From the Ground Up: Black Architects and Designers
Norma Sklarek, Chuck Roberts (at right), Gruen Associates’ Los Angeles office, 1972.

From the Ground Up: Black Architects and Designers

Museum of History and Industry, Seattle - Feb 4 - Apr 30

by Matthew Kangas

Organized by the Museum of Science & Industry, Chicago, From the Ground Up fills enormous gaps in history as it celebrates two dozen African American pioneers in architecture and design from the late 1800s into the 20th century. Information about Seattle-area architects both past and present supplements this traveling exhibition, thanks to the input of curatorial consultant Hasaan Kirkland and the Black Heritage Society of Washington State.

A number of landmarks are featured, including successful federally financed public housing in Washington, DC, designed by Hilyard Robinson. The low-rise homes are in the International Style but faced in brick and enclose play areas, well preserved thanks to their listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Here are a few of the architects featured in the show. Norma Merrick Sklarek flourished on the West Coast after becoming the first Black woman licensed by the New York Board of Architects. Besides her popular, gigantic Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles (1975), she collaborated with Cesar Pelli to design the US Embassy in Tokyo. Her predecessor Beverly Loraine Greene worked closely with Marcel Breuer on the UNESCO headquarters in Paris (1958) and with Edward Durell Stone on the Fine Arts Center at Sarah Lawrence College. She was the first Black woman in the US to be licensed as an architect, in 1942.

Paul Revere Williams is finally receiving recognition with monographs and exhibitions for his role as “architect to the stars,” including homes for Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Among younger practitioners, Sir David Adjaye, now 56, received acclaim for his Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. His Nobel Peace Center renovation in Oslo joins his upcoming design for the Studio Museum of Harlem.

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