Charlotte Architecture Firms Merge To Share Government-Justice Focus

From arresting a suspect to holding him in jail, having a court trial and eventual imprisonment, a pair of Charlotte architecture firms is covering the full justice spectrum after merging their similar and complementary skill sets.

ADW Architects has served many government and law enforcement clients across the Carolinas for more than 36 years. Merging with them is Ware Bonsall, a specialist in designing jails and courthouses.

Jim Powell
Jim Powell

“Our team now provides a full breadth of experience in justice architecture, from the municipal police station, through the courts, to the detention center,” said Jim Powell, an ADW managing principal. “Our thorough understanding of the law enforcement and justice processes, and the latest standards of design excellence, give us a head start when taking on any new project for local or state government clients.”

Paul Bonsall
Paul Bonsall

“As one example of how this field is evolving, the whole concept of a jail is changing significantly,” said Paul Bonsall, managing partner of the Ware Bonsall group. “Jails are different from prisons. Jails are county facilities where the detainees are non-violent offenders awaiting trial for low-level crimes. It is often not in a county’s best interest to incur the expense of keeping these types of offenders in jail. A county would rather they make bail so they can go home and back to their jobs. Some county jails have even reduced or paid the bail to get non-violent people out of jail.

“Many counties are finding community-based ways of dealing with non-violent criminals in the context of homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness – prior to incarceration and in conjunction with jail staff, law enforcement, the district attorneys, judges, and other involved entities,” Bonsall explained.

Bonsall’s connections with ADW Architects go back to the late 1980s when he worked for the firm, then known as Atkinson Dyer Watson. He and current ADW managing principal Jim Powell were both young architects working on a variety projects. After Hurricane Hugo stopped a lot of real estate activity, Bonsall left that firm and worked for two others over nine years before joining another architecture firm in Charlotte, where he worked with Glenn Ware.

“We developed a very competitive justice architecture studio, doing primarily jails, courthouses, and public safety facilities,” Bonsall said. “When the principals of the firm decided to concentrate their practice on healthcare, they gave Glenn and me the opportunity to take over some existing projects and start our own firm. It was a great opportunity and the business model made a lot of sense.

Ware Bonsall continued to thrive through most of the great recession with existing, long-term, projects carrying them through at a time when many architecture firms shut their doors. “But finally it caught up with us a couple of years ago,” Bonsall said. “Counties in the Carolinas cut way back on capital projects, particularly jails and courthouses, but rather than close the firm, we contacted several larger related ones in the area and found a good connection with ADW. Glenn has since gone off to seek other opportunities and is not part of this merger.”

“Although our firm originally focused solely on faith based and entertainment facilities,” Jim Powell recalled, “about 15 years ago I was given the responsibility for expanding into other markets. This led to a lot of work in public safety – police and fire stations – as well as the NC DMV and State Highway Patrol. As we were looking at ways to expand into other areas related to public safety, Paul came to us with his justice architecture focus, and we saw it as a good symbiotic market to what we were doing.

“We like to tell people,” Powell continued, “that with our combined experience, we understand the entire enforcement and judicial process from arrest through imprisonment or acquittal. This experience will help us on other projects in the Carolinas and beyond.”

The merger of the two firms evolved over the summer and operates under the ADW Architects brand from their offices at 101 W. Worthington Ave., Suite 270, Charlotte. More online at