Honoring Black History Month: Architects & Designers

During the month of February we'd like to honor trailblazing African American Architects and Designers, the pioneering men and women who have paved the way, as the first in their field, and pay homage during Black History Month.

Paul Revere Williams {1894 - 1980}

In a career spanning almost six decades, Williams designed more than 3,000 structures and mastered a range of architectural styles. 

He broke racial barriers, becoming the first African American member (and later, Fellow) of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), as well as a civic leader.

The Los Angeles native was the first Black person ever to be inducted into the American Institute of Architects.

The unique style of a Paul R. Williams home soon earned him the nickname “architect to the stars.” Among his clientele are such Hollywood greats as Lucille Ball, Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra.

Photo by PBS

At the Beverly Hills Hotel, Williams designed the iconic Polo Lounge, the Crescent Wing and the Pink Palace's signature loopy signage. He also chose the colors — pink and green — that would signify the ultimate in service to its pampered guests for a century.  He also designed the Paul Williams Suite, named in his honor.

The Paul Williams Suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel | Photo by The Beverly Hills Hotel

John Saunders Chase {1925 - 2012}

In June 1950, John S. Chase became the first African American to enroll at a major university in the South after the Supreme Court successfully challenged the “separate but equal” segregation doctrine, broadening access to educational institutions for African Americans across the country.  John Chase was finally able to attend the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture thanks to Sweatt v. Painter -- A case in which the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited the University of Texas from rejecting applicants solely on the basis of race.

Later in 1956, John Chase became the first licensed to practice architecture in the state of Texas, and later was the first African American to be admitted to the Texas Society of Architects, and the Houston Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Chase co-founded the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) along with 12 other black architects at the AIA convention in Detroit in 1971. 

Home of John S. Chase, built in 1959 by John S. Chase.

Beverly Lorraine Greene {1915 - 1957}

Beverly Lorraine Greene, is the first Black woman known to be a registered architect in the US.  

In 1936, Beverly L. Greene graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne with a bachelor’s in architectural engineering, making history as the first Black woman to do so. 

Her most famous architectural contribution is the UNESCO United Nations Headquarters in Paris. Greene worked on the architectural team that designed the modern, Y-shaped building.

The design of the UNESCO Headquarters was a star-studded and controversial cast of architects, included collaborating with brutalist master lead architect Marcel Breuer.

Eleanor Roosevelt is pictured viewing the model of the building.

Photo by Atomic Ranch 

Norma Merrick Sklareck {1926 - 2012}

Norma Merrik Sklareck was born in Harlem, New York, and the first African American woman to pass her license exam to officially become an architect in both New York {1954} and California {1962}. Norma Merrick Sklarek is most recognized for designing the United States Embassy in Tokyo, Japan in 1976 and the Terminal One station at the Los Angeles International Airport in 1984. 

Norma Merrick Sklarek worked with some of the most preeminent architects on some of the most famous buildings of the 21st century, but because she was an African American woman, she was at best billed as project manager on many of the buildings she helped design.

In 1960, Sklarek accepted the position as Director of Architecture for Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles, where she worked for two decades. 

As Vice President of Welton Becket Associates, and the first African American woman named an AIA Fellow, she led construction of Terminal One at LAX in 1984, then left Welton Becket Associates to form Siegel Sklarek Diamond, the largest woman-owned practice in the U.S.

Santa Monica Place Mall, designed by Norma Merrick Sklareck | Photo by Heliphoto

We will continue to honor African American designers, artists and authors on our instagram to celebrate Black History Month. 

#letswandertogether

AWH xoxo


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