African-American architects

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

African-American architects are those in the architectural profession who are members of the African diaspora in the United States.

Their work in the more distant past was often overlooked or outright erased from the historical records due to the racist social dynamics at play in the country (and also due to the proxied nature of the profession itself), but the black members of the profession—and their historic contributions—have become somewhat more recognized since.[1]

"The experience of being Black in architecture involves learning about a discipline that does not include the contributions of African American architects like Paul Revere Williams, Robert R. Taylor, Walter T. Bailey and Wallace Rayfield within the canons of the profession... The experience of being Black in architecture requires you to unearth the accomplishments of other Blacks in architecture to understand how they navigated the often tumultuous waters of the profession." (Dr. Kwesi Daniels, MArch, MSc Sust. Mgmt, ABD)[1]


The first African American architects appeared in the mid-1800s. Being African American and trying to become an architect in a White-dominated profession, especially in the 1800s-1900s was difficult. Racism towards African Americans was prevalent in the 1800s-1900s and this was amplified by the addition and enforcement of Jim Crow laws. Jim Crow Laws enforced segregation of White and Blacks, therefore promoting direct racism. Many African American architects working during and after this time period faced obstacles due to overt racism perpetuated by the society and culture of the United States.

19th and 20th Centuries[edit]


Some architects such as Julian Francis Abele, Louis Arnett Stuart Bellinger, and Paul Revere Williams were able to obtain an architectural degree from top universities, an architectural license, and positions at top architectural firms. However, clients were often opposed to having their projects overseen by an African American architect.[2] This resulted in many African American architects working on a design for a project, but losing credit for their work.[2] Both African American men and women dealt with similar issues regarding race. African American women in the mid-1800 to 1900s had to deal with discrimination based on sex as well.[3]

Julian Francis Abele[edit]

Julian Francis Abele (1881–1950) was the first African American to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture (1902). After traveling and studying in Europe under the sponsorship of Horace Trumbauer, Abele returned to Philadelphia and joined Trumbauer's firm in 1906. He served as chief designer from 1909 to 1938.[4][5] The Philadelphia Museum of Art was a collaboration between Trumbauer's firm and that of Zantzinger, Borie and Medary. While another Trumbauer architect, Howell Lewis Shay, is credited with the building's plan and massing, the presentation drawings are in Abele's hand.[6] It was not until after Trumbauer's death that Abele signed his architectural drawings, or claimed credit for being the main designer of Duke University's west campus.[7] Abele also helped design the Widener Memorial Library at Harvard.[8]

Paul Revere Williams[edit]

Paul Revere Williams was raised in the Los Angeles area where he attended school.[9] After Graduating from high school, Williams attended the Los Angeles School of Art and eventually studied at USC. Williams then worked for established firms run by Wilbert D. Cook Jr. and George D. Hall. Williams received his architecture license from the state of California, and was the first black person in the American Institute of Architects (AIA), joining the Southern California Chapter in 1923, and the first black person to become a fellow of the AIA, in 1957.[9] In 1921, he became the first African American Architect west of the Mississippi. Williams was also a member of the Los Angeles Planning Commission in 1920, the California Housing Commission in 1947, the National Monument Commission in 1929, and the National Housing Commission in 1953. Williams designed residential buildings as well as churches, schools, and other commercial buildings.[9]


The first African American women architects, such as Norma Merrick Sklarek and Beverly Loraine Greene, were faced with many challenges as they completed their journey of becoming architects. For years prior, the architecture industry was dominated by white men. In the 1900s, it was difficult for an African American man to receive a fair chance to become employed at a firm because of racism. On top of this, women were fighting for equal rights. Women architects not only had to overcome many setbacks due to their race but also due to their gender. Some common setbacks faced by Sklarek included being denied entry into the world of architecture, and not receiving recognition for their work.[3] African American women had to work extremely hard just to have the chance to be educated in the field. As Sklarek demonstrated throughout her career, it was possible for African American women to excel in the architectural world, but the numbers of women within the field were low, and seem to have remained low from the time Sklarek was actively working to more recent years.

Norma Merrick Sklarek[edit]

Norma Merrick Sklarek was the first black woman architect in the state of California. She graduated from Columbia and worked for the architecture firms: SOM and Gruen and Associates. She also was the first black woman to join the AIA (American Institute of Architects). Sklarek collaborated with Cesar Pelli on projects that include the Pacific Design Center and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

Beverly Loraine Greene[edit]

Beverly Loraine Greene was the first black woman to become a licensed architect in the US.[10] She was based out of Illinois, and started her practice in Chicago.[10] She struggled to be noticed because of her race.[10] Greene went on to work on international projects such as UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and designed buildings for NYU.[10]

21st Century[edit]

Although the culture and society in the United States have improved from the 19th and 20th centuries, African American architects and other people of color who desire to become an architect continue to deal with a lack of diversity in the field. Only 2% of licensed architects in the United States are Black or African American, and less than 1 in 5 new architects identify as a racial or ethnic minority, according to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.[11]

The Directory of African American Architects [12] maintains an ongoing list of licensed African American architects. On October 24, 2019 there was 2,300 people listed including 467 women. African American architects represent about 2%[13] of all licensed architects (116,000[14]) and African American women represent approximately 0.4%, according to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). There are several organizations and initiatives focused on increasing representation including the National Organization of Minority Architects,[15] Riding the Vortex,[16] 400 FORWARD,[17] Hip Hop Architecture,[18] First 500,[19] Beyond the Built [20] and many others.

Additional architects[edit]



  • Walter T. Bailey was the first African-American graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, to receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Architectural Engineering in 1904 and an honorary master's degree from the same school in 1910. Bailey assisted in the planning of Champaign's Colonel Wolfe School before being appointed head of the mechanical industries department at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where he supervised planning design and construction of several campus buildings.[22]
  • Louis Arnett Stuart Bellinger (1891–1946) was responsible for the design of significant buildings in and near Pittsburgh.
  • J. Max Bond Jr. (1935–2009) became a partner of Davis Brody Bond in 1990 when it joined forces with Bond Ryder and Associates. The firm was renamed Davis Brody Bond in 1996.[23]
  • Calvin Brent (1854–1899) generally thought to be the first African-American architect to practice in Washington, D.C.
  • John S. Chase, in 1952, became the first African American to enroll and graduate from the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture and later became the first African American male licensed to practice Architecture in the state of Texas. In addition, he was also the first African American admitted to the Texas Society of Architects and the Houston Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In 1970 John S. Chase became the first African American Architect to serve on the United States Commission of Fine Arts and in 1970, he co-founded the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), (along with 12 other black architects).[24]
  • Henry Beard Delany (1858–1928) taught at St. Augustine College from 1885–1908 and designed several buildings there.
  • George Washington Foster (1866–1923) was among the first African-American architects licensed by the State of New Jersey in 1908, and later New York (1916)
  • Robert P. Madison, FAIA, founder of Robert P. Madison, International, is the first African American to graduate from Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University). When Madison completed and passed requirements for his architectural licensing examination in June 1950, he is believed to have become Ohio's first licensed African American architect.[25] Madison was one of only 14 architects invited to tour China in 1974 after Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to China ended 25 years of isolation between the U.S. and China.
  • William Sidney Pittman (1875–1958) established an early firm in Washington, D.C.
  • Marshall E. Purnell, in 2007, was elected to serve as the 2007 First Vice President/ President-elect / 2008 President of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Washington, DC. Purnell, an AIA regional director from the Mid-Atlantic Region and design principal of Devrouax+Purnell Architects and Planners PC, Washington, DC, has been involved in numerous AIA activities, including service on the Board Advocacy and Diversity committees, as well as on the AIA Scholarship, Historic Resources and Housing committees. He has also been involved in leadership at the local component level through the AIA District of Columbia chapter and is a fellow of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), of which he was elected president, and to several other executive positions.
  • Wallace Rayfield (1874–1941) was the second formally educated practicing African-American architect in the USA.
  • Hilyard Robinson (1899–1986) is best known for the design of the Langston Terrace Dwellings, built in 1936. Robinson also designed the Army training base of the infamous Tuskegee Airmen.
  • Vertner Woodson Tandy (1885–1949) was the first African-American architect licensed by New York.
  • Robert R. Taylor was the first African American admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Architecture and the only African American among 19 first-year students in the architecture atelier of the first school of architecture in the United States. In 1892, he became the first African American to earn a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from MIT ("African American Architects – A Biographical Dictionary 1865–1945).


  1. ^ a b Fazzare, Elizabeth (2020-08-06). "15 Architects On Being Black In Architecture". Cultured Magazine. Archived from the original on 2020-09-27. Retrieved 2021-02-24.
  2. ^ a b Clarke, Camille A. (2005). Wilson, Dreck Spurlock (ed.). "Black Pioneers in the Field of Architecture". The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (50): 114–115. ISSN 1077-3711. JSTOR 25073391.
  3. ^ a b Slessor, Catherine (2018). "Finally Seeing Beyond the Lone Male Genius". Architects' Journal. 245: 56.
  4. ^ Jonathan E. Farnham, Ph.D., "Julian F. Abele (1881–1950)" in Celebrating 75 Years on the Parkway: The Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Free Library of Philadelphia, 2002), pp. 22-23.
  5. ^ "Abele, Julian Francis (1881–1950) -- Philadelphia Architects and Buildings". Retrieved 2018-10-20.
  6. ^ David B. Brownlee, Ph.D., Making a Modern Classic: The Architecture of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1997), pp. 68-69.
  7. ^ Julian Abele biography at Duke University
  8. ^ "Out of the Shadows". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2019-10-15.
  9. ^ a b c Huang, Elisa. "Remembering Paul R. Williams, Pioneering Architect". USC News. Retrieved 2019-10-15.
  10. ^ a b c d "Barrier-Breaking African American Architects We Should Be Celebrating". Architectural Digest. 21 February 2019. Retrieved 2019-10-15.
  11. ^ "2020 NBTN Demographics". 18 May 2020.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "2020 NBTN Demographics". 18 May 2020.
  14. ^ "2020 NBTN State of Licensure". 18 May 2020.
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Riding the Vortex".
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ "The First 500 Project with Tiara Hughes of NOMA (Transcript) - EntreArchitect // Small Firm Entrepreneur Architects -". Entrearchitect // Small Firm Entrepreneur Architects. 5 June 2018.
  20. ^ "Pascale Sablan | BEYOND THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT".
  21. ^ a b c Wilson, Dreck Spurlock (2004-01-01). African American architects: a biographical dictionary, 1865–1945. New York: Routledge. pp. 72. ISBN 0-415-92959-8.
  22. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-07-06. Retrieved 2018-10-20.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ "Overview".
  24. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2018-10-20.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  25. ^ Spurlock Wilson, Dreck (2004). African-American architects : a biographical dictionary, 1865-1945. Wilson, Dreck Spurlock. New York: Routledge. pp. 267. ISBN 0203493125. OCLC 60712152.
  • Directory of African American Architects - [1]
  • African American Architects - A Biographical Dictionary 1865 - 1945 by Wilson, Drek Spulock (2004).ISBN 0-415-92959-8
  • "Still Here" by Max Bond – Harvard Design Magazine, Summer 1997, Number 2 [2]
  • Architecture Race Academe – The Black Architect's Journey [3]
  • "Black Architects: embracing and defining culture" by Kimberly Davis, Ebony Magazine, 2005 [4]
  • The Crisis of the African American Architect: Conflicting Cultures of Architecture and (Black) Power by Melvin Mitchell (2002) ISBN 978-0-595-24326-6
  • African American Registry - [5]
  • "Top Women Architects", Ebony Magazine, 1995 [6]
  • "Top 10 Black American Architects" from Jackie Craven, Architecture [7]

Further reading[edit]

  • Bengali, Shashank. "Williams the Conqueror." [8]
  • Howard University Moorland-Spingarn Research Center's "Archive of African American Architects" (the largest archival repository with information on African American Architects).
  • Hudson, Karen E. Paul R. Williams, Architect: A Legacy of Style. Rizzoli International Publications, 1993. ISBN 978-0-8478-2242-3
  • "Is there a Black Architect in the house?" [video] [9]
  • Kiisk, Linda. "20 on 20/20 vision: Perspectives on Diversity and Design." 2003 [10]
  • Kilment, Stephen A. "Young African American Women Architects sharpen ties to their communities." 2007. [11]
  • Landmark, Ted. "Isolation and Diversity in Architecture" [12]
  • Mitchell, Melissa. "Research project spotlights African American Architects from University of Illinois." 2006. [13]
  • Tillman, Zoe. "For a historic Penn grad, a murky legacy." Daily Pennsylvanian [14]
  • Van Ness, Cynthia. Buffalo's First Professional African-American Architect: Some Preliminary Findings. c2001.
  • Williams, Paul R. The Will and the Way: Paul R. Williams, Architect. Rizzoli International Publications, 1994. ISBN 978-0-8478-1780-1