Andrew Carson: From Teen Prodigy to Prolific Architect
2022 MASTERS of the SOUTHWEST Award Winner - Andrew Carson
This Scottsdale architect may call his success a “happy accident,” but a robust body of work and raw talent prove otherwise. Andrew Carson
By Lauren Tyda | Photography By Mark Boisclair, Scott Sandler, Bill Timmerman
Andrew Carson’s Scottsdale studio is exactly how one would picture a classic architect’s office. Drawings, some in progress, some rolled up, rest atop his vintage 1911 wooden drafting table, a minefield of creativity, a chopping block of ideas. 3D models hang proudly atop bookcases like wall art, mini facsimiles of his past work. “This is what it looks like inside my head,” he says, pointing to the medley of blueprints, sketches and notes. “It’s always going, always moving.”
A longtime protégé of celebrated late architect George Christensen, Carson has completed countless residential projects across the Valley and beyond since graduating from ASU in 1998. Most clients are drawn initially to his Mediterranean and Santa Barbara-style abodes, then captivated by his versatility and friendly demeanor.
“Andrew has a no-nonsense approach and doesn’t let his ego get in the way when solving complex problems,” says builder Joe Costello. “His willingness to work as part of a team helps us keep projects moving forward, which translates to higher productivity and a collaborative environment.”
Carson confirms: “I am pretty low-key. I don’t take myself too seriously, and I don’t claim to know everything. I learn something new every day.”
Ironically, Carson might not be where he is today had he not contracted mononucleosis at age 15. “I originally thought I wanted to be a carpenter,” says the Philadelphia native, whose childhood love of Legos and building forts continues to this day, “even though I had never touched a hammer in my life.” The infection struck on his first day of technical school, rendering him “useless” in carpentry class due to the heavy lifting required—even after recovering.
To make up the time, he was temporarily placed in an architecture class. “My instructor had me draw a whole set of house plans in 30 days.” Not only did Carson learn quickly—he also learned he had an innate talent. “In the end, the teacher told me, ‘I think if you go back to carpentry, you’re making the biggest mistake of your life.’ So if I hadn’t gotten mono, I might have ended up in Pennsylvania banging nails to this day,” he laughs.
Carson also has an uncanny ability to visualize solutions. “I don’t understand algebra, but if I look at a problem long enough, I can figure it out,” he reveals. “When I was in ninth grade, my teacher used to think I was cheating because I would get the right answer without showing the work. And I would say ‘I don’t know how to do it that way, but that’s the right answer.’”
Having acquired extensive drafting experience before reaching college gave Carson a competitive edge. He used free electives to take as many sculpture classes as possible. “If you think about it, architecture is just sculpture that people live in,” he notes. “So it was kind of fun to learn how to put things together instead of just drawing them.”
In college, Carson learned everything from welding to making neon signs. “My professor called me an obsessive glass bender,” he chuckles. “I would take tubes and make all these funky things and then pump them with different gasses to make a variety of colors. Then I would intertwine them all. I would use about 50 tubes, and he was like, ‘That’s not how you make a sign!’”
Upon graduating, Christensen recruited Carson into his firm. “I already had a job lined up back in Philadelphia, but when George asked me to come and work for him, I asked, ‘Do I have to wear a tie?’ He said ‘No,’ and I was sold.”
It was through this venture that Carson was able to rub shoulders with some of the Valley’s legendary architects and early modernists such as Bennie Gonzalez. In 2002, Christensen died unexpectedly of a heart attack, prompting Carson and his colleague Jon Poetzl to launch their own firm. The duo worked together for 14 years before parting ways amicably.
Today, Carson focuses on residential projects, from remodels of historical dwellings to Old-World estates, contemporary retreats and everything in between. “It’s whatever the client wants to do,” he says. “It’s my job to help them achieve the best that can be. What we create are personal resorts—and they have to feel livable. Home is where people come to unwind and relax, and it has to feel that way—not like they’re in the Museum of Modern Art.”
“What we create are mini resorts—and they have to feel liveable. Home is where people come to unwind and relax.”
—Andrew Carson, architect
Industry professionals praise Carson’s attention to detail and penchant for problem solving. “Andrew is sure-footed, talented and a caring architect, husband, father and friend,” says fellow Master of the Southwest, interior designer Nancy Kitchell, who offices in the same building as Carson Architecture and Design. “He is always willing to listen and has the ability, like George Christensen did, to be nimble and adjust to the many changes of expansive, complex projects.” Carson credits a rubber charity bracelet with Romans 10:9 on his wrist as his secret. “This reminds me to be flexible,” he says.
If Carson’s office offers a glimpse into his head, one can see that his five children are also omnipresent in his thoughts. Their drawings are displayed on the wall above his desk—a dragon by his daughter, Quincy, and a sketch of a makeshift house by his youngest son, Memphis. “He’ll color my drawings after school,” the architect says, smiling. “When he first started, he would use 900 different colors because he was trying to use every pencil in the box. Clients would come in for a meeting and ask, ‘Is that our house?’ and I would joke, ‘What, you don’t want it to look like that?’”
Despite his almost preternatural ability to find solutions to design challenges, it’s not all a means to an end for Carson. When asked his greatest achievement, he relaxes his shoulders. “Being a man of God,” he says softly. “And my kids. They’re the most important thing I have ever done. It’s probably why I don’t take what I do for a living as seriously as some people. Life’s too short. If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.”
For additional information, see Sources.