Contemporary Black Architects Make Their Marks on Architecture and Design
While definitely a minority in their field, African-American architects – from Paul Williams to Vertner Woodson Tandy, Albert Cassell, Julian Abele and Norma Skarek – have paved the way for future generations of architects – breaking social, cultural, gender and color barriers in the process. During Black History Month, we celebrate four more successful African-American architects who have thrived in the industry and achieved major accomplishments with their talent, creative vision, perseverance, and hard work.
Let us introduce you to Peter Cook, Marshall Purnell, William Stanley III, and Ivenue Love-Stanley.
Peter Cook: “… projects should positively impact communities and leave the world a better place in which to live.”
Greatly influenced by his great-grand-uncle Julian F. Abele, one of the first and most accomplished African-American architects in history, who designed the original campus of Duke University, Harvard’s Widener Library. and Philadelphia’s Free Library, Peter Cook desired to follow in Abele’s footsteps. Inspired by vivid memories of the time he spent in his great-grand uncle’s study listening to jazz, reading about modernism, and learning from Abele, Cook embraced the modernist approach to architecture. But while architecture is in his genes, it took several years for the designer in him to emerge and develop.
At a family friend’s advice, he enrolled in Harvard University’s Visual and Environmental Studies program. From 1986 to 1989, he was at Columbia University, earning a Master’s degree in Architecture – and soon after that, he accepted a position at D.C.-based Davis Brody Bond as an associate partner.
Cook once noted in an interview that one of the things he never tries to forget “… is that architecture ultimately comes down to the people who occupy the space.” So when Davis Brody Bond asked him to join the firm, he jumped at the opportunity because he thought the “firm never loses sight of the fact that architecture is artwork performed in a social setting.” This explains why most of his commissioned work focus on designing buildings that engage a community and promotes conversation and social interaction.
Take the opening in August 2010 of the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood – at its new location in 7th Street, N.W. in Washington, D.C. – when people from the community were lining up, eager to get into the library. Cook said that when he and his team “saw young kids and community members wanting to become a part of this building, we knew we had done something right. And it reminds me that this is why I got into architecture.” With its floor-to-ceiling glass windows and open floor design, the Reading Room of the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library is bright and airy. The Children’s area of the library follows the same design concept that makes it inviting and comfortable for visitors.
Cook’s outstanding portfolio of design and award-winning projects throughout the United States – particularly in the D.C. area – encompasses museums, memorials, embassies, libraries, cultural and learning centers, and mixed-used corporate and neighborhood master planning. In addition to the Watha T. Daniel Library, Cook’s work includes a number of notable buildings located in high-profile neighborhoods. Among them:
The Dorothy I. Height/Benning Library is a two-story 22,000-square-foot library that replaced the original one-story brick building in D.C.’s Benning Heights, an area named after landowner William Benning, who helped finance the wooden bridge across the Anacostia River. The redesigned Benning Library includes a children’s room and separate reading areas for adults, teens, and children. The Teen Space at Benning includes computer stations and reading areas.
St. Elizabeths East Gateway Pavilion/G8WAY DC is a multi-purpose building in the historic neighborhoods in Ward 8 designed for casual dining, a farmers’ market, and cultural/arts and community events. The Pavilion – spread over a two-acre plot – is a visible and welcoming site that features an open air market for 40 vendors, a 21,000-square-foot green roof, and a raised park available for concerts, festivals, and large gatherings. All the spaces at St. Elizabeths East Gateway Pavilion – even the roof – are people-friendly. At the rear is an enclosed space for a community room, a café, and restroom.
Today, Cook is the design principal at the D.C. Office of HGA Architects and Engineers. He works with HGA’s clients in the Washington, D.C., area and serves as a national design leader with emphasis on cultural, civic, and federal projects across the country.
Marshall Purnell: "We didn't want to do additions to schools and firehouses and churches in the suburbs. We were in it to do main commercial structures that could be high design."
Considered one of the most accomplished African-American architects in the United States, Marshall Purnell, is the first African-American president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), a past president of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), and co-founder/design principal of the firm DP+Partners, LLC, with the late Paul S. Devrouax. The Toledo, Ohio-born Purnell grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and received his Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture and Urban Planning as well as a Master’s degree in Architecture from the University of Michigan.
After a year of teaching design at the University of Maryland, Purnell joined AIA. As a member of the Executive Office, he traveled all over the world to promote the society.
In 1978, he and Devrouax joined forces during the AIA Convention in Dallas, and they worked out of a tiny basement office in Dupont Circle for a few months before moving to a new “home” on Connecticut Avenue. One of their first jobs was a project to help design what would become the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U Streets NW, Washington, D.C.
They worked on row houses; renovated historic buildings (Carnegie Library City Museum); designed a parking garage at Union Station, the Studio Theatre, and the African American Civil War Memorial; and built an information center at Howard University.
When DP+Partners, LLC, completed the 190,000-square foot addition to the Freddie Mac Campus in McLean, Virginia, it marked the first time an African-American-led architectural firm designed a headquarters building for a Fortune 500 Company. Situated in a 35-acre property in McLean, Virginia, the Freddie Mac headquarters is a 4-story 190,000-square-foot building “designed as a flexible and efficient structure that would respect the natural character of the wooded site and its relationship to the other campus buildings.” It was the springboard the firm needed to compete for the Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) building.
In 2002, when the new PEPCO building opened, the Washington Post described it as a “fresh wind blowing down Ninth Street on a bright spring day" and "as sure-handed a piece of architectural urbanism as Washington has seen in many a moon." PEPCO was the first building in downtown Washington designed solely by African-American architects. The 10-story PEPCO headquarters includes 384,000 square feet of office space and 176,000 square feet of enclosed parking for 440 cars. There are magnificent views of the monuments and the Capitol from the rooftop deck and gardens.
Today, Purnell continues the creative vision that he and Devrouax intended for their firm. Among the huge projects completed are the Washington Convention Center; Washington Nationals Baseball Park; Verizon Center; National Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial; several projects for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority; a marina, restaurant, luxury housing, and golf course in the Bahamas; and a number of projects on both the East and West coasts.
William Stanley III: “You derive great joy seeing people enjoy what you have designed. That is what it’s all about.”
Ivenue Love-Stanley: "Bringing design to underserved communities and to making design education … inclusive and accessible to all."
It was a meeting of “firsts” that day in 1972 when William Stanley III and Ivenue Love bumped into each other on the Georgia Tech campus. Stanley was graduating with the distinction of being the firstAfrican-American to complete a degree from Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture. And Ivenue Love was a freshman enrolled in the college. Five years later, she would become the first African-American woman to graduate from Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture – and become a licensed architect in the Southeast.
In 1978, William and Ivenue entered into two partnerships. They were married and started an architectural firm – Stanley Love-Stanley PC, an Atlanta-based company that today is the second-largest African-American architectural practice in the South.
Their initial collaboration was their first home. The two designed the house, worked on it, and in the process learned lessons about actual construction. The house was featured in Homes of Color Magazine in 2003. From that first project, the couple has worked together to bring different skills and personalities to their firm.
William Stanley III and Ivenue Love-Stanley are the first husband-and-wife to receive the American Institue of Architect’s (AIA) Whitney M. Young Jr. Award – given to an individual or organization working to pursue social justice and progressive values in architecture. Stanley received the award in 1995, and Love-Stanley was the 2014 recipient
Stanley, who calls himself a “bon vivant” is the principal designer; and Love-Stanley, described by her husband as “straight-laced and prim and proper,” manages the production side of the business. For this pair of opposites, the partnership has thrived and resulted in numerous community and professional service citations, as well as many award-winning landmark projects that have helped to reshape Atlanta and other communities throughout the region.
Considered their best known work, the New Horizon Sanctuary, Ebenezer Baptist Church, is a 34,000-square-foot-structure that includes a 1,600-seat sanctuary, educational building, peace plaza, bell tower, and prayer garden.
One of their highlights was a huge project for their alma mater: the design of the Olympic Aquatic Center at Georgia Tech. The new complex was the centerpiece of the 1996 Olympic competitions for swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, and water polo. The center features 4,000 permanent seats and room for 11,000 temporary seats. The firm participated as a 50 percent joint venture partner.
Other projects include
The historic renovation of Reynolds Cottage, residence of the President of Spelman College (Atlanta), included improvements to the structural, mechanical, and electrical infrastructure. The 23,000-square-foot cottage serves as a reception facility for visiting dignitaries as well as the home of the school’s president.
The Lyke House Catholic Student Center at Atlanta University was completed in 1999 and received a design excellence award from the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). Its unusual design is a replication of churches built by Ethiopia’s King Lalibela from hewn rocks to celebrate African Christian antiquity. The 12,000-square-foot Center houses a chapel, student center, and rectory
Agricultural Sciences Building at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (Tifton, Georgia) – For this project, Stanley Love-Stanley participated as an associate firm responsible for programming, design, and the initiation of construction documents for a state-of-the-art Agricultural Sciences Research and Teaching facility. The building is a 1-story structure built on a sloping 5-acre parcel on the grounds of the college and includes panoramic views of a catfish pond, historic farmscape, and rolling meadow.
As Stanley and Love-Stanley add to the sights of Atlanta’s skyline, they continue to use their knowledge and experience to improve neighborhoods and make them architecturally relevant.