Fresh out of the University of Arkansas’ School of Architecture in the mid 1970’s, James Childers landed an internship with the international architecture firm HOK, one of the largest architecture firm in the world. While interning, he realized that working on a narrow piece of the project was not for him. “I wanted to work on it from beginning to end, to experience building.” Determined to tackle projects in their entirety, he finished his internship back home in Fort Smith. James started working as an architect in Fort Smith in 1980, working in several successful firms before launching James R. Childers Architect, Inc. in 1986. The firm focused heavily on American Indian health-care facilities. Incorporating the culture and symbolism of a tribe into a health-care facility appealed to James which has created a uniqueness to his work. His buildings may be modern, but they have a lot of history. He has always been fascinated by history. He goes through a period of intensive research, to make sure that he knows exactly whom he is working with and what is important to them.
As working with Indian tribes has challenged him intellectually, it has also given him an opportunity to better understand his own American Indian roots. James is a member of the Cherokee Nation, his grandfather and great grandfather are listed on the 1906 Dawes Roll, which determined tribal citizenship for U.S. government purposes. James has always been interested in his heritage, but his work has given him more of an opportunity to look back into history.