Black History Month
February means Black History Month! A great month to celebrate the bravery and accomplishments of African Americans throughout our history. We want to tell you all about two groundbreaking architects: Beverly Loraine Greene, who became the first African American woman architect in 1942, and Paul R. Williams, who was the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Beverly Loraine Greene
Beverly Loraine Greene is believed to be the first African American female to become licensed in the US. Born in Chicago, she was surrounded by amazing architecture her whole adolescent life. She went to the University of Illinois and received a Bachelors of Science in architectural engineering in 1936. A year later she got her Masters in city planning and housing.
She started her career by working for the Chicago Housing Authority and registered in the state of Illinois as the first black woman to be a licensed architect. Glass shattered.
She decided to uproot and move to New York City after being ignored by the mainstream Chicago press. Like many other African American architects, this meant she wasn’t receiving the attention she needed for her career to flourish and support her. In New York City, she was named architect for a housing project that actually wouldn’t allow African Americans to reside in. Greene quit this ironic job to accept a scholarship to Columbia where she received her Masters of Architecture.
From there she worked with several firms and her work can be seen across the world. She most notably worked for a firm under Marcel Breuer, the creator of the strapping Wassily chair as well as a Bauhaus student and professor. She aided in designing the UNESCO United Nations Headquarters in Paris with Breuer, the building seen below. Toward the end of her practicing, she decided to focus on higher education buildings.
She showed young African American women that anything is possible, and helped create beautiful buildings along her journey as an architect.
UNESCO United Nations Headquarters. Paris, France. Completed in 1958.
Paul Revere Williams
Paul R. Williams was the first African American member of the AIA (joined in 1923) with an incredible portfolio of almost 3,000 buildings. Before he even started his career or education, he was discouraged from the architecture path in thought that he wouldn’t be able to get clients in a predominately white business. He didn’t pay mind to those opinions and decided to pursue architecture as his career.
He started by designing comfortable, affordable homes in southern California. As the housing market grew, so did his name. He eventually started designing homes for many affluent public figures in LA including: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Lon Chaney and the mighty talented Frank Sinatra. The “Architect to the Stars” stayed true to the Southern California style of mid century modern, a style that is timeless and luxurious.
LAX Theme Building (1961) is one of his most well known buildings that he designed with the help of a few other architects. He transformed modernism and created brave, beautiful buildings that redefined what it meant to be an architect.
LAX Theme Building designed by: Paul Revere Williams (featured in photo), William Pereira, Charles Luckman, and Welton Becket.
Black Urbanists – people who are passionate about the work of public systems and urban infrastructures.
blackspace is a collective that brings together all types of people such as architects, designers, planners and artists. Their main focus is dedicated to preserving Black culture in spaces and places through neighborhood strategy, customized learning, and urbanist experiences. Visit their website to donate, read their manifesto, and see all the good they do for Black communities across the nation!
Thanks for reading!
Sydney Angel | Architectural Designer
18 FEBRUARY 2021