Apr 21, 2019 - Business

How I Work: 16 questions with David Furman, Charlotte’s coolest architect and developer



David Furman helped create Charlotte as we know it.

The 71-year-old architect and developer has designed approximately 70 projects and developed about 30 throughout the city.

His list of contributions includes Gateway Lofts, the TradeMark building on West Trade Street (where Furman lives and works), and extensive construction in First Ward and South End, including 1616 Camden and Camden Village. Furman was also the brains behind the “Before I Die” chalkboard on the Rail Trail.

I visited Furman’s in his bright Uptown office on West Trade Street, where we talked for an hour. Here’s how David Furman works.

david furman
David Furman

(1) What’s a typical week like?

People ask me if I’m retired, and it depends on your definition of retired.

My definition of retirement is, just don’t do anything you don’t want to do. I love creating stuff. I love contributing to my city. I love being part of building a city. But I don’t want to do it on a schedule. I don’t want to do it on a deadline. I don’t want pressure. But I’m going to keep doing it. Forever.

It’s the old cliche: If you’re doing something you love, you don’t ever work. But it’s continuing to use your skill set to make things happen, and I think that might keep you around a little bit longer.

(2) How do you stay organized?

You’d look at my desk and say I’m not organized, right? And if you look at the rest of my world, the people around here will say, “If there’s a piece of trash in the corner or the picture’s tilted, David’s going to straighten that, because that’s where his visual world is.”

My desk is the exception. And that’s because I’m generating stuff and I don’t want to stop. I’ll tidy up when I’m done. I’ll have fleeting thoughts and I know I’ll lose them, so I’ll make a note on my phone and come back to it.

I have a lot of business cards and those have become sort of a note taker. I’ll make a note, “Okay, I’ve got to remember to call that guy,” because I thought of it when I was riding my bike or something.

(3) Do you listen to music when you’re at work?

I listen to music all the time. What I’m listening to kind of depends on what kind of mood I’m in.

I don’t like the whole shuffle thing, where it shuffles everything you own. I love the streaming services where you can fine-tune all that. Here, I’m usually listening to Sirius radio. Usually it’s old school R&B. But I’ll play some Mozart or I’ll play some Kanye or some Stevie Wonder or Willie Nelson or some Patsy Cline.

(4) What time do you go to bed and what time do you wake up?

When I was young, I was a late-night person. I remember an era where I would go home at 6 p.m. religiously, because I had children and we all had a family meal. And then after that, you know, 9 p.m. or so, back to work, and I went until the TV went off the air, which was one or two in the morning.

But I left that behind.

I wake up whenever I feel like it. I don’t do alarms. I hate that.

My wife runs a substance abuse program, so she’s a hard charger. She gets up at 5:30 a.m. every morning and gets home after 6 p.m. every day. I probably get up around 7 or 7:15 a.m.

I’ll eat breakfast, read the paper. Old school. Maybe I’ll go for a walk. That’s good exercise. I walk everywhere.

(5) If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?

I do whatever I want to do anyway (laughs). But, I’ve really enjoyed this public art engagement and I’d probably try to be more of a public artist.

But again, when you start doing it as a job and then you’re responding to RFPs and you’re getting on the “short list” and then you’re getting cut. I don’t want to do that. … I just want to do it!

Centro at the RailYard, one of Furman’s South End projects

(6) What’s an unusual habit you have and why do you have it?

Down at my shop (Furman’s studio just a few blocks away from his office, where he works primarily on sculpture) I have a basketball hoop. I shoot hoops. I’m just passionate about it.

I love hoops at its highest level. Last night I walked down to the arena and watched the Hornets beats the Spurs in overtime, and that was just awesome.

I love shooting hoops because when the ball goes in the basket it’s like a micro rush.

Every day when I leave my studio, I’ve got to hit one before I leave.

(7) What’s an everyday thing you’re really good at?

Well, I’m a visual person. So my very high skill set is spatial relationships. There’s a game called Tangoes, it’s a really fascinating game, and I’m really, really good at it. My daughter can kick my ass though.

(8) What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and the worst?

I don’t know whether I’m an advice person.

I’ve kind of gone my own way and made my own decisions and I’ve screwed up. … I think you have to fail a lot to try. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying.

As far as advice that I’ve been given by somebody else, I’m continuously given advice to quit taking risks.

But I just ignore them. I think my wife would tell you I don’t heed advice.

(9) What’s a skill they don’t teach you in school that they should?

I’m pretty far removed from high school, and I was a terrible student, probably because I wasn’t heeding advice. But maybe it’s enough real life stuff. We do very little trade education.

Everybody’s pushed to go to college even when they don’t want to, and they end up with a ton of debt. I think there ought to be a way to channel people’s energy and interest into something they could really make a living out of.

(10) What’s the most underrated part of Charlotte?

I love Freedom Park on a beautiful day.

I grew up around Freedom Park, and when I was little I was always down there shooting hoops and playing football in the rain, because it was fun to slide in the mud. It’s probably one of the most diverse places in the city. You’ll hear all kinds of languages, and you’ll see young kiddies and old codgers and everybody’s in a good mood.

The other thing is downtown. It becomes a small neighborhood, downtown on a Saturday or Sunday. You can walk around the streets and see people you know.

(11) What could the world use more of?

Understanding the concept that what’s good for everybody is, selfishly, good for me.

(12) What’s your 10-year prediction for Charlotte?

Charlotte’s not a great city; it’s really a good city. It’s my home and I’m going to try to make it a great city. We live on top of this building, and my prediction is by the time I croak, when you look out from upstairs you’re not going to see that (gestures outside). A surface parking lot. That’s going to be developed and full of stuff.

Great cities don’t have blanks. You’ll walk 15 blocks in New York because it’s interesting. In Charlotte you wouldn’t walk from here (West Trade Street) to McDowell Street because it’s not interesting. There are gaps.

I’d like to think that in the next 10 to 20 years we’ll have all this stuff filled in if there’s not a recession, and we’ll become really as good a city as you can have without a waterfront.

(13) Why do you love Charlotte?

I feel like I live in a city that I can make a difference in.

Rather than saying, “This city’s not cool enough, I’m gonna go to the cool city.” I’m going to try to make this a cooler city and make this a city where my kids would want to live.

(14) What building do you wish you had designed?

My wife and I were having dinner at Halcyon the other night and looking over at the green at The Ratcliffe condos. We didn’t do that and I think it’s REALLY good. It’s at least 17 years old and it still looks really fresh and cool. The guys who did it did used to work at my office, but they did it — I wish I could claim that building.

(15) What advice would you give to your 30-year-old self?

I feel like I’ve always lived the life I’ve wanted to live, and I’ve dialed it up and whether I took advice from somebody or ignored their advice, I pursued my passions and my dreams and I went out and made them happen. I think you’re in charge of that.

One of my pet peeves is somebody who’s whining about their situation. You’re in charge. Go fail. Go try. Go do something.

As you get older, you get more confident in what you can accomplish and what you can’t and I wish that I’d had some of that at a younger age. I wish I could have had a little more confidence.

(16) What’s one thing people don’t know about Charlotte?

Charlotte’s a pretty damn walkable city. You can get places at a super enjoyable rate.

We’re programmed that we gotta get there fast. You probably go to the gym and spend an hour. I don’t do that, I go, “Where am I going today? Can I walk there?” and I’ll program an hour in to do that and it’s exercise.

Plus it’s fun and I’m outside and I can see what’s going on on a real micro level, which I love.

I walk everywhere.


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