Architecture is key to creating a sense of the environment and belonging, and can also signal either great aspiration or a bleak usage of available land. How structures blend into the natural geography is equally as important as how tall and imposing they might be. Chicago-based Frank Lloyd Wright continues to be one of America’s most notable architects, signaled by the variety of preserved structures of his design around the country – Martin House in Buffalo NY, Robe House and multiple other structures in Chicago, Falling Water in Pennsylvania, and even a few private homes in the Seattle-area. But a plethora of Black architects have also contributed to the structural landscape in America yet have gone mostly unnoticed and certainly uncelebrated.
Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye has designed a number of notable buildings around the world including the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, DC. His creations have brought attention to the mastery of the architectural craft by designers of African descent. We previously wrote about his project to design 101 hospitals in Ghana here. There are many others.
Moses McKissick III and his brother Calvin, the great-great-grandsons of Moses McKissick, an enslaved African, formed the first Black-owned architectural firm in the US and designed the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, and the Carnegie Library at Fisk University, both in Tennessee. In fact, the entire McKissick family has been involved in architecture, contracting, and design, since before the Civil War!
Beverly Lorraine Greene, at 27 years old, became the first Black woman licensed to practice architecture and worked on the Stuyvesant Town housing project, where no African Americans were permitted to reside. Paul Williams was “architect to the stars” and designed the crescent wing of the Beverly Hills Hotel. And University of Washington graduate Mariam Issoufou Kamara is a founding member of united4design, an international collective of architects working on projects in the US, Afghanistan, and Niger. The stories of these and other African American architects can be found in a recent edition of Dirt.
In February 2019, Seattle Curbed featured a group of buildings in Seattle designed by Black architects Ben McAdoo, Mel Streeter, Don King, Rico Quirindongo, Leon Bridges, and Susan Friesen.
African and African American design and aesthetics are present in numerous structures all around us, we just need to take a deeper look.