Biographies of African-American Architects

Great Black American Architects

African-Americans who helped build the United States faced enormous social and economic barriers. In 1930, only about 60 Black Americans were listed as registered architects, and many of their buildings have since been lost or radically changed. Although conditions have improved, many feel that African-American architects today still lack the recognition they deserve. Here are some of America's most notable Black architects throughout history.

01
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Harvey Bernard Gantt (1943 - )

African-American Architect, Former Mayor Harvey Gantt at Democratic Convention in 2012
Architect and Former Mayor Harvey Gantt at Democratic National Convention in 2012. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images (cropped)

Harvey B. Gantt (born January 14, 1943 in Charleston, South Carolina) fused a love of urban planning with the policy decisions of an elected official. Beginning his career, Gantt was forced to take legal action in order to study architecture in the state of his birth. In 1963, Gantt won the lawsuit and became the first African-American student at Clemson University. With a Bachelor's Degree from Clemson in 1965, Gantt went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to earn a Master of City Planning degree in 1970. He moved to North Carolina to begin his dual career as architect and politician. From 1970 to 1971, Gantt developed plans for Soul City (including Soul Tech I), a multi-cultural mixed-use planned community. The project :was the brainchild of Civil Rights leader Floyd B. McKissick (1922-1991). Gantt's political life also began in North Carolina, moving from a member of the City Council (1974-1979) to becoming the first African-American Mayor of Charlotte (1983-1987).

Gantt has inspired generations of minority students and politicians, including a young law student named Barack Obama. From building the City of Charlotte, NC to becoming Mayor of that same city, Gantt's life has been filled with victories in architecture and in Democratic politics.

02
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African-American Architect J. Max Bond, middle-aged, dark mustache, close-up, at camera
American Architect J. Max Bond. Photo by Anthony Barboza/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images (cropped)
For four years, J. Max Bond, Jr. lived in Ghana, a country newly independent from Britain. The African nation was welcoming to young, Black talent—much more gracious than the cold-shoulders of American architectural firms in the early 1960s. Today, Bond may be best known for actualizing a public part of American history—the September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City. Bond remains an inspiration to generations of minority architects.

03
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Robert Traynham Coles is noted for designing on a grand scale. His works include the Frank Reeves Municipal Center in Washington DC, the Ambulatory Care Project for Harlem Hospital, the Frank E. Merriweather Library, the Johnnie B. Wiley Sports Pavilion in Buffalo and the Alumni Arena at the University of Buffalo. Founded in 1963, Coles' firm ranks as one of the oldest in the Northeast owned by an African American.

04
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Norma Merrick Sklarek was the first Black woman to become a licensed architect in New York and California. She was also the first Black woman honored by Fellowship in AIA. Her many projects include the Pacific Design Center in California a new terminal for Los Angeles International Airport.

05
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Albert Irvin Cassell (1895 - 1969)

Albert I. Cassell shaped many academic communities in the United States. He designed buildings for Howard University in Washington D.C., Morgan State University in Baltimore, and Virginia Union University in Richmond. Cassell also designed and built civic structures for the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

06
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The first African American to become a professional architect in Buffalo New York, John E. Brent designed Buffalo's Michigan Avenue YMCA. The building became a cultural center for the black community in Buffalo.

07
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 Born in South Carolina, Louis Arnett Stuart Bellinger earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1914 from the historically African-American Howard University in Washington, DC. For more than a quarter of a century, Bellinger designed key buildings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, only a handful of his buildings have survived, and all have been altered.

08
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Born in Kentucky, Vertner Woodson Tandy was the first registered African-American architect in New York State and the first Black architect to belong to the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Tandy designed landmark homes for some of the wealthiest residents of Harlem.

09
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Paul Williams became renown for designing major buildings in Southern California, including the space-aged LAX Theme Building at the Los Angeles International Airport and over 2000 homes in the hills throughout LA. Many of the most beautiful residences in Hollywood were created by Paul Williams.

10
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Cap Wigington was the first registered African American architect in Minnesota and the first African American municipal architect in the United States. He designed schools, fire stations, park structures, municipal buildings, and other important landmarks in St. Paul, Minnesota.

11
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Historic black and white photo of black architect Julian Abele, early 20th century
Historic black and white photo of black architect Julian Abele, early 20th century. Photo courtesy Duke University Archives digital collection, Julian Abele (1881-1950), modified

Julian Abele was one of the major American architects, but he never signed his work and it was not publicly acknowledged. Abele's original architectural drawings for Duke University have been described as works of art with exquisite in detail.

12
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Moses McKissack III was the grandson of an African-born slave who became a master builder. Moses III joined his brother Calvin to form one of the earliest African-American architectural firms in the USA. Building on the family legacy, the firm of McKissack and McKissack has designed thousands of facilities.

13
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During a brief yet innovative career, William Sidney Pittman was commissioned to design several important buildings in Washington, DC. Often reaching for the unexpected in his work, Pittman died penniless at the age of 82.

14
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While Wallace Augustus Rayfield was a student at Columbia University, Booker T. Washington recruited him to head the Architectural and Mechanical Drawing Department at Tuskegee Institute in Macon County, Alabama. After a few years, Rayfield opened his own practice in Birmingham, Alabama, where he designed many homes and churches. Rayfield was the second professionally-educated black architect in the United States.

15
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Robert Robinson Taylor (1868 - 1942)

African-American Architect Robert Robinson Taylor on a set of US stamps in February 2015
Architect Robert Robinson Taylor, US Postal Service Black Heritage Stamp Series in 2015. Press image ©2014 U.S. Postal Service

Robert Robinson Taylor (born June 8, 1868, Wilmington, North Carolina) is widely considered the first academically trained and credentialed African-American architect in America.  Growing up in North Carolina, Taylor worked as a carpenter and foreman for his prosperous father, Henry Taylor, the son of a white slaveholder and a Black mother. Educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, 1888-1892), Taylor's final project for a Bachelor's Degree in Architecture was Design for a Soldiers' Home, housing to accommodate aging Civil War veterans. Booker T. Washington recruited Taylor to help establish Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, a campus forever associated with the architecture of Robert Robinson Taylor. In 2015 the architect was honored by being featured on a US Forever stamp issued by the US Postal Service. Taylor died suddenly on Dec. 13, 1942, while visiting Tuskegee Chapel in Alabama.