He focused on students understanding core subjects, especially math and science. Architecture is an area that blends both of these subjects and
while this is a lucrative industry, it still remains a challenge for African
American architects. However, the shoulders that these architects stand on today
began with exceptional mentors such as McIlwain and are reinforced by architects
who paved the way, many of whom have long been forgotten.
According to Jackie Craven in About, there were only about 60 registered African American
architects in 1930 and a number of them helped build the United States despite
facing enormous social and economic barriers. According to the U.S. Bureau of
Labor Statistics (2005), of the 100,000 registered architects in the United
States, there are approximately 1500 that are African American.
The 1930s is a significant period for African American architects because it was the
period known as the Harlem Renaissance where art and culture were thriving in
the Harlem community and nationwide people of color were making strides in
various disciplines, including architecture.
Architects of note included three who are known as the ?Invisible Trio? because their vision and
accomplishments are most often not reflected in the annals of architecture to
inspire future African American architects.
They include Paul R. Williams (1884 1980), an architect who was known as the ?Architect for the Stars,?
designing homes for movie legends and entertainers including Frank Sinatra,
Lucille Ball, Tyrone Power, William ?Bojangles? Robinson and media mogul William
Paley. His designs are also a part of the landscape of the Los Angeles
International Airport and many of its surrounding beautiful residences. His
commission to design the home of a major car manufacturer further advanced his
prominence among architects of his day.
Hilyard Robinson (1899 1986), an architect whose work was regarded as a blend between European Internationalism
and American Modernism, focused on providing safe and sanitary public housing
for working class families that included functionality and artistry. The famous
Langston Terrace Dwellings in Washington, D.C. that he designed (with Paul
Williams) were built in 1936 and, in 1987, listed on the National Registration
of Historic Places. He also designed the Army training base of the famous
Julian Abele (1881 1950), who was known for not signing his work, but his expertise was identified in his architectural drawings for
institutions including Duke University and recognized as detailed and exquisite
works of art. He was the first African American architect to graduate from the
University of Pennsylvania?s School of Architecture and was involved in, among
other projects, the presentation drawings for The Philadelphia Museum of Art,
although the majority of the credit has been given elsewhere.
These African American architects and others brought their own brand to their designs
and left a legacy that should be honored and remembered. So, the next time you
land in Los Angeles International Airport, or drive near by the Philadelphia
Museum of Art or see the historic Langston Terrace Dwellings in Washington, D.C.
remember that an African American architect was a part of that
Also, remember valiant educators like McIlwain, an architect in is his own right, who designed programs and inspired young students to think
outside the box and to build careers that also stand the test of time.
Author's Resource Box Meta J. Mereday is a writer for http:www.regalmag, an online magazine dedicated to issues affecting African American men. Visit
http:www.regalmagclassifieds to view Local Online Classifieds & Job
Classified Black Business Directory. To read more about African American