA, is attentive to detail and quality, ensuring delivery of a project’s every specification.