African-American architects

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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. The 1800s-1900s were a hateful period towards African Americans with 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.

The Directory of African American Architects [1] 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% of all licensed architects (113,000) and African American women represent approximately 0.3%. There are several organizations and initiatives focused on increasing representation including the National Organization of Minority Architects [2], Riding the Vortex [3], 400 FORWARD [4], Hip Hop Architecture [5], The First 500 Project [6], Beyond the Built [7] and many others.

African American Men Architects of the 19th and 20th Centuries[edit]

Some architects like Julian Francis Abele, 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[8]. This resulted in many African American architects working on a design for a project, but losing credit for their work[8]. Both African American men and women dealt with similar issues regarding race. However, African American women in the mid-1800 to 1900s had to deal with discrimination based on sex as well[9].

Julian Francis Abele[edit]

Julian Francis Abele graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate school of fine art, where he studied architecture[10]. Abele was the main designer of Duke University’s west campus. Abele also helped design the Widener Memorial Library at Harvard, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art[10]. Abele received credit for his contribution to Duke in documents, but it was not made public at the time that he played a significant role[10].

Paul Revere Williams[edit]

Paul Revere Williams was raised in the Los Angeles area where he attended school[11]. After Graduating from high school, Williams attended the Los Angeles School of Art and eventually studied at USC. Williams then worked for established firms ran 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 to join the AIA (American Institute of Architects) and the first black person to become a fellow of the AIA[11]. 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[11].

African American Women Architects of the 19th and 20th Centuries[edit]

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[9]. 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[9]. She graduated from Columbia and worked for the architecture firms: SOM and Gruen and Associates[9]. She also was the first black woman to join the AIA (American Institute of Architects)[9]. Sklarek collaborated with Cesar Pelli on projects that include the Pacific Design Center and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo[9].

Beverly Loraine Greene[edit]

Beverly Loraine Greene was the first black woman to become a licensed architect in the US[12]. She was based out of Illinois, and started her practice in Chicago [12]. She struggled to be noticed because of her race [12]. Greene went on to work on international projects such as UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and designed buildings for NYU [12].

African American Architects of the 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. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards estimates that, at the end of 2013 there were 105,847 licensed architects in the United States.[13] Of these, 2,006, or about 2%, are self-identified as African American, and listed in the Directory of African American Architects; only 343 of these are African American women.[14]

Additional African American Women Architects[edit]

  • Danita M. Brown, in 1990 became the first African American woman licensed to practice architecture in North Carolina and is one of the first African American women to graduate from Clemson University School of Architecture program earning her Bachelor of Design and Master of Architecture degrees in 1983 and 1987, respectively. She formed Danita M. Brown Architect, Inc. in 1997 in Atlanta, Georgia where she currently practices.
  • Georgia Louise Harris Brown is considered to be the second African American woman to become a licensed architect in the United States.[15] who worked in Chicago and Brazil with Mies.
  • Alma Carlisle was an LA based preservationist in the mid-20th century.
  • Donna Carter, sole proprietor of Carter Design Associates, located in Austin, TX, a multi-disciplined architectural and planning firm.
  • Donna Criner, partner and co-founder (with her husband, Robert C. deJohgh) of deJongh Associates, Architects & Planners, located in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.
  • Alberta Jeannette Cassell is one of the first two African American women to graduate from Cornell University in 1948, along with Martha Cassell Thompson.[15] She became a naval architect with the United States Naval Sea Systems Command between in the 1970s.
  • Robyn M. Fleming, founder and principal of RMF Bryant Architects, located in Brooklyn, New York (founded in 1991).
  • Lynda Haith R.A. is the First Black Female graduate of Lawrence Institute of Technology and the first Black woman licensed to practice architecture in the State of Michigan. Employed in the profession of architecture since 1967, Haith has held positions in every capacity of the profession and set her mark as a pioneer in the field of architecture throughout her career.
  • Beverly K. Hannah, founder and CEO of Hannah & Associates, Inc., an Architecture and interior design firm based in Detroit MI.
  • Patricia Harris, in 1994 became one of the first African American woman licensed to practice Architecture in North Carolina and is one of the first 30 African American woman to licensed to practice Architecture in the United States. Patricia Harris received her Masters of Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1986.[16]
  • Nicole Hollant-Denis, founder and principal of AARRIS Architects, located in New York, NY, Architects of the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York, NY. AARRIS Architects provides full architectural services.
  • Laurette M. LeGendre-Purse, President of Legendre-Purse Architects, PC located in White Plains NY.
  • Ivenue Love-Stanley, co-principal (with her husband William J. Stanley III) of the Atlanta-based firm, Stanley, Love-Stanley, PC.
  • Cheryl L. McAfee, President of Charles F. McAfee, FAIA, NOMA, PA, Architecture, Engineering Planning and Interiors
  • Robert P. Madison, FAIA, founder of Robert P. Madison, International, is the first African American to graduate from Western Reserve University
  • Helen Eugenia Parker designed Trinity Hospital in Detroit.
  • Zevilla Jackson Preston, R.A., principal of J-P Design, Inc. a Harlem-based full service architectural firm founded in 1993.
  • Michaele Pride-Wells, sole proprietor of RE: Architecture, in Marina del Rey, CA
  • Kathryn Tyler Prigmore, was the 16th African American woman to become licensed in the United States and the 5th to be elevated to Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. She holds dual Bachelor of Science in Building Science and Bachelor of Architecture degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Master of Science in Engineering from The Catholic University of America. For a number of years she both practiced and taught in the Howard University School of Architecture and Planning and between 1992 and 1998, held the position of Associate Dean.
  • Herminie E. Ricketts, founder of HER Architects, Inc located in Coral Gables, FL (founded in 1986).
  • Martha Cassell Thompson is one of the first two African American women to graduate from Cornell University in 1948, along with Alberta Jeannette Cassell.[15] She was the chief restoration architect for the National Cathedral.
  • Roberta Washington, founder of Roberta Washington Architects, PC. located in New York City, a full architectural design and planning services
  • Allison Williams, FAIA, LEED AP, Vice President, Design Director—US West, of AECOM, located in San Francisco, CA.

Additional African American Men Architects[edit]

  • Julian Francis Abele (1881–1950) 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.[17][18] 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.[19] It was not until after Trumbauer's death that Abele signed his architectural drawings, or claimed credit for designing buildings at Duke University in North Carolina.[20]
  • 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.[21]
  • Vernell Edwin Barnes, on October 15, 1981, became the first licensed African American Architect in the State of Mississippi. In 1975, he became the first African-American to graduate from the School of Architecture at Auburn University.
  • 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 on Fine Arts and in 1970, he co-founded the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), (along with 12 other black architects).[22]
  • Henry Beard Delany (1858–1928) taught at St. Augustine College from 1885–1908 and designed several buildings there.
  • Darrell A. Fitzgerald (a protege of John S. Chase), in 1992, became the first African American Architect elected to the College of Fellows in Texas, since John S. Chase.
  • 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)
  • Moses McKissack III (1879–1952) and Calvin Lunsford McKissack (1890–1968) established McKissack & McKissack in 1905, the first African-American architecture firm in the United States.
  • 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.[23] 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).
  • Paul Revere Williams, in 1921, became the first African American Architect west of the Mississippi. He served on the first Los Angeles City Planning Commission in 1920 and was the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) joining the Southern California Chapter in 1923. In 1957, Paul R. Williams became the first African American to be voted an AIA Fellow.
  • William Joseph Clement (1935 - 2019) was the first African-American architect licensed by South Carolina. William graduated Magna Cumme Laude at Howard University and later became vice president at H.A. DeCosta Construction in Charleston, SC.


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  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Slessor, Catherine (2018). "Finally Seeing Beyond the Lone Male Genius". Architect's Journal. 245: 56.
  10. ^ a b c "Out of the Shadows". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2019-10-15.
  11. ^ a b c Huang, Elisa. "Remembering Paul R. Williams, Pioneering Architect". USC News. Retrieved 2019-10-15.
  12. ^ a b c d Nast, Condé. "Barrier-Breaking African American Architects We Should Be Celebrating". Architectural Digest. Retrieved 2019-10-15.
  13. ^ NCARB's 2013 Survey of Registered Architects Archived 2014-02-09 at the Wayback Machine, National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, 2013-12-30. Accessed 2015-11-08.
  14. ^ The Directory of African American Architects states as of November 8, 2015, that their database lists 2,006 current licensed African American architects, and gives a breakdown of 1,633 men and 343 women.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2011-11-23.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "Abele, Julian Francis (1881–1950) -- Philadelphia Architects and Buildings". Retrieved 2018-10-20.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Julian Abele biography at Duke University
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-07-06. Retrieved 2018-10-20.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  22. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2018-10-20.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ Spurlock Wilson, Dreck (2004). African-American architects : a biographical dictionary, 1865-1945. Wilson, Dreck Spurlock. New York: Routledge. p. 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