Clarence Wesley "Cap" Wigington (1883-1967) was an African-American architect who grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. After winning three first prizes in charcoal, pencil, and pen and ink at an art competition during the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in 1899, Wigington went on to become a renowned architect across the Midwestern United States. It was a time when there were few African-American architects in the entire United States. Wigington was the nation's first black municipal architect, serving as senior designer for the City of Saint Paul, Minnesota's architectural office for 34 years when the city had an ambitious building program. Sixty of his buildings still stand in Saint Paul, with several recognized on the National Register of Historic Places. His architectural legacy constitutes one of the most significant bodies of work by an African-American architect.
Diversity in architecture can be achieved, Sharon Sutton, PhD, FAIA, told 2006 Grassroots Leadership and Legislative Conference attendees in her February 9 keynote address. But despite many steps forward, she said it is clear that the profession and the society that it serves have not realized that potential. “Only through a candid and honest examination of the structural inequities embedded in our past and present can we move toward a brighter and more inclusive future,” Sutton said. “Our 150-year celebration demands no less than a fundamental metamorphosis.”
Culling evidence from four recent research studies, Sutton said, “In a nutshell, the field has made insufficient progress on diversity, has a white macho culture framed by educational experiences, engages in discriminatory employment practices, suffers from a glass-ceiling phenomenon and attrition, and socially isolates underrepresented individuals.” Sutton challenged the audience: “What is the relevance of these findings? Why should you as leaders in architecture who have spent your day hobnobbing with important politicians worry about these problems?”
Sutton had a ready answer: “Diversity in architecture is not only an ethical imperative, it is vital to the continued creativity, competitiveness, and survival of the field.”
While some African-American architects feel that they are straddling the fault line of the racial divide, Philip Freelon, founding partner of The Freelon Group, embraces the notion of working and competing within the mainstream architecture profession. He believes that the vocabulary and palette of contemporary American architecture is rich enough to allow for the appropriate interpretation of most building programs. Freelon chooses to address his client’s desires for “appropriate” solutions as he applies Modern design principles.
Freelon’s parents and grandparents were well-educated and gave him a deep appreciation of Modern design. His own education was at Hampton, N.C. State, MIT, and the Harvard GSD, where he was a Loeb Fellow.
In his first 12 years in practice, he was an associate at 3D/I and, at O’Brien/Atkins Associates in Research Triangle Park, N.C. vice president of architecture and the youngest shareholder. With his own firm, he has received 23 AIA design awards at the regional, state and local levels.
When clients visit his offices in the Research Triangle Park, NC, they see the diversity. He presently has a combined staff of 51; 30 percent are people of color. While Freelon concedes he has been more fortunate than many African-American architects regarding commissions from corporate clients, much of the firm’s work still comes from the public sector, and that trying to do innovative work on a limited budget is a challenge.
Freelon incorporates African images or symbolism on buildings, only where appropriate, he says: “My roots are in Africa and the branches and leaves grew in America.” He uses jazz as a comparison, where the use of instruments was reconceived to express freedom and creativity.
Jacksonville's first known black architect, R. L. Brown, was born in poverty in 1854 in South Carolina. By the close of the Civil War, he had moved with his family to Florida, settling first in Lake City and then in Jacksonville. He learned to read and write at an early age, and his first job was at a printing company. After his marriage in 1875, this thrifty and talented man worked at several additional occupations, including carpenter, farmer, and minister. Brown was able to purchase several acres of land in East Jacksonville, including the site of the school that now bears his name. He served two terms in the Florida House of Representatives from 1881 to 1884. Employed for many years by the Duval County School Board to repair and construct schools, he became quite proficient at the building trade. One of his notable achievements was serving as contractor for Centennial Hall at Edward Waters College. Although he had no formal architectural training, by 1920 he was designing as well as constructing buildings and listing himself as an architect.
The May 6, 2004 report by the AIA National Associates Committee (NAC) on "Diversity in the Architecture Profession."
The AIA National Associates Committee (NAC), representing the associate members of the Institute, believes that diversity in the field of architecture is a topic that must be seriously addressed at all levels of the profession. To this end, we encourage discussion, thought, and action in the schools of architecture, in architecture firms, at all levels of the AIA, and among individual architects, both in traditional and nontraditional roles, to help move us forward in an increasingly diverse direction.
For the full report see http://www.aia.org/SiteObjects/files/NACDiversityWhitePaper.pdf
Walter T. Bailey (1882-1941) became the first African-American to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Engineering at UIUC in 1904 (Fig. 3). In 1910 he received an honorary Master’s Degree in architecture from UIUC. Bailey hailed from Kewanee, Illinois, where he attended Kewanee High School. He arrived on campus in 1900. Following his graduation, he worked briefly for Harry Eckland, an architect in Kewanee, and for Spencer & Temple, an architectural firm in Champaign. During that time he assisted in planning Colonel Wolfe School in Champaign (1905). That same year, he was appointed Head of the Mechanical Industries Department at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, where he also supervised the planning, design, and construction supervision of all new campus buildings. While at Tuskegee he designed White Hall (1908), a girls’ dormitory, as well as two churches in Montgomery, Alabama (1910, 1912). He remained at Tuskegee until 1916 when he opened an office on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, a street nicknamed “a main street of Negro America.”
The Knights of Pythian, a large national fraternal order of African-Americans formed in the post-Civil War era, comprised a significant clientele for Bailey. It provided programs for recreation, racial and social advancement, life insurance, and death benefits; as well as aid to the sick, persons with disabilities, elderly, orphans, and widows. During Bailey’s career in Memphis, he designed the Mosaic State Temple Building (1922) and the Pythian Theater Building (1922-23), both in Little Rock, Arkansas. He also designed the Pythian Bath House and Sanitarium in Hot Springs, Arkansas (1923), a recreational facility exclusively for African-Americans (Figs. 4-5). Ironically, although many African-Americans served as laborers in Hot Springs’ elaborate bath houses, they were prohibited from using them. The Pythian Bath House provided a respite from the oppressive world of Jim Crowe.
In 1924 Bailey moved his practice to Chicago, site of two of his major projects: The National Pythian Temple (1927), and the First Church of Deliverance (1939). Both served as icons of African-American achievement and power on Chicago’s South Side, a region then commonly referred to as Bronzeville or Black Metropolis and a destination for those escaping the South during the Great Migration. When it was completed, the National Pythian Temple, an eight-story building with a steel frame, yellow brick facing, and decorative terra cotta reliefs, was one of the tallest buildings in the area. It provided an auditorium for large gatherings, commercial and office space for African-American businesses, as well as residential apartment units. Bailey’s design for the First Church of Deliverance expansion, also on Chicago’s South Side, became an Art Moderne landmark. The church was known for its gospel music and radio broadcast ministries, and its architectural style was a reflection of these new religious mediums. In response to its radio broadcasts, the congregation swelled and needed expansion.
Bailey died of pneumonia in 1941. Although his work was overlooked for decades, he was rediscovered as the subject of a 2002 Masters’ thesis as well as one of two UIUC African-American architecture alumni featured in the 2004 publication, African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary 1865-1945 .
Bey, Lee, “Black Designer All But Forgotten,” Chicago Sun-Times (February 9, 1998), p. D13.
Kriz, Mikael David. Walter T. Bailey and the African American Patron. Master’s Thesis, Art History Program, School of Art and Design, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2002.
Lee, George Washington. “Poetic Memories of Beale Street,” West Tennessee Historical Society Papers 28 (1969), p. 65.
In a sea of white faces, John Saunders Chase waited patiently amid the stares and glares of the swarm of humanity surrounding him. Cameras flashed as reporters hurled questions at him and jotted down his responses.
It was June 7, 1950. Chase, an African American, was smartly dressed in a double-breasted coat and tie, as he stood in line in Gregory Gym at The University of Texas at Austin. Only vaguely aware of the name Heman Marion Sweatt, Chase wasn’t standing in line with the intention of making history. Nor was he purposefully making a statement about social injustice. He, like the thousands of other students in the gym, waited in line for a basic rite of passage on a university campus. He was waiting to enroll.
Just two days prior, the United States Supreme Court had ruled in favor of desegregation in three separate civil rights cases. Two of the cases, McLaurin v. Oklahoma State and Henderson v. United States, focused on banning separate facilities at a university and prohibiting segregated seating arrangements on railroad cars, respectively.
The third case, Sweatt v. Painter, concerned equal education opportunities—specifically, the right of African Americans to enroll in the School of Law at The University of Texas at Austin. The court voted in favor of desegregation of graduate and professional schools (the undergraduate level did not desegregate until the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954) and The University of Texas at Austin became the first major public university in the south to open its doors to African Americans.
Chase, born in Annapolis, Md., was 25 years old at the time. Although nervous, he recalls being befuddled at the fanfare that greeted his arrival.
“I remember, specifically, a photographer who talked non-stop to me about making history and getting the ‘right moment’ on film,” Chase said. “He told me that I wasn’t officially accepted into the university until it became a ‘contract’—in other words, until the university took my money. He was right there next to me at that moment to snap a photo.”
Black Boxes: Enigmas of Space and Race was a two-day symposium on race and its role in the built environment that will be held Jan. 16 and 17 at the Yale School of Architecture in New Haven, Connecticut. The event was organized by Ms. Newsom, a second-year graduate student at the School.
An article by Jennifer Newsom is posted at http://www.metropolismag.com/cda/story.php?artid=63
The article closes with the following
The goal of Black Boxes is not to validate one opinion or put forth an ideological stance: it is simply to speak, reveal, and contribute verbally and openly. After all, we must acknowledge that what we make is not neutral. We must demystify the other and render difference commonplace rather than exotic. We must move beyond binaries, into a sort of enmeshed existence.
In order for us to fill the silence and surpass a cursory tokenism, we need to communicate. Black Boxes will provide the stage for this discussion. And it will continue to be an important discussion, for, as the scholar Cornel West notes, “the struggle with difference is what is and will be taking place in cultural architectural practices for the next 10, 20, 30 years.”
Craig Wilkins, PhD
University of Michigan College of Architecture + Urban Planning
Recently several choice, culturally specific museum commissions were awarded to equally choice, culturally specific architects. In and of itself, this is not unusual or even particularly noteworthy. Although choice commissions are not the most frequent of commissions awarded to architects, they come regularly enough to keep several professional magazines, critics, authors, and even a cultural institutions or two turning a profit. However, the recent commissions for the Museum of African American Music in Newark; the National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Va.; and the Museum for African Art in New York City are indeed noteworthy, primarily for two reasons. The first is that the material culture that authorizes these institutions is quintessentially African American, which as a raison d’etre for architecture is still rare, and the second is that the authors chosen to shape those culturally specific elements are still neither rare nor African American.
Despite the exchanges—or more accurately, lack thereof—emerging in architectural and African-American communities surrounding the recent awarding of the Museum of African American Music to the Hillier Group, the National Slavery Museum to Chien Chung Pei, and the Museum for African Art to Robert A.M. Stern, with the development of similar projects on the horizon, it is not unreasonable to expect at least the African-American community to grow concerned about these choices. It is also not unreasonable to expect the architectural community to remain unconcerned about the same. So, situated as I am in both the architectural and African American communities, I feel somewhat compelled to address the selection of architects charged with communicating African-American history, particularly since I see the awarding of these commissions going beyond a concern about a particular edifice and indicative of one much broader. That broader concern—which by the way, isn’t only a cultural one, but also a professional one as well—is centered on the fact that African-American architects, historically and presently, are routinely denied serious consideration for commissions of substantial size, scope, and symbolic importance.
Given this state of affairs, in the context of current and future projects designated to represent aspects of African-American life, art, history, and culture, I think it a worthwhile project not only to make visible this transparent condition, but also to examine reasons why these omissions persist. I submit they persist primary due to archaic conflations of race and ability and thus, I will take the opportunity presented by these commissions to look closer into the ways in which race subtly shapes the study and practice of architecture. For brevity’s sake, I’ll specifically concentrate on three of the most frequently provided and commonly accepted reasons for the dearth of African-American architects invited to compete for high profile projects: existence, experience, and aesthetics.
the full essay can be seen at
The Dresser Trunk Project is the recovery of lost stories, memories, and places of refuge for travelling black musicians playing in the Chitlinâ€™ Circuit during segregation. Inspired by the Cornell boxes, 11 participants designed trunks that each tells the story of a place of refuge in an era of segregation. This place may be a hotel, a residence, a club, a section of a train station or even a Negro League baseball park. The stories will include who passed through and how their experiences at that location may have influenced culture and music. All places are located in a city served by the Southern Crescent Line.
Eleven cities have been identified from New York to New Orleans. For each city, a dresser trunk was designed similar to those used by musicians on their travels. The trunks contain stories, photographs, maps, hotel registers, and images of the way places looked during their travels and speculations on their future. The trunks are planned to tour each of the eleven sites by train, as well as be exhibited in an Amtrak train car. Before the exhibition gets on its trail, it will be exhibited in Extension.
The Dresser Trunk Project is significant in its preservation of a unique cultural heritage that is being lost to the ravages of time and the pressures of development. It strives to link isolated places together in a chain that gives each their rightful place in architectural, music and cultural history.
Participants include Felecia Davis, Yolande Daniels, William Daryl Williams, Lisa Henry-Benham, Mabel Wilson, Mario Gooden, David Brown, Craig Barton, Scott Ruff, Nat Belcher and Walter Hood. The exhibit has traveled to the Extension Gallery for Architecture in Chicago, and the UVa Art Museum in Charlottesville. The DTP will be on display at Howard University during the annual NOMA convention, and at the University of Pennsylvania, November 10th-21st.
In June 2004, AIA Convention delegates resolved to strengthen the demographic diversity of the design profession, including “access to the profession and career advancement for minorities, women, and other groups.” Honoring that resolution, AIArchitect offers a series by renowned architecture author Stephen A. Kliment, FAIA. In this first installment, Kliment sets the stage for his upcoming examinations of trail-blazing African-American architects and their work.
Jack Travis, FAIA discusses personal experiences and influences while answering the YAF 150 at 150 Project questions. 1) How did you become the architect you are today? Jack relates his upbringing in Las Vegas, the impact of private school early on in his life, and how his experiences let him to architecture. 2) Who was your mentor? Jack lists his mentors and the phases of his career they fit into. He then challenges listeners to seek out mentors who are right for them. “Be bold and humble.” 3) What was your greatest challenge? Drawing. Jack explains his struggle with drawing and how he has worked to overcome it. It is clear that Jack Travis has committed himself to the development of youth and young architects.
Rarely do we allow much thought to seemingly generic labels such as "urban." Outside the cloistered world of architecture, "urban" has become a synonym for "Black and Latino" where it is used to describe things from fashion to music. Facing this reality is the explicit purview of The Office for Metropolitan Alternatives (Office/MA), a group founded by Paul Goodwin and John Oduroe to investigate how the aesthetics of Black Diasporic culture could influence and inspire architectural form making.
As the director of the Re-Visioning Black Urbanism at the Centre for Urban and Community Research (CUCR) at Goldsmiths College in London, Paul Goodwin explores how multiple modes of 'blackness' engage with the dynamics of contemporary urbanism in the UK. At one of his seminars, Paul met John Oduroe, a young architect in London on a Fulbright Scholarship.
It may appear that their project shares much in common with Teddy Cruz, who draws from the spatial strategies of border communities and shantytowns in order to build a more adaptive architecture. But then - Cruz doesn't exactly brand his research as "Latin urbanism." So is "Black urbanism" just a provocation, or do the spatial resistance strategies of urban black communities differ from other immigrant and diasporic communities?
A Snapshot of AIA Members (as of September 16, 2008)
14% licensed female architects
1% licensed African-American architects
4% licensed Asian architects
3% licensed Hispanic architects
33% of Associate AIA members are women
3% of Associate AIA members identify as African-American
8% of Associate AIA members identify as Asian
8% of Associate AIA members identify as Hispanic
2006 AIA Firm Survey
Women accounted for 16% of firm principals and partners, up from 12% in the 1999 AIA Firm Survey.
Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 8% of firm principals and partners, up from 6% in 1999.
Of licensed architects in firms, women accounted for 20%, up from 13% in 1999; racial and ethnic minorities accounted for over 11%, up from 8% in 1999.
A collection of 10 peer-reviewed and 10 invited essays on diversity in the design profession by interns, educators, senior practitioners and international designers.
Jack Travis, FAIA, is owner and principal of Jack Travis Architects, a firm that works to effect urban and environmental design concepts from a black perspective. Among his firm’s clients are Spike Lee, Wesley Snipes, and John Saunders of ABC Sports. In 1992, Travis edited African American Architects: In Current Practice, the first publication to profile the work of black architects practicing in the U.S. In 1994, he founded the Studio for Afri-Culturalism in Architecture and Design, a nonprofit organization that collects, documents, and disseminates information on African Americans and African-American culture. Travis is a professor at Pratt Institute and the Fashion Institute of Technology.