If you were asked to name the greatest American architects, who would you choose? People like Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra and Philip Johnson usually come to mind. However, alongside these men were many black architects who also pioneered the design world alongside their white colleagues while simultaneously facing major social barriers – never achieving the same level of recognition.
The art and architecture around us can influence how we live our lives, but they also reflect the era in which they were created. Design can be used as a means to bring people together, with public works projects like affordable housing, or be used to divide, as in the case of racially motivated urban planning. Many major cities, including Los Angeles, remain deeply racially divided due to the red line of yesteryear.
In fact, black people were still barred from studying architecture and design in many states until the 1950s and 1960s. And, due to segregation and covenants of ownership, even architects The most prosperous and well-known blacks, such as Paul R. Williams, were often unable to live in the neighborhoods where the homes they designed were built.
Of course, not all pioneering black architects lived in the past. And while schools are no longer segregated and people of color are no longer barred from pursuing architecture as a profession, the design world is still often criticized for its lack of diversity.
That’s why DIRT added five influential practicing architects to our list of ten legends who not only broke new ground in the buildings they designed, but also broke real-world racial barriers and the proverbial glass ceilings. (The additions are the bottom five on the list.) Each addition, which includes a team of husband and wife who have practiced together for more than 40 years, seeks to harness the power of architecture to reflect, challenge and improve society in which it exists. . Many are also educators and theoretical actors in addition to practicing architects.
Like their legendary professional ancestors, all practicing architects who own this list are blazing their own unique architectural path and will leave their own indelible mark on the world.
A version of this story first appeared on Dirt.com in February 2021.