Celebrating Black Architects
Earlier this year, Sweet Blackberry shared the barriers African Americans had to cross to receive an adequate education. But once, that education was received, there were still rules in place barring Black people from jobs regardless of their talent. Architecture was one of those professions.
Still today, African American architects make up only 2% of all licensed architects in the U.S. African American women make up 0.3%. This month, Sweet Blackberry would like to celebrate these pioneers by highlighting their achievements. You may also read more about the impact racism has, and continues to have, on this profession here
Norma Sklarek overcame racism and sexism to become the first Black woman member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1959, the first licensed Black woman architect in California in 1962 and the first Black woman fellow of AIA in 1980. Her career highlights include the Pacific Design Center and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
John Chase was one of the first two African Americans to enroll in the University of Texas at Austin architecture program. He went on to become the first Black architect to be licensed in Texas. Some of his most well-known projects include Riverside National Bank - the first Black-owned banking institution in the state of Texas, the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia and the MLK Jr. School of Humanities at Texas Southern University. Chase co-founded the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) in 1971.
Paul Williams designed over 2,000 homes in his more than 50-year career including designing homes of Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra. He played a major role in shaping Southern California's signature architectural style and was a part of the LAX Theme Building planning and design team. Williams became the first Black member of AIA and was posthumously awarded the AIA Gold Medal.
Robert Taylor was the first academically trained Black architect and first Black graduate of MIT. He also lead the industrial program and campus expansion of Tuskegee Institute and the home of friend Booker T. Washington.
John Mountoussamy designed the headquarters for Ebony and Jet magazines. Today, it remains the only downtown Chicago tower designed by an African American.
Moses McKissack III is a part of the nation's first Black-owned architecture firm. Most recently, the firm is known for its design and construction management of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, designed by British architect David Adjaye.
Walter Bailey was the first African American graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and went on to become the first licensed African American architect in the state. Bailey's last major project was the now-landmarked First Church of Deliverance in Chicago.
Vertner Tandy was the first Black architect registered in New York state, where his landmarked structures include the 1910 St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Harlem. He also designed 1918 Villa Lewaro for self-made millionaire Madam C.J. Walker. Tandy was also a founding member of the oldest Black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha.