Bachelor of Art in Architecture, UNC Charlotte (1997)
Bachelor of Architecture, North Carolina State University (2008)
Hometown: Fayetteville, NC
Serving as a Senior Architect/Associate Principal at Clark Nexsen, Raleigh, Albert McDonald leads the design efforts for a multitude of project types, including K-12 and higher education, science and technology, and civic. In addition to his typical firm responsibilities, he leads the Combustion Chamber, where members experiment with new ideas in design and technology using design competitions as a basis for exploration. Outside of his position at Clark Nexsen, Albert actively participates in the greater design community. He serves as the 2020 President of the AIA Triangle Chapter and has also chaired the AIA Triangle Design Awards Committee, which afforded him opportunities to meet leading architects from around the country, including Marlon Blackwell and Julie Snow.
Among the successful Combustion Chamber projects is GO [Shelter], a new design for public transit bus shelters (pictured below), which began installation throughout Raleigh in Winter 2020 and won an Honor Award from the North Carolina chapter of American Institute of Architects (AIA). "The bus shelter," he explains, "is certainly an important project for me for many reasons, notably the impact it’s having on the fabric of the city and how it’s bringing the importance of public transportation to the visual forefront of the streetscape as well as in public discourse."
A recent project at Wake Tech Community College has also been a highlight. "Building K is a recently completed project that incorporates two very different programmatic elements – a fitness education program and a culinary arts program," he says. "The running joke is that you can gain weight on one side of the building and lose it on the other."
"An older project that I really cut my teeth on," he remembers, "is the University of North Carolina School of the Arts Library (pictured below.) It was a complicated building that needed to house a wide range of media, including music scores, recordings, and traditional book stacks. It’s proved to be the heart of the campus, giving students a place to hang out, share ideas with each other, and at times put on impromptu performances."
Albert's education in UNC Charlotte's architecture program provided "space to experiment with challenging ideas, a community of friends that I remain in touch with even today, and showed me the power of design and how it can positively impact the world around us," he says. "The program solidified my love for making things and engaging in deep meaningful thought about design problems. Being lost in a project resolution is still the most rewarding experience of my professional life."
"In general," he continues, "the most important thing I attribute to my experience at UNC Charlotte was the very noticeable change in how I viewed the world. We would joke as students that we felt like we were experiencing some sort of mental and philosophical rebuilding of our brains. I remember the weight of the change and the excitement in that budding ability to critically evaluate and critique my environment."
At the time, Albert says it wasn't evident to him, but making friends in studio was a particularly special memory of his educational experience, remembering that the discussions they had about projects, culture, music, or art helped him appreciate others' perspectives, allowing him to become more appreciative of ideas, regardless of the source.
What is Albert's advice for current architecture students? Take note!
- "Don’t forget how rewarding the design education experience is, and make sure you don’t abandon a true, deep creative process when you break out into the world. You can and will make the world a better place."
- "What we do is more important than just making beautiful buildings. We impact more than we realize."
- "Get comfortable making mistakes. That’s where the good stuff happens."
- "Embrace the creative process in all you do. Make art, be a contributing member of your community, pay attention to the impact of your decisions on the world around you… Always be thoughtful."