Celebrating Black Architects
After sharing some images of David Adjaye’s buildings last week, we thought we’d keep writing about Black Architects. Unfortunately, we haven’t had the opportunity to photograph their buildings, but we’ll share some of their history and achievements.
Beverly Loraine Greene
Born in 1915, Beverly Lorraine Greene became the first black woman licensed as an architect in the United States in 1942. She started her career at the Chicago Housing Authority before moving to New York City to find better opportunities, as she was met with a lot of adversity in Chicago. In New York City, she worked on the Stuyvesant Town housing project which, in 1945, didn’t allow Blacks to live in its apartments. Later on, she worked with renowned modernist architects, including Edward Durell Stone on the Sarah Lawrence College arts complex and Marcel Breuer on the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.
Norma Merrick Sklarek
Norma Merrick Sklarek was the first major black woman architect in the U.S. After graduating from Columbia, she applied to, and was rejected by 19 architectural firms. While working as a draftsperson at the City of New York Department of Public Works, she passed the architectural licensing exam and became the first licensed black woman in the state of New York in 1954. A year later, she started working at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, where she designed large-scale projects. In 1958, she became the first black woman member of the American Institute of Architecture (AIA).
In 1960, she started working for Gruen in Los Angeles where she ultimately became Director of Architecture. She then became a vice-president at Welton Becket Associates, before becoming the first person of color to co-own an architectural practice, Siegel Sklarek Diamond, in 1985. Her projects include Terminal One at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the Pacific Design Center, the San Bernardino City Hall, the US Embassy in Tokyo, and the Mall of America.
She explains the discrimination she faced: “The schools had a quota and it was obvious, a quota against women and a quota against blacks. In architecture, I absolutely had no role model. I am happy today to be a role model for others that follow.”
Paul Revere Williams
Born in 1894, Paul Revere Williams became a licensed architect in California in 1921. Two years later, he was the first black member of the AIA. He trained at multiple prominent Los Angeles firms before opening his own practice. He began his career by working on both affordable housing and large homes for the Hollywood elite. He became known as the “architects to the stars”, having clients like Bert Lehr, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra and Barron Hilton. Some of his large-scale works include Saks Fifth Avenue, the Palm Springs Tennis Club, La Concha Motel, LAX Theme Building (pictured below), and the Mutual Life Insurance Building.
Despite his talent, he had to navigate many barriers, including learning to draw upside down because many white clients were uncomfortable sitting next to him. He was posthumously awarded the AIA’s highest honor, the Gold Medal.
But let’s not forget contemporary architects. Allison Williams is currently a Design Director at AECOM. She has worked on many major projects and at some of the world’s most prominent firms, including Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Perkins & Will. Her projects include the August Wilson Center, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Computational Research Facility, the international terminal at San Francisco International Airport, and CREATE at the National University of Singapore. She currently serves as a member of the Harvard Graduate School of Design Visiting Committee for Harvard’s Board of Overseers, the Harvard Design Magazine Practitioners Advisory Board, and the Board of Directors for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.
Born in Burkina Faso, Francis Kéré studied at the Technical University of Berlin. In 2005, he founded his architectural practice, Kéré Architecture, which has designed projects in many countries, including Burkina Faso, Mali, Germany, the United States, Kenya, and Uganda. He received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2004 for his first building, the Gando Primary School in Burkina Faso. His projects include the Burkina Faso National Assembly, the Lycée Schorge Secondary School, the Léo Surgical Clinic & Health Centre, the 2017 Serpentine Pavilion and Xylem. He also teaches at TU München, at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and at Yale University.