10 Black Architects You Should Know
Architecture plays an important role in everyday life, buildings are not just places in which we live or work but they stand as monuments for generations to come and have a profound effect on the landscape of the world. This is why it's so important that Black architects are not left behind and that their visions continue to be realised as a reminder that we exist! This list comprises a mixture of house-hold names along with some new comers who are using their platform to provide buildings and structures that the Black community will be proud be remembered by.
10. Yolande Daniels
Studio SUMO / USC
Yolande Daniels discovered architecture during a visit to Howard University to help her sister move into the engineering school, she saw the architecture school next door and upon visiting it discovered that she liked the way it mixed her all her interests; Art, maths and culture. After graduating Daniels worked mainly in small design firms until she co-founded studioSUMO with a Sunil Bald in 1995. StudioSUMO is based in Queens, New York but has an international portfolio of work, responsible for multiple projects in Japan such as the Mizuta Museum Of Art. She has also taught architecture consecutively since 1991 at various universities including MIT, Howard and NYU but now teaches at Parsons School of Design as a visiting associate professor in architecture.
9. Kunle Adeyemi
Opera / Iwan Baan
Adekunle Adeyemi was born and raised in Kaduna, Nigeria. His father father had a profound influence on Adeymei's love for architecture as he was architect himself and started one of the first indigenous architecture firms in Nigeria in the 1970s. It was because of this that Adeyemi had the amazing opportunity to design his first house, for a friend of his father, while he was just a teenager. Adeyemi went on to study architecture at the University of Lagos in Nigeria, graduating with his Bachelor as Best Graduate in 2005, and he later received a Post-Professional degree at Princeton University School of Architecture in New Jersey. Currently, Adeyemi runs his own architecture, design and urbanism practice called NLÉ (meaning "at home") which is located in Amsterdam. With his office NLÉ, Adeyemi focuses especially on the rapidly growing cities in developing countries, which is why he designed his most famous project to date, the Makoko Floating School Project.
8. John S. Chase
locus iste / Houston Chronicle
John Chase was born in Annapolis, Maryland in 1923. His mother was a teacher and his father a school principal but due to their separation he was primarily raised by his mother. In high school his teacher introduced him to architecture inspiring him to enrol in Hampton University to study architecture in 1948. After completing his bachelors degree he enrolled in and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, becoming the first African-Amercican to do so. Like many newly graduated Black architects he struggled to get work in an architecture firm due to it being a mainly white dominated industry so he decided to move to Houston and open his own firm. For nearly an entire decade Chase was the only licensed African-American architect in the state of Texas. He went on to build the Riverside National Bank, the first Black-owned bank in Texas and many other important buildings for the Black community such as churches, libraries and schools. His achievements didn't end just there as he also co-founded the National Organization of Minority Architects along with 12 other people.
7. Phil Freelon
Perkins + Will / Dezeen
Phil Freelon was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the 1950's, his father was a sales and marketing executive and his mother an educator but it was his grandfather, impressionist painter Allan Freelon, that spurred his creativity and love for visual arts and design. After finishing high school in Philadelphia, Freelon went to study environmental design at North Carolina State University with top honours which lead him to get his Master's at MIT in 1977. Freelon would then take up various educating job roles for the next 13 years until he founded his architecture firm in 1990, named The Freelon Group. Some of his projects included the Center for Civil & Human Rights, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture and the Museum of the African Diaspora but he is most notable achievement was his involvement in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in which he lead the design team.
6. Mariam Kamara
Maurice Ascani / Dezeen
Mariam Kamara was born in Niger, but left to study computer science in the US, she later retrained at the University of Washington in architecture. After graduating Kamara went on to become co-founder of United4design, a global collective of architects working on projects in USA, Afghanistan and Niger. Later she set up Atelier Masōmī, an architecture and research firm that designs a wide variety of public, cultural, residential, commercial and urban design projects. Kamara had already achieved so much in such a short amount of time but it was in 2018 when she received the unique opportunity to enter the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative that she would receive life changing recognition. This is two year program pairs emerging talent with leaders in their chosen field and so she began working along side architect David Adjaye. This mentorship allowed her to realize her dream of designing an arts center in Niamey, Niger.
5. Max Bond Jr.
Harvard / Davis Brody Bond
Max Bond Jr. was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1935, his family life was enriched with many well educated members, his father was President of the University of Liberia, his uncle was a Historian, his cousin was a civil-rights leader and his brother was a Professor at Columbia University. Bond Jr became fascinated with architecture after seeing a stair case at the Tuskegee Institute and North African style of the buildings in Tunisia which lead him to study architecture at Harvard University. He was 1 of 11 African-American students that were targeted by a cross burning in front of their dormitory, afterwards he was advised by a faculty member to retire his studies. He refused and was with awarded a bachelor's degree in 1955 and 3 years later he earned his master's degree. Together with Donald P. Ryder he founded the architectural firm of Bond Ryder & Associates, who designed some vital buildings for the Black community such as Martin Luther King Jr. Center, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and the Harlem's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
4. Norma Sklarek
Sah Archipedia/ Gruen Associates
Born in Harlem, New York in the 1920's to parents who were of Caribbean heritage, Norma Skarlek from a young age was closer to her father, who worked as a Doctor. He would teach her hands-on activities, mathematics and science which she then excelled at during high school, subsequently fuelling her interest in architecture. Sklarek enrolled at Columbia University to study architecture however this was not an enjoyable experience for her as she struggled to fit in with her predominantly white classmates. Not being deterred, Slarek put her isolation to good use by working outside the classroom setting which resulted in her achieving her bachelors degree. Unfortunately given the climate in the early 50's she struggled as a Black woman to find a job in an architecture firm and settled with job at the New York Department of Public Works. Four years passed and feeling unfulfilled within her job role due to the tedious tasks she was assigned, Slarek decided to take her architecture examination and after passing she became the first African-American woman to be a licensed Architect in New York.
3. Diébédo Francis Kéré
Gili Merin / Dezeen
Diébédo Kéré was born in the village of Gando, Burkina Faso in which his father was the chief. He was the first child in his village to go to school but as there were none in the village he was sent to live with his uncle in the city at the young age of 7. After his education he became a carpenter and during this time he received a scholarship to do an apprenticeship in Germany as a supervisor in development aid. This gave him the opportunity to enrol in the Technical University of Berlin and study architecture. Kéré felt a sense responsibility and duty to give back to the community that had supported in him his goals, so he set up the Kéré Foundation e.V to fund a primary school in his village. Once he had finished his studies he continued to build buildings in Gando, these included a school extension, library, teacher's housing, Mango Tree Project and a secondary school completely transforming his home village from one with not much opportunity to now one with plenty.
2. David Adjaye
Dror Baldinger / Time
Britain's most famous Black architect David Adjaye was born originally in Tanzania, but is of Ghanaian decent. His father was a Ghanian diplomat which meant he moved around a lot, living in Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon before settling in the Uk at the age of 9. Adjaye would go on to earn a bachelors degree in architecture at Southbank university and then his masters at the Royal College of Art in 1993. In the same year he won the RIBA Bronze Medal for the best design project produced at BA level worldwide. He started out his career designing mainly residential buildings with some notable clients such as Chris Ofili and Lorna Simpson. It was then in the early 2000's he got the opportunity to work on buildings of larger scale such as the idea store and the Nobel Peace Center. Adjaye's career went from strength to strength and he has since built buildings all over the world, most famously is his involvement in the National Museum of African American History in which he was selected lead architect.
1. Paul Revere Williams
Getty Images / Dwell
Paul R. Williams was born in Los Angeles, California in the late 19th century, to a middle class family from Memphis. They moved to LA to start a fruit business but were unsuccessful and 2 years after Paul was born his father sadly died from tuberculosis and later his mother did too. These unfortunate series of events caused Williams to be adopted by a man named C.I. Clarkson and his wife. Misfortune did not hinder his ambition as he began to study at Los Angeles School of Art and Design and then onto at the University of Southern California, where he earned his degree in study architectural engineering. After winning an architectural competition at age 25, he then 3 years later opened his own office. Williams would go on to have a career that some architects could only dream of. He designed many houses for famous people such as Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and many iconic public buildings such as the Theme Building and La Concha Motel.