15 African-American Architects Who Blazed the Trail for Minority Architects Today

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Hotel & Hospitality Renovation Insights
Cassandra Soto
Brand & Marketing Strategist

February 19, 2019

Prior to the American Civil War, African American citizens with expertise and skills in building and engineering had no choice but to work as slaves. Over time, they passed their acumen to their next generations, enabling them to pick up architecture as a viable career option. Despite this, around the Great Depression area, only 60 registered architects were of African-American descent. The situation improved greatly over the years, but there is still a lingering feeling that black architects don’t get the respect they are due.

This Black History Month, let’s celebrate the work of 15 African-American architects who have blazed the trail for minority architects today despite the many obstacles that stood in front of them.:

Robert Robinson Taylor (1868–1942)

With an MIT education, Taylor played a significant role in building the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. His first project paved the way for future success, a home for aging veterans. Today, a postal stamp commemorates the legacy of this great man.

Wallace A. Rayfield (1873–1941)

During his student years, Rayfield became part of the faculty at the Tuskegee Institute, working with Robert Robinson Taylor to groom Black architects. Among his notable projects is the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

William Sidney Pittman (1875–1958)

The first Black architect to work in Texas, Pittman created a number of important structures in Washington, D.C. Pittman also received the first-ever federal contract given to a black architect. Unfortunately, lacking recognition for his work during his lifetime, he died penniless.

Moses McKissack III (1879–1952)

Moses and his brother Calvin set up an architectural firm in 1905, one of the earliest companies in the profession owned by African-Americans. Over the years, the company grew to work on thousands of projects, furthering the legacy of Moses McKissack III.

Julian Abele (1881–1950)

In 1902, Abele graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, the first black graduate in architecture. Considered an important architect during his time, Abele refused to sign his work and did not receive any recognition.

Clarence W. (“Cap”) Wigington (1883–1967)

“Cap” became the first municipal architect of African-American descent in the nation, and the first black architect working in Minnesota. His work contributed majorly to the design and architecture of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Vertner Woodson Tandy (1885–1949)

Vertner is known for his “firsts,” securing his place in African-American history: The first Black architect to operate in New York.  The first Black man to clear the commission exam for the military. The first black architect to become a member of the AIA.

John E. Brent (1889–1962)

Brent registered as the first Black architect in Buffalo, New York. His most notable project is the Michigan Avenue YMCA in Buffalo, the building which served as a hub for the black community in the city.

Louis A. S. Bellinger (1891–1946)

Despite completing his Bachelor’s in Science, Bellinger became one of the foremost Black architects with a number of important buildings in Pennsylvania to his credit.

Paul R. Williams (1894–1980)

Williams’ work spans the length and breadth of Southern California, with notable designs including the LAX Theme Building at LAX. Moreover, he designed a large number of homes in Hollywood.

Albert Irvin Cassell (1895–1969)

Cassell’s works involved the designing and construction of several renowned educational institutions in the United States, including the Howard University in Washington D.C.

Norma Merrick Sklarek (1928–2012)

A true pioneer, Sklarek received a license for practicing architecture in New York and California; the first black woman to achieve both. Known for her architectural skills as well as her ability to manage big projects, she oversaw the building of Terminal 1 at LAX.

Robert T. Coles (1929–)

Mr. Coles is famous for his grand projects, including the Johnnie B. Wiley Sports Pavilion in Buffalo and the Frank Reeves Municipal Center in the capital city. His firm, which he founded in the 1960s, is one of the oldest black-owned architectural firms in the northeast.

J. Max Bond, Jr. (1935–2009)

Completing his education from Harvard, Bond Jr. faced racism during his time there. His professor also pushed him to quit architecture, citing the lack of well-known black architects. Interestingly, Bond Jr. managed to shatter that glass ceiling for good.

Harvey Gantt (1943–)

Serving as the Mayor of Charlotte, Gantt became an inspiration not just for young black architects but politicians as well. His admirers include President Barack Obama.

These fifteen brilliant architects provide infinite inspiration for minority architects today across the US, and perhaps even beyond. Triple Crown Construction is proud to provide a glimpse into their accomplishments.

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Cassandra Soto
Brand & Marketing Strategist

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About Triple Crown Construction:

Founded in 1991, Triple Crown Construction built a reputation for itself as a reliable partner in the hospitality and commercial construction industry by understanding and delivering on its partners’ expectations. Based in Frederick, Maryland, Triple Crown Construction strives to approach each and every project with the goal to deliver quality, service, and value, and is committed to raising the standard of excellence in all areas of its work. The company operates with a family mentality, a commitment to the greater community, and a desire to work with those who aim to improve their customers’ experience.

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