Black Architects Who Have Made History In the Architecture Industry

Black Architects Who Have Made History In the Architecture Industry

Architecture
By Contractors.com Team June 23, 2021

As civil movements like Black Lives Matter continue to fight against prejudice and for the future of racial equality in the US, it is important to look at the past just as much as it is to look to the future. There is a lot we can learn from the paths crossed by prominent figures who have helped mold society as we know it today. 

African American architects have made some major strides in the field of architecture in the past two centuries. They have been an influential part of shaping the country’s history; more specifically, they have inspired the country’s future generations of black architects and talent to pursue their own careers and will continue to do so for generations to come.

Moses McKissack III

Moses Mckissack III

Moses Mckissack III

The founding of the modern-day McKissack and McKissack architectural and construction firm dates back to the 19th century, specifically to 1879 when Moses McKissack III was born. Having grown up drawing, sketching, and designing for a local architect in Pulaski, Tennessee, McKissack moved to Nashville where he opened his own construction company in 1905. For the next 15 years, McKissack would design buildings in Nashville and across the state, earning a reputation as one of Tennessee’s finest architects.

National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC

National Museum of African American History and Culture in DC

While he has designed his fair share of residential buildings and houses, McKissack also worked on some famous landmarks such as the Beebe Memorial CME Church in Oakland, California. After McKissack III’s passing in 1952, his firm — currently operated by his descendants — has designed other famous structures throughout the country, including the Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.

Beverly Loraine Greene

Beverly Loraine Greene

Beverly Loraine Greene

Regarded as the first licensed African American female architect in the United States, Beverly Loraine Greene’s work is famous all across the country. Her family’s only child, Greene eventually attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she graduated from in 1936 with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. Returning to her hometown of Chicago, she initially found it difficult to find a job due to racial discrimination. 

The UNESCO Headquarters, One of Many Architectural Landmarks by Black Talent

The UNESCO Headquarters, One of Many Architectural Landmarks by Black Talent

Her career unfolded to contrast these limitations with notable, landmark accomplishments. While she has given rise to many achievements within the contiguous United States, she is most famous for her contribution to the design of the UNESCO building in Paris, France. The Y-shaped building was designed and built in the mid-20th century and opened its doors in 1958. Its doors continue to be open for anyone to visit. 

Norma Merrick Sklarek

Norma Merrick Sklarek

Norma Merrick Sklarek

Another name among the most famous architects of this country is Norma Merrick Sklarek. She was nicknamed “the Rosa Parks of Architecture” as she was the first woman to be officially licensed as an architect in the states of California and New York; a great feat at a time when architecture was mostly dominated by white males. 

The Architect Behind the Pacific Design Center, West Hollywood

The Architect Behind the Pacific Design Center, West Hollywood

Sklarek’s work on different types of architecture such as Terminal One of the Los Angeles International Airport, as well as the Pacific Design Center (also in Los Angeles) are widely praised. The Pacific Design Center is divided into three sections: Center Blue, Center Red, and Center green; housing showrooms for all kinds of exhibitions and installations. It’s quite poignant that Sklarek designed a building where, to this day, modern architects, interior designers, furniture makers, and carpenters from all walks of life have their work elevated to prominence. Sklarek made an immense contribution to the world of architecture, and remembering her work can inspire others to follow in her footsteps.

J. Max Bond Jr.

J. Max Bond Jr.

J. Max Bond Jr.

During his years of studying at Harvard University, Bond was the target of racist harassment and was repeatedly advised by his professors to stop pursuing architecture, which has been a historically white profession. To say that J. Max Bond Jr.’s career path was full of obstacles would be a major understatement, but regardless of what barriers stood in his way, he was able to overcome them.

Bond later founded his own architectural firm, Bond Ryder and Associates, in 1970, which was responsible for designing NYC’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama

Black Talent in Architecture Has Swept the Nation and Continues to Do so

Black Talent in Architecture Has Swept the Nation and Continues to Do so

Paul Revere Williams

Paul Revere Williams

Paul Revere Williams

On a much lighter note, we travel west to Paul Revere Williams, a South California architect who designed many homes for major public figures such as Frank Sinatra, Desi Arnaz, and Barbara Stanwyck. His work led him to win the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Spingarn Medal, a distinction recognizing outstanding achievements by an African American. William’s received the medal “[...] for his pioneer contributions as a creative designer of livable, attractive modern dwellings.". Needless to say, his architectural efforts did not go unnoticed.

The Frank Sinatra House in Palm Springs, California

The Frank Sinatra House in Palm Springs, California

At the age of 28, Williams opened his own architectural office and had reportedly developed the ability to sketch upside down. This was done at a time when white individuals felt uncomfortable sitting next to an African American, so Williams had to sketch his clients’ concepts from across the table, from the opposite direction. This goes to show the lengths that African American architects in history had to go to due to systematic racism just to provide basic services to their clients and thrive in their chosen careers.

Hotel Nutibara in the City of Medellín, Columbia

Hotel Nutibara in the City of Medellín, Columbia

Luckily, Williams went on to have a very successful career in architecture, designing a myriad of houses, hotels, malls, and public buildings not only in the US but in various parts of the globe. While his work is concentrated in the southwestern United States, Williams’ work also reached other countries. One of his traveling works is his design of Hotel Nutibara in the city of Medellín, Columbia. He is one of the country’s most successful African American architects and his work has helped define the industry.

Wendell Jerome Campbell

Wendell Jerome Campbell

Wendell Jerome Campbell

Wendell Jerome Campbell was a WWII U.S. Army veteran who served 14 months in the Pacific Campaign designing bridges in the army’s engineering units. After returning home from the war Campbell studied architecture and received a full scholarship to study at the Illinois Institute of Technology. His degree was in architecture and city planning and much like during his time in the army, Campbell began to build.

The DuSable Museum by Wendell Jerome Campbell

The DuSable Museum by Wendell Jerome Campbell

His works include the Genesis Convention Center, DuSable Museum of African American History, Trinity United Church of Christ, and the sleek Metcalfe Federal Building built in Chicago, his hometown. What many don’t know about Campbell’s work lies in the sphere of urban planning. His urban planning strategies were implemented in some of the largest cities in the country, including Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, and Milwaukee.

Toni Griffin

Toni Griffin

Toni Griffin

While it is always very important to appreciate black talent throughout the history of this country, let’s also give a shout-out to our contemporaries who are making history as we speak. Toni Griffin is a current professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Her achievements, however, go beyond academia. She is one of today’s most influential urban planners thanks to the unique approach she takes in her work. 

Griffin is the founder and current leader of The Just City Lab, which focuses on urban planning from the angle of social justice. Her city planning projects are designed to break barriers between urban communities and city policymakers. This divide has brought upon decades, if not centuries, of neglect and misrepresentation. The heart of her work is bridging this divide and giving communities the freedom to enact their own policy changes. From landscaping projects to the building and maintenance of public areas, Griffin wants to see more communities have the freedom to fulfill their own wants and needs. 

Architects Who Have Left their Mark On All Realms of the Industry

Architects Who Have Left their Mark On All Realms of the Industry

CT

Written by
Contractors.com Team

Written by Contractors.com Team

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