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Toronto Luxury Real Estate: Celebrating Black Architects for Black History Month

In recognition of Black History Month, I’d like to showcase several key Black architects in this month’s post.

I would also like to bring your attention to two organizations within Toronto that support Black architects.  BEAT  is the Toronto chapter of BEA. 

Building Equality in Architecture (BEA) is a volunteer-run organization that promotes equality in the profession through advocacy, mentorship and networking. BEA particularly aims to advance the achievements and visibility of women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups. Beyond providing resources for individual architects, BEA seeks to build momentum for a shift in the profession—towards greater diversity and equity on a systemic level. The organization runs events that are open to everyone, regardless of gender and background, and that target all phases of an architect’s career.

 BEA believes that design excellence, diversity and equity must be achieved together. In order for great architects to do great work, each of us must contribute to our fullest—and have the tools and resources to do so. A diverse, equitable profession will have a more powerful voice, and a greater ability to create built environments that are beautiful, functional, and enhance the human experience.”

BAIDA is the Black Architects and Interior Design Association supporting minorities in these design fields. Their mission statement:

“Black Architects and Interior Designers Association (BAIDA) is a non profit organization made up of 100 students, planners, interior designers, and architects. BAIDA aims to support diversity, equity and inclusion in the profession of architecture and interior design. Our tools are advocacy, mentorship, networking, and outreach.

In doing so, BAIDA can begin to address the issues of inequitable outcomes and a lack of diversity within the architecture and design industry. Our members are committed to impacting their cities through design, engagement and education and hope to minimize the effects of discrimination in communities and create opportunities for other minorities within the fields of architecture and design.”

I then stumbled upon an article in Architizer “The Ten Black Architects that Helped Shape America”. Many iconic buildings were designed by architects on this list. 

The National Museum of African American History and Culture  in Washington, DC had David Adjaye  as the lead designer. There are also deep roots back to Moses McKissack III and his brother Calvin.  Their grandfather Moses McKissack was a slave who worked for a prominent contractor, he passed his knowledge down through the family. In 1922 Moses III and Calvin became the first licensed Black architects in Tennessee. Together they formed McKissack and McKissack and this was the company that oversaw the project management and construction of the museum.

I really loved this quote from David Adjaye in an article in Archinet:

Some people say you don’t need any more physical memorials because the internet archives everything, but I think architecture has a role in editing and presenting that knowledge in building form as new monuments. It’s important to be able to synthesise ideas and give them a quality that creates an engagement and usefulness with people.”

I have been to Washington and seen the exterior of this museum and it is very impressive.

“Its location and its design represent the past, present, and future of the African American experience in ways tangible and symbolic.” (Museum Website:LONNIE G. BUNCH)

“From one perspective, the building’s architecture follows classical Greco-Roman form in its use of a base and shaft, topped by a capital or corona. For our Museum, the corona is inspired by the three-tiered crowns used in Yoruban art from West Africa. Moreover, the building’s main entrance is a welcoming porch, which has architectural roots in Africa and throughout the African Diaspora, especially the American South and Caribbean. Finally, by wrapping the entire building in an ornamental bronze-colored metal lattice, Adjaye pays homage to the intricate ironwork crafted by enslaved African Americans in Louisiana, South Carolina, and elsewhere.” (Museum Website:LONNIE G. BUNCH)

Gaining entry into this museum is challenging; one must book online at least one month in advance.  When borders open and travel starts again this is certainly a museum to add to your Smithsonian Museum tour list in order to see this fine example of  African American architecture.

Another architect I would like to highlight is Norma Merrick Sklarek as she was the first major African-American woman architect, a true trailblazer. Her best-known projects are the US Embassy in Tokyo, Terminal One at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and the Pacific Design Center.  Sklarek  faced many challenges entering the profession and is quoted saying: “The schools had a quota and it was obvious, a quota against women and a quota against blacks. In architecture, I absolutely had no role model. I am happy today to be a role model for others that follow.”

I love how bold the Pacific Design Centre is in both shape and colour. If you dine on the outdoor terrace at Catch in LA you get a fabulous view of this striking piece of architecture that is home to several design shops and studios.

Paul Revere Williams is worth highlighting as he designed the futuristic and iconic Theme Building at LAX that resembles a spaceship. He is also known as the “architect to the stars”. Such names as Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra and Barron Hilton were just a few of his celebrity clients. He poignantly describes learning how to draw upside down as some of his clients did not want to sit too close to him. He was the first Black member of the American Institute of Architects in 1923 and he was posthumously awarded the AIA Gold Medal in 2017.

I respect these architects for forging a path for other Black architects.

The US has come a long way, with a newly appointed African American Vice President.  We saw the pure brilliance of poet laureate Amanda Gorman at the inauguration of President Biden in January. I have faith in humanity that we will reach a point of equality regardless of your race, colour, creed or religion.

Wishing everyone a great February! Stay well and please remember #Blacklivesmatter