Just Another Day in Paradise

After 27 Years, MWA Principal Carlton Smith Retires

Carlton Smith laughing with his head lying on his desk covered in architectural drawings.

“Just another day in paradise,” Principal Carlton Smith responds anytime someone asks how he is doing.

Now, with retirement just inches away, paradise is closer than ever. But before Carlton officially drives into the sunset, we are looking back at the road behind him, and his many impressive milestones along the way.

Carlton Smith, 1995

Joining MWA in 1995, Carlton felt inspired to work on projects that contribute to humanity. He wanted to look back at the end of his career and know that he used his skills to profoundly affect the community. Twenty-seven years later, he can do just that.

“Throughout his career, Carlton has personified the values that MWA strives for as a civic-minded architecture firm. His commitment to thoughtful design for the underserved speaks to his genuine concern and compassion for people in his community.”

– Greg Robley, MWA Principal

Choosing to Pursue a Career in Architecture

Carlton says that when he first stepped into the architectural field over 40 years ago, he “didn’t have any role models in the profession” and didn’t know anyone who looked like him. At the time, he was a student on draft deferment in the Vietnam War. Carlton decided to pursue architecture because he wanted a bona fide, sustainable career and knew he enjoyed drawing and building things. What he didn’t know was how many contributions this career would enable him to make.

“Carlton was a leader of MWA, adding his insights to grow it into the amazing firm it is today. A legacy of service and leadership he leaves to us, but first, let’s not forget about the thing that makes us all unique: First-level design for all communities.”

– Michael E. Willis, FAIA, MWA Founder
Four MWA Principals standing in front of palm trees. Photo represents MWA's diversity in leadership with one Asian principal, two Black principals, and one Caucasian principal.
MWA Principals from left to right: Rod Henmi (former Principal), Jeffrey McGraw (current President and Principal), Carlton Smith (current Principal), Michael Willis (Founder and former President)

Enhancing Communities through Architecture

Carlton’s projects have been cornerstones in their communities. Carlton has led projects such as Youth UpRising, a landing place for kids to feel supported; the Eastmont Town Center, providing accessible health care to older adults; and The Black Panther, creating affordable homes for families who have been displaced.

With dozens of community-enhancing projects on his resume, The Self-Sufficiency Center at Eastmont remains Carlton’s favorite. He explains, “It was our first project for Alameda County,” and that it was monumental because “we helped them program a new way of providing services to their clients and helped to transform a dying shopping mall into a thriving community support facility.”

“Carlton maintains a strong connection with his clients and takes personal pride in his efforts. It is a great reminder that our jobs go beyond the final construction of a project.”

– Bill Lanning, MWA Principal

Inspiring the Next Generation of Architects

Carlton Smith standing at a podium on stage with the words "Carlton Smith, NOMA President" projected behind him.
Carlton accepts the award on behalf of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) at the 2007 AIA National Convention in San Antonio.

During his career, Carlton also served the architectural community through his commitments outside of our firm. Inspiring change in the field, Carlton served as President and on the Board of Directors at the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) and The American Institute of Architects San Francisco (AIASF).

“Carlton has been an example of professionalism in the years we spent together, fighting the good fight to keep this firm moving in the right direction. I will miss his even-tempered counsel.”

– Jeffrey McGraw, MWA President and Principal

Carlton’s leadership within NOMA, AIASF, and as Principal of MWA, has enabled him to give young architects what he didn’t have at the onset of his career: a role model. Carlton says that within the last few years, he has been “fortunate enough to continue a good balance of design, management, and mentoring.” He credits his current team as being “as dedicated a group as he’s ever had the pleasure of working with,” and they reciprocate the feeling. As Designer Erina Yamada wished Carlton the best in retirement, she said, “Thank you for taking care of all of us.”

Carlton and the MWA San Francisco team sitting around a restaurant table smiling at the camera.
Carlton and team at MWA’s Year-end Celebration lunch in San Francisco, 2022

If Carlton were to give one piece of advice to aspiring designers, it would be to “Make yourself indispensable! Take your work seriously, work hard, and everything else you desire will follow throughout your career.”

Leaving a Legacy

“I have enjoyed my collaboration with Carlton over the years. May the coming years be filled with new horizons to explore.”

– Jean von Bargen Root, MWA Principal

For more than 40 years, Carlton has poured his time, passion, and creativity into the world of architecture. He has brought a little bit of paradise to each of his projects, and even more to our firm. Our entire MWA team sends Carlton off to retirement with gratitude. His mentorship will continue to inspire, his projects will continue to serve their communities, and his impact will remain a foundation of our firm.

Congratulations, Carlton, on a very well-earned retirement.

Carlton Smith looking into the camera with architectural drawings sitting on his desk.
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