Celebrating Black History in Architecture & Design.

February 19, 2024
Posted in General
February 19, 2024 ThePost

February is Black History Month, and to Celebrate, we’re highlighting some innovative and influential Black Architects and Interior Designers who have left their mark on the A&D industry. The following individuals’ works have benefitted the industry’s history and contributed to this country’s culture and landscape.

1. Harold Curtis Brown

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Our first designer, Harold Curtis Brown, is an unsung hero of Black history. Brown was a graphic artist and interior designer who studied at the Boston School of Fine Arts and the New School of Design. His professional career began with working in Paris for a revered sculptor, Lorenzo Harris, before he relocated to New York to work on various memorable projects that are still being spoken about today. Brown’s work spanned hotels like the Hotel Navarro in Manhattan, NY, to multiple Harlem Renaissance-era nightclubs like Tilly’s, Club Saratoga, and, most importantly, the iconic Cotton Club.

Brown had an affinity for sleek nightclub design. Throughout his time in the industry, he grew to be identifiable through specific design characteristics like curved bars, bronzed and peach-colored mirrors, and indirect lighting. The documentation of Brown’s career is mysterious and short-lived, as records of him and any of his work seem to have vanished around 1938.

Historians and colleagues of his soon confirmed that he decided to take measures he deemed necessary for his career advancement and attempt to leave his identity behind by relocating to Park Avenue to pass as white to expand his clientele, which was not an unheard of practice in this period for some mixed-race African-Americans in attempt to evade discrimination.

2. Beverly Lorraine Greene

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Beverly Lorraine Greene’s career might have been short-lived; however, she made the most of her time by breaking barriers at every phase of her life. Born in Chicago, Greene graduated from the University of Illinois in 1936 with a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Engineering – becoming the first woman of color to do so. Shortly after, she became the first documented woman of color to be inducted into the American Institute of Architects and the first registered African-American female architect in our country’s history.

Upon receiving her credentials, Greene moved to New York City, where she was hired to work on a project in Bedford-Stuyvesant, creating a housing complex where Black people were excluded from residence. Beverly’s most notable design was the distinctive, Y-shaped UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France, as photographed above. UNESCO is an agency that serves as an extension of the UN, whose mission is to promote world peace and security through international cooperation in education, sciences, arts, and culture. Working on this project, Greene had the opportunity to collaborate with a star-studded group of experienced and distinguished architects.

When she wasn’t commissioned for projects or urban planning, Beverly further cemented her name in Black history through her philanthropic endeavors, such as her tenure serving on the Council for the Advancement of the Negro in Architecture. Unfortunately, Greene lost her life due to an unknown illness in 1957, and she was buried at the Unity Funeral Home in Manhattan, NY– a building she designed.

3. Philip G. Freelon

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Philip G. Freelon was an American architect from Philadelphia, PA. Freelon was born on March 26, 1955, to a marketing executive father and a mother who was an educator. The Freelon name was no stranger to Black history. Philip was also the grandson a famed harlem renaissance-era painter, Allan Randall Freelon. He credited his grandfather for his interest in drafting, visual arts & design.

Freelon attended Hampton University to study architecture but soon transferred to the North Carolina State University’s College of Design, where he graduated with a B.A. in Environmental Design in 1975. Ambitious and passionate about his field of work, he continued his architectural education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Upon completing his education, he went on to follow in the footsteps of his mother and taught at North Carolina State, M.I.T., and other institutions. When he began practicing as a registered architect, he worked for various firms before developing the eponymous Freelon Group in Durham, NC, in 1990. Freelon dedicated his career to creating structures such as libraries, projects for college campuses, museums, and other cultural institutions dedicated to highlighting and educating the public about African-American culture.

Freelon was not only passionate about creating structures centering education but also led projects that were for the purpose of everyday practicalities such as transportation. He believed that everyday people should have the experience of beautiful architecture.

4. Paul R. Williams

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American Institute of Architecture‘s (AIA) first Black inductee, Paul Revere Williams, was Born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Williams was challenged with a tumultuous early life, which involved growing up an orphan and being the only black student at many of his schools, where he was often strongly discouraged from pursuing the career he desired. Despite resistance, he studied Architectural Engineering at the University of Southern California in 1919.

Williams soon grew to make a name for himself and Black history that extended miles beyond his city. However, the work he’s done in LA is what makes his legacy so unique. Williams’s creative eye and technical abilities have graced various projects across southern California, from modest residential properties in his early career, soon progressing to notable celebrity estates and, eventually, historical landmarks and educational institutions. Williams was appropriately dubbed “The Man Who Built Hollywood” because of the 2,500 buildings he facilitated (primarily in LA) and, most importantly, because of his distinctive design style that became definitive of mid-century design and symbolized what was known as Hollywood glamour to the rest of the world.

5. Cecil Hayes

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Florida’s own Cecil Hayes has led an extremely rewarding creative career. Born in Malone, FL, Her journey in the Interior design industry began with receiving her B.A. in Art Education from FAMU in 1967. She soon worked as an art teacher while she continued her education at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, where she graduated from the top of her class in 1973.

Hayes left her mark on the world of Interior Design by becoming the first African American Woman to be featured in Architectural Digest. Aside from such a landmark accomplishment, she has been recognized in various well-known publications, including Southern Living, Florida Design & Ebony, just to name a few. Hayes’s work has also garnered attention from notable figures in the entertainment industry, leading her to develop an impressive list of high-end clientele, including music producer Timbaland, Samuel L Jackson, and a plethora of renowned athletes and entrepreneurs.

Cecil continued to flex her prowess as an educator when she took her expertise to Random House publishing. In 2006, she released her first book, titled “9 Steps to Beautiful Living,” where she shares insightful design tips based on her thirty years of experience. Her second book, “Art of Decorative Details,” soon followed in 2007.

In addition to her literary success, Cecil Hayes has received plenty of recognition to commemorate all she’s accomplished and contributed to Black history in her 50+ years in design. In 1999, she was honored with the prestigious President’s Award of Excellence from her Alma Mater’s National Alumni Association. She also won the notable African American Achievement Award, and for several years, she has received the distinguished Designer of the Year Award from the Designers and Decorators Guild.

These are just a few of the names in architecture and interior design that have made a formative impact on Black history.

Do not forget to follow us on our social networks to look at our work with our impressive clients in the A&D industry, career resources, job updates, and more. Also, read our article on diversity and inclusion for tips that you can use in your hiring practices to alleviate discrimination in professional spaces.

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