Upside Down & Backwards - Sharing the Stories and Work of 10 Inspiring Black Architects and Designers
In 1923 Paul Revere Williams became the first black member of the American Institute of Architects, nearly seventy years after the organization had been founded. When he started his own practice in Southern California a year later he quickly developed a reputation for designing homes for affluent and celebrity clients, including Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, and Desi Arnaz. Though Williams was a celebrated and sought-after architect during his lifetime, his granddaughter recounted to NPR that he taught himself to draw upside down and backwards so his white clients would be spared the discomfort of having to sit alongside him. When he became the AIA’s first black fellow, in 1957, the organization was celebrating its centennial.
Williams’ story reiterates the fact that the professions of architecture and design have not been immune to the issues of racism in our country. And the stories and work of many under-recognized talents have not been shared nearly enough. This past month we posted ten short features on Instagram of black architects and designers whose contributions have influenced and inspired our own work, and we’ve assembled them again here. Their lives, disciplines and aesthetics are all over the map: ten markers along ten trails. Ten points from which to begin to explore a diverse set of creativity and community within, and very much a part of, the design world.
Tanzanian-born British citizen Sir David Adjaye is one of the most acclaimed black architects practicing today. Known for the diversity of styles, and innovative use of materials and light in his work, Adjaye has designed many notable buildings around the world, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, and the Skolkovo Moscow School of Management.
Designer, writer, and educator Gail Anderson is a first-generation American of Jamaican descent. Currently a partner at Anderson Newton Design, Anderson worked for many years in publishing, including 15 years at Rolling Stone magazine, where she was senior art director. She then transitioned to creating art for Broadway and institutional theater. She’s written almost ten books, including five on typography, a great passion of hers. Currently, Anderson is a professor at the School of Visual Arts, serves on the board for the Type Directors Club, and is a member of the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee for the US Postal Service.
After graduating Indiana University, interior designer and “color guru” Rayman Boozer moved to New York City, where he founded the firm Apartment48. Time Out magazine anointed him as “the go-to designer for color consulting.” Rayman and his firm specialize in combining vibrant colors, exotic materials, and contemporary furnishings to create spaces that feel optimistic, relaxed and effortless.
Antionette Carroll is the founder and CEO of Creative Reaction Lab, a nonprofit organization with a mission to “educate, train and challenge Black and Latinx youth to become leaders designing healthy and racially equitable communities.” She pioneered an award-winning creative problem solving workflow called Equity-Centered Community Design. She’s been named a GDUSA Person to Watch, Echoing Green Global Fellow, TED Fellow, Essence Magazine’s Woke 100, Next City Vanguard, and St. Louis Visionary Awards Community Impact Honoree.
Philip Freelon was the youngest architect to pass the registration exam in North Carolina, when he was just 25 years-old. Freelon is well-known and admired for the libraries, schools, museums, parks and academic buildings he designed across the U.S., including the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, which opened in 2014.
Contemporary designer Dian Holton’s body of work defies classification. She’s the Deputy Art Director for AARP Media (yes, that AARP), and a freelance window display associate for the GAP, with a background in publishing, integrated marketing, branding, retail installation, styling and footwear design. A self-described “fashion enthusiast, pop culture and style junkie,” her boundary-crossing work has led to acclaim in the worlds of design, marketing, education, and philanthropy.
A leader among young architects of color, Samantha Josaphat began her career working on a range of projects from airports, to retail, to corporate interiors. Since founding the architecture and design firm STUDIO 397, her work has focused on exploring how to design high end and affordable architecture. The firm’s work blurs the boundaries between architecture, product design, and fashion.
JOHN WARREN MOUTOUSSAMY
When the Johnson Publishing Company, publishers of Ebony and Jet magazines, commissioned John Warren Moutoussamy to design their headquarters, he became the first black architect to design a high-rise building in Chicago. Though the building was recently converted into apartments, signs of the two magazines remain on the rooftop terrace, and the building remains the only high-rise in the city designed by a black architect.
NORMA MERRICK SKLAREK
Dubbed “the Rosa Parks of architecture,” Norma Sklarek’s career was an anthology of firsts: first licensed Black female architect in New York (1954), first black female member of the AIA (1959), first licensed black female architect in California (1962), first black female Fellow of the AIA (1980), and first black woman to own an architecture firm (1985), which was also the nation’s largest woman-owned firm.
Veronica Solomon is a Texas-based interior designer who was born and raised in Jamaica, and the very humble beginnings she came from played an important role in shaping her hard-working nature. She notes on her website, “the many influences of the vibrant colors and natural textures of my native island show up in the interiors that I create.”