by Craig Wilkins, PhD
University of Michigan College of Architecture + Urban Planning
Recently several choice, culturally specific museum commissions were awarded to equally choice, culturally specific architects. In and of itself, this is not unusual or even particularly noteworthy. Although choice commissions are not the most frequent of commissions awarded to architects, they come regularly enough to keep several professional magazines, critics, authors, and even a cultural institutions or two turning a profit. However, the recent commissions for the Museum of African American Music in Newark; the National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Va.; and the Museum for African Art in New York City are indeed noteworthy, primarily for two reasons. The first is that the material culture that authorizes these institutions is quintessentially African American, which as a raison d’etre for architecture is still rare, and the second is that the authors chosen to shape those culturally specific elements are still neither rare nor African American.
Despite the exchanges—or more accurately, lack thereof—emerging in architectural and African-American communities surrounding the recent awarding of the Museum of African American Music to the Hillier Group, the National Slavery Museum to Chien Chung Pei, and the Museum for African Art to Robert A.M. Stern, with the development of similar projects on the horizon, it is not unreasonable to expect at least the African-American community to grow concerned about these choices. It is also not unreasonable to expect the architectural community to remain unconcerned about the same. So, situated as I am in both the architectural and African American communities, I feel somewhat compelled to address the selection of architects charged with communicating African-American history, particularly since I see the awarding of these commissions going beyond a concern about a particular edifice and indicative of one much broader. That broader concern—which by the way, isn’t only a cultural one, but also a professional one as well—is centered on the fact that African-American architects, historically and presently, are routinely denied serious consideration for commissions of substantial size, scope, and symbolic importance.
Given this state of affairs, in the context of current and future projects designated to represent aspects of African-American life, art, history, and culture, I think it a worthwhile project not only to make visible this transparent condition, but also to examine reasons why these omissions persist. I submit they persist primary due to archaic conflations of race and ability and thus, I will take the opportunity presented by these commissions to look closer into the ways in which race subtly shapes the study and practice of architecture. For brevity’s sake, I’ll specifically concentrate on three of the most frequently provided and commonly accepted reasons for the dearth of African-American architects invited to compete for high profile projects: existence, experience, and aesthetics.
1. Existence: Are there any?
I’d like to begin by addressing the most commonly expressed comment first: “Are there any African American architects? We can’t find them.”
Now, there are a myriad of conditions that contribute to the illusion of invisibility surrounding African-American architects, far too many to go into here. Admittedly, African-Americans themselves have created some. For example, the initial edition of the celebrated Encyclopedia Africana, a project begun by WEB DuBois and completed by noted Harvard scholars K. Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr., almost a century later that purports to comprehensively cover the exploits of the African Diaspora, unforgivably contained no entry for the category of architect; this despite a history in the building professions that dates back at least to the 17th century.1 No entry whatsoever. Imagine the outcry had the category of doctor or lawyer been omitted, yet, for architect, hardly a peep—or an apology—was heard.
Further, one might also point to the fact that those African Americans who have the desire and ability to employ an architect, don’t often enough look to the African American architectural community to provide those services. But, don’t get it twisted. I want to be very clear that this, of course, is not a requirement and I am hardly arguing for a balkanization of professional design services along color lines.
That would be foolish. Still, the lack of opportunities seized by the African- American service and consumer communities in this area demonstrates a certain amount of apathy on the part of both the practitioner and potential client pool that must be examined. My point is that as both a cultural and professional group, African Americans bear some responsibility for their seeming invisibility in the field of architecture. However, having said that, below I will show that many of the conditions that contribute to that invisibility, and certainly the most significant ones, exist through no fault of their own. They are institutional in nature and indeed, have deep historical roots. In fact, history is where I’d like to begin my critique.
For any profession to justify its control over a specific body of knowledge—be it medical, legal, architectural, etc.—establishing a notion of history, and a progressive history at that, is imperative. For the public, the belief that what the profession offers is a time-honored, ever-increasing and of course, essential service is key to its willingness to allow the monopoly to continue; for the professional, the belief that what they do is not only all of the above, but also both specific and special is critical to attracting future practitioners to perpetuate the profession. Put another way, in the legal arena, without Charles Houston there’d be no Thurgood Marshall. Without Marshall there’d be no Brown v. Bd. of Ed. In medicine, without Charles Drew there’d be no blood transfusion.
Without transfusions, there’d be a lot less people around who might possibly read this piece. In each case, the ability of the professional to perform that special act was in large part, a cumulative effort. It built on a past knowledge base – a history, if you will—to reach that necessarily transformative moment that in theory is why professions exist.
But, equally as important as having, is disseminating that version of professional history as well. It is through this process that we, as a public, have and trust professionals. History—the place where the expectations and aspirations of the two groups conflate—becomes both the repository of the past and the promise of the future. We hold both past accomplishments and future aspirations in the body of our professional practitioners. History is where the heroes and heroines are acknowledged, emulated and one dares hope, advanced. The profession of architecture is no exception; in fact, it might be more the rule than most. Yet, within its historical narrative, architecture has paid little attention to the presence, much less the contribution, of African-American practitioners. Bradford Grant, chair of the Hampton University School of Architecture has accurately observed that historians “have not yet incorporated African-American contributions to American architecture into their work or into architecture curricula.”2
Given what history means to sustaining professions and attracting new initiates, the importance of this omission cannot be overstated. As Kristi Graves, formerly of the AIA, astutely points out, “If you don't see people working in the profession that look like you, you probably don't think of that as a profession you'll be successful in.”3
Now, one might reasonably remark the omission is not an omission at all; it is
simply the result of the natural course of events and nothing more. Perhaps African-American architects simply have not yet created work worthy of note; that there simply may be no Houstons, or Marshalls or Drews within their ranks.
However, Vincent Scully, Hon. AIA, professor emeritus at Yale School of Architecture and one of the discipline’s preeminent historians, disagrees, writing, “[it is] obvious that a good many black architects have been very good architects indeed—a great many of them in relation to their number.”4 His observation, coupled with the recent revelatory and timely work of Stephen A. Kliment, FAIA, in the pages of this very publication, renders any “have-not-yet-created-work worthy-of-note” supposition debatable and most probably false.
Thus, there must be some other reason to account for the fact that even today, a cursory review of syllabi, debates, and images that constitute the typical history survey, lecture, and seminar courses of the nation’s architecture schools, not to mention the media, seminars, and conferences organized and supported by the profession, will routinely be found wanting the mention of names like:
• Julian Able, chief designer of Horace Trumbauer and Associates, who designed much of Duke University
• Hilyard R. Robinson, whose Langston Terrace Homes in Washington, D.C., won several design awards as well as high praise from Louis Mumford in the 1930s;
• Vertner Woodson Tandy, who, with his partner George Washington Foster, designed the St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in New York City and the mansion of Madame C.J. Walker
• Charles “Cap” Wigington, the first African-American municipal architect in the nation, who designed an array of public buildings in St. Paul and six of the fabled Winter Carnival ice palaces of the 1930s and ‘40s
• Paul R. Williams, who designed homes for Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, the iconic tower at Los Angeles International Airport and was once called the most successful Negro artist in the United States by Life magazine in 1950; architects who’ve produced work deserving of a place within the chronology of architectural history.
Simply put, within the annals of architecture, the work of these and other African Americans continues to be—to borrow from James Baldwin—evidence of things not seen.5
Furthermore, I think we all can agree that whatever else it may be, architecture is
a highly visual profession. Buildings, neighborhoods, and cities are all created through the interventions of designers and the resulting objects and landscapes, when done correctly, can certainly be called works of visually tangible art. In fact, it would not a stretch to say that indeed, this is exactly what the architect strives to create with every commission: art. But the art world is no place for the uninitiated. It is not a place the majority of the public enters without a guide; without some assistance to make sense of what it sees. It is in this manner that the media and various other methods of mass communication play an important role in forming public opinion about what is architecturally significant.
However, forms of mass dissemination—which include journals, magazines, newspapers, books, museum exhibits, public lectures, films, and the like—that frequent the works of African-Americans architect are underwhelming at best. To date, there have been less than a dozen books in print documenting the work of African-American architects, one African-American architecture critic to have written for a major metropolitan newspaper, and zero editorial positions at the major architecture publications, while stories in the most popular professional journals that highlight the work of African-American firms are few and far between. None of this is by accident. None. More than simple oversight, this is the result of an a priori, and dare I say, even a willful ignorance.
In 2007, it is unconscionable that many architects, whom I have found generally to be some the brightest and well-read people around, cannot name four or five African-American architects that have a substantial body of work, or even a few of their most prominent commissions. Yet within both the academy and the profession, this is the rule, not the exception. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.
So who’s doing what isn’t always done? Well, there are concerted efforts to address the textual and visual omissions and there are indications that these efforts have not been in vain; that the tide may in fact, be slowly but inexorably changing.
• Textually, the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) has been in existence for more than 30 years and, like the AIA, has recently begun to publish its own professional journal.
• The Center for the Study and Practice of Architecture has published two separate volumes of The Directory of African American Architects, identifying over a thousand African American architects registered to practice in this country.
• There are also several new tomes being published that focus on African-American architects and their work in addition to general books written by African-American scholars as well. African-American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary 1865-1945, edited by Dreck Wilson and Dr. Wesley Henderson, is an invaluable resource that will hopefully become an indispensable resource for survey courses around the country
• Visually, the 2006 exhibit highlighting African and African-American architectural visionaries, “Architecture: Pyramids to Skyscrapers”, was curated by Wilson at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago
• In 2004, Studio Museum of Harlem curator Thelma Golden organized an exhibit entitled “Harlemworld” and invited more than a dozen black architects participate.
• 1993 and 1994 traveling exhibits entitled “Design Diaspora: Black Architects and International Architecture 1970-1990” curated by Carolyn Armenta Davis and “African American Architects and Builders” organized by the late Vinson McKenzie, respectively. These are believed to be the first major shows featuring African- American architects since the Harmon Foundation artist awards—which included the work of such African-American architects as Hilyard Robinson, Louis Bollinger, Paul Williams, and John Lewis Wilson—ended in the late 1960s.
• And finally, in the institutional realm, in what may be arguably the most significant event of the last few decades, at this past national convention, the AIA selected Marshall Purnell, FAIA, of the Washington, D,C, architecture firm Devrouax & Purnell, as its president-elect. Given that this organization expressly barred membership to African-American practitioners until 1923, this is a remarkable achievement.
If the above has shown anything, it’s that restraint must be exercised against confusing invisibility with an absence of presence; they are not the same thing.
Despite conditions that have worked to obscure and in some cases erase all traces of their existence and achievements, African-American architects have not only been present for centuries, in many cases they have thrived. As illustrated briefly above and more deeply in other texts, they’ve had a rich, if hidden, history in the study and practice of architecture and within the offices of Devrouax & Purnell, Stull & Lee, and the Freelon Group, as well as with sole practitioners Darryl Crosby and Melinda Palmore; Michael Willis, FAIA; Jack Travis, FAIA; and Walter Williams; in addition to practitioner/educators Nathaniel Belcher, Coleman A. Jordan, David Brown, Mabel O. Wilson, Darrell Fields, and Mohammed Lawal, AIA—their story continues to be written.
Thus, in light of this briefest of accounts—and believe me, I could go on—it should be clear to most reasonable people that the question “Are there any African-American architects? We can’t find them” is empty of any credibility whatsoever. Any further use of it is disingenuous and, arguably indicative of something far less innocent than the simple ignorance the speaker would have one believe.
If African-American architects indeed can’t be found, it isn’t because they don’t exist. It’s because you aren’t looking.
2. Experience: Don’t have the requisite background
Having addressed the, well…shall we say, inaccuracies in the initial assertion, I
will now examine another commonly held opinion: “African-American architects don’t have the requisite experience to handle commissions of size and import.” While such concerns often find their way into any conversation where commissions and designers court each other, given the widespread belief in the previous position outlined above, this statement has particularly problematic connotations for African-American architects.
Yet, it is hardly surprising that such opinions are held, and held strongly, by the public. It stands to reason that the kind of thinking that would produce the challenge “If there were any, why haven’t I ever heard of them?” would progress onward to something along the lines of “Well, ok, so there may be a few, but they certainly don’t have the background to do anything of this size and magnitude.” Yet, both the premise and the fact of this declaration are deeply flawed.
Putting aside the provocative assumption of omniscience that stands at the heart
of this assertion until later, as to the fact of this statement, it just simply is not true. At the very least,
• J. Max Bond’s Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violence in Atlanta
• Sims-Varner’s Museum of African American History in Detroit
• the Freelon Group’s Reginald F. Lewis Maryland Museum of African American History
• the late Walter Blackburn’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati,
• Allison G. Williams’ August Wilson Center for African-American Culture in Pittsburgh
provide a very effective, museum-specific, counter-argument to the above line of reasoning. This is not to mention the work done on convention centers, hotels, and even sports stadiums that can easily alleviate questions of experience concerning large-scale, complex architectural projects.
But in addition, I would posit that if experience is indeed the critical component in determining the architect for any museum of African-American culture, these architects--and those like them—bring to the table an additional level of experience unique to only them: the experience of being African American. For example, while Bond, Sims, Williams, and Freelon have been practicing architects for a quarter century or more, they’ve been African American for, oh…I would guess, a lot longer than that. Perhaps even all their lives. Harlem architect Victor Body-Lawson argues that such experience uniquely provides this group of architects with “a cultural and spiritual link to the issues these institutions deal with,” often demonstrated to be an immeasurable advantage for a design professional.6
As to the premise itself, a closer look reveals evidence of some mighty fine circular reasoning: African -American architects don’t have the experience, so they don’t get the job; they don’t get the job, because they don’t have the experience – no experience, no job; no job, no experience; no experi— well…you get the picture. If we are to believe that African-American architects don’t have the experience to handle a commission of significant size and cultural import, then where and when, exactly, are they to receive such experience?
If type-specific experience is indeed the determining factor in securing signature commissions and African-American architects are not provided the opportunity to gain said experience, then of course they will never be in a position to win such commissions. It’s a vicious, never ending cycle and one that ultimately serves to keep conditions from substantively changing. At some point, the opportunity to gain the experience must be provided. At some point, there was a Weisman for Frank Gehry, an Atheneum for Richard Meier, a Tate for Herzog & DuMond.
There is always a first time for every architect. Always. Ultimately, the more one examines this overall line of reasoning, the more indefensible it becomes; so much so that one is left to wonder what allows for apparently rational people to present such irrational positions with such earnest conviction. In my experience, it is because these positions mask a deeper, perhaps unconscious, concern just beneath their seemingly sensible surface, and it is this concern that leads me to the third, and perhaps the most insidious, oft-uttered comment.
3. Aesthetics: Don’t you want the best?
By far the most problematic of the three, this deceptively “innocent” question
embodies two very problematic, interconnected assumptions that should be unpleasant to all, but especially distasteful to African Americans. The first is that it presumes the speaker knows what is best—or at least, best for African Americans –and the second is that it takes for granted the best cannot possibly be African American. Both are the result of the presumed omniscience referred to above, which reveals itself here as a kind of cultural imperialism that if accepted, not only authorizes such statements as legitimate inquiry, but also authorizes decisions to be made based on that imperialism as well.
In his book Framing Places: Mediating Power in Built Form, architecture critic Kim Dovey makes an insightful comment, observing that the will to form is also the will to inform; that the motivation to build something is really about the desire to say something. Thus, at its best, architecture speaks to those whom encounter it. Now, if it is true that all museums reify notions about the past, the phrase “wanting the best” can be more accurately read on the surface as a concern about what the eventual building might say about the past and who, exactly, gets to say it.
But there is even more at stake than who gets to speak. If what Smithsonian curator of African-American History and Culture Fath Ruffins points out is true, that “most African Americas inhabit a cultural landscape…quite distinct and at odds with many other Americans’ view of the national past,”7 it is not much of a leap to conclude that at its most fundamental level, the phrase “wanting the best” is a polite way of voicing a belief that the aesthetic sensibilities of African- American architects might not be suitable for the museums projects under discussion, not to mention any other highly visible project; that what they might say through their work, is inherently different and thus, inherently inferior, if not inappropriate. Architect Terrance O’Neal, AIA, puts it another way, “People guard their culture very closely…A lot of what is considered architecturally good is often considered to be out of the reach of a nonwhite or a black architect.”8 A stretch you say? I think not.
Look, it should come as no surprise that in the arts in general, and especially within the field of architecture, there are those whom lay claim to arbitrators and guardians of the high concepts of design and thus, act as gatekeepers into that specialized realm. It isn’t often that the gatekeepers—who commonly determine
what is considered historically and culturally significant; in short, what is “best”—
have been particularly interested in artistic forms of disparate cultural producers, at least not when produced from a disparate cultural perspective. Hegemony is the de facto order of the day, a hegemony defined and enforced by the gatekeepers; both art and artist must look the particular part as construed by this cultural elite.
Certainly there are always exceptions, but often in such cases, the disparate is considered “other”, if not “primitive”, “raw”, “vernacular” and the like – all terms that tend to solidify the hegemonic boundaries, not dissolve them. And if, as Dovey writes, “forms of domination, based in cultural capital, are [often] made to appear as pure aesthetic judgments”, then, seemingly benign claims to what is generally positioned as “best” are often very specific claims to “what we think is best” and, what we think is best is always what makes us most comfortable.9
“Control of the arts is obviously control of culture,” says Max Bond, FAIA, supervising architect of the World Trade Center Memorial, and where the artistic expression afforded by significant architectural commissions is positioned as the ultimate symbol of professional success, decisions made under the auspices of purely neutral aesthetic judgments often serve to enforce what Bond deems as “the right to rule, if you will”; the right to know better, the right know what’s best.10 Consequently, if what Dovey and Bond suggest is true, then aesthetic notions of “best” are the ultimate determining factors in selecting an architect for these museum projects and it is imperative that we ask who, exactly, is determining what is best and by what criteria?
And, perhaps even more to the point, best for whom? Understandably, this is not an easy proposition to engage. The gatekeepers have so institutionalized their particular cultural and professional predilections within the framework of aesthetic judgment that not only is the question of the nature, propriety and pertinence of these predilections not addressed, they are difficult to even perceive.
Yet perceive we must, and we would do well to begin by remembering that aesthetic judgments are always subjective. They are arbitrary choices that ultimately masquerade as universal truths. But, don’t get it twisted; I do not wish to imply that the concept of aesthetic appropriateness is not without some manner of comparison. Not at all. I simply wish to point out that the choice of what is or is not appropriate is always embedded within a particular point of view. Such choices are by their very nature, conjecture, not fact. Conditional, not absolute. Cultural, not natural. Yet the gatekeepers would have us believe otherwise and further, that only a philistine would question always-already settled aesthetic standards. Yet Bond’s and Dovey’s insightful observations help us to see what’s really at stake in interrogating ostensibly culturally-neutral notions of best: the freedom to openly express an African-American aesthetic in built form and to intentionally inscribe African-American cultural interpretations on the very air around us to last for centuries.11
Bond’s and Dovey’s comments also make clearer the claim’s second connotation; however, any belief that the best can’t be African American is preposterous on the face of it. Outside of the fact that the term is, as explained above, relative, as creative agents in every other artistic medium, African Americans have demonstrated the kind of talent and dedication to their vision to produce seminal work, so, all things being equal, why would architecture be any different? For example, an excellent case might be made that the best architect for the two specifically mentioned projects couldn’t be anything but African American, given the kind of additional acumen brought to the work that Body-Lawson describes above.
And while I am hesitant to go so far as to make such a definitive claim—there are as many adequate to less-than-adequate designers within the African American community as there are within any other and while it is clear that a good many African-American architects can do projects such as these with skill and aplomb, not every African American architect or firm can—still, one would be extremely hard-pressed to argue a better author of the story of African Americans in this than someone who is the fruit of that experience; someone who has emerged out of that historical condition. It is a supposition echoed by Robert Wilkins, a member of a recent Smithsonian African-American museum commission appointed by President Bush, who told the New York Times that “a museum dedicated to countering the historic subjugation of African Americans should do that, in part, by giving African Americans prominent roles in deciding what it will look like.”12 It would be one thing to say that the authors don’t exist or must be taught to speak, but as I have taken pains to bring to light, such is not the case here. We have the writers. Many damn fine ones and several extraordinary ones. So in the end it comes to this:
Does the freedom to inform exist for people of color within the architectural realm? Of course.
Is it available to African Americans on an equal basis as their non-African American counterparts? Apparently not in New Jersey, New York, or Virginia.
Let me close by saying that my primary purpose for writing this piece isn’t to balkanize the practice of architecture by laying claim to all things Black. No, my primary purpose is simply to use these specific commissions to open up questions concerning the selection of principal architects for high profile commissions in general—a process that demonstrates with almost every selection that such balkanization already exists. But, by dispelling and dispensing with some of the most commonly proffered reasons for the lack of invitations offered to African-American practitioners to compete for highly visible cultural and commercial commissions, I hope to destabilize at least some of the intrangent obstacles that generally limit consideration of African-American practitioners for signature architectural commissions, even culturally significant ones such as the Museum of African American Music, the National Slavery Museum, and the Museum for African Art.
Now, I am acutely aware that there will be those who will argue that the point is
moot – that either a) only African-American architects can do justice to such projects or b) African -American architects should receive no more consideration than any other architect for such projects.13 While it is my position that the current lack of opportunities definitely has much, if not everything, to do with race, I would hesitate to argue that the solution is, pardon the pun, as black and white as either “a” or “b” makes it appear.
Clearly there are, or should be, more complex positions to be argued, as suggested by architect Allison Williams, FAIA. “To say that these museums and monuments are opportunities for black architects suggests that other projects are not opportunities for black architects, and I think that's dangerous.”14 There must be others. Still…wherever you stand within the panoply of opinions isn’t really the point of this piece. What immediately matters is that from wherever you stand, one thing should now be perfectly clear: the above three reasons rationalizing the lack of high profile commissions offered to African-American architects no longer hold any substance, if they ever did. Should they continue to be employed to explain away the dearth of African American architects considered for signature architectural commissions—and especially these kinds of commissions— you
can be sure of two things: 1) that it is something far more sinister than simple ignorance keeping it in play and 2) you damn well should be doing something about it.
1. The author
2. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati by Walter Blackburn and Associates.
3. Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violence, Atlanta, Bond Ryder Associates
4. Reginald F. Lewis Maryland Museum of African American History, Baltimore The Freelon Group/RTKL joint venture
5. Museum of African American History, Detroit , by Sims-Varner and Associates,
Photos courtesy of the author.
1. See America’s Architectural Roots: Ethnic Groups that Built America. Dell Upton, ed. (Washington, DC: The National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1986)., African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary 1865-1945. Dreck Wilson, et al. ed. (New York: Rizzoli Press, 2004), among others.
2. Bradford Grant. Directory of African American Architects. Bradford Grant and Dennis Mann, ed. (Cincinnati: Center for the Study of Practice, University of Cincinnati Press, 1996). p.9.
3 As quoted by Mary K. Pratt. “Diversity by design: Architects work to broaden appeal.” Architects, Engineers & Construction Quarterly. April 4, 2003.
[“M]inorities aren't even well represented in architecture schools and related design programs. Officials speculate that minorities might not have the same exposure to the design profession, and therefore don't recognize it as a career option. Or, they say, minorities might not be attracted to the field because they don't see many potential mentors. Despite the fact that in about the last 10 years, African-American women have more than tripled their numbers as licensed architects and the percentage of African American men becoming licensed architects has seen slower but steady growth, while every other minority group practicing have increased their overall numbers within the profession, the number of African American practitioners in the US has remained flat for the last 30 years at somewhere between 1 and 2 percent.
4. Vincent Scully. "The Architecture of Healing.” African American Architects in Current Practice. Jack Travis, ed. (New York: Princeton Press, 1992). p.11.
5. Melissa Mitchell. “Research project spotlights African American architects from U. of I.” http://www.news.uiuc.edu/NEWS/06/0209architects.html
In “The Canon and the Void: Gender, Race and Architectural History Texts,” an article just published in the Journal of Architectural Education, [Professor Kathryn] Anthony and doctoral student Meltem O. Gurel document their examination of history texts assigned at 14 leading architecture schools. Despite lip service within the field regarding “the importance of women and African Americans as critics, creators and consumers of the built environment,” Anthony
noted, “our analysis of these history texts revealed that contributions of women remain only marginally represented in the grand narrative of architecture. And for the most part, African Americans are omitted altogether.”
6. Fred A. Bernstein. “For African Americans, a Chance to Draft History.” New York Times. June 24, 2004. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=travel&res=9A0DE6D81139F937A15755C0A9629C8B63
7. Fath Davis Ruffins. “Culture Wars Won and Lost, Part II: The National African American Museum Project.” Radical History Review. 70. (1998). p.85.
8. David Dunlap. “Black Architects Struggling for Equity.” New York Times. December 4, 1994.
9. Kin Dovey. Framing Places: Mediating Power in Built Form. (London: Routledge, 1999). p.38.
10. Thomas Dutton. “Architectural Education and Society: An Interview with J. Max Bond, Jr.” Voices in Architectural Education: Cultural Politics and Pedagogy. Thomas Dutton, ed. (New York: Bergin & Garvey, 1991). p. 88.
11. Edward T. Linenthal. Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum. (New York: Viking/Penguin Group, 1995). p. 101. The freedom to openly express the African-American experience in built form cannot be overstated, for it indeed has recent precedent. For example, the 1988 Commission of Fine Arts, displeased with Freed’s design of the Holocaust Museum, sought specific changes which, Linenthal writes, “appeared to be merely aesthetic concerns but were in essence requests that he create
a preferred architectural narrative to soften and dilute the building’s strong visual statement.” However, in response to these requests, linguist Lawrence Langer, a member of the private committee charged with shepherding the project through to completion, effectively destabilized the presumptive normative foundation supporting the Commission’s desire by arguing: “When we write of martyrs instead of victims; focus on resistance instead of mass murder; celebrate the human spirit and bypass the human body; invoke the dignity of the self and ignore its humiliation—we are…initiating the evolution of insulation against the terrors of the Holocaust, without bringing us any closer to its complex and elusive truths.” Yet, Linenthal correctly points out that the “desire for such “buffers of insulation” was certainly at work in reaction to Freed’s design.” Further, Douglas Cardinal faced similar difficulties—specific political aims couched in general aesthetic concerns—designing the American Indian Museum and while his design ultimately won the day, he himself was a causality of the battle,
having been fired from the project.
12 Bernstein. “For African Americans, a Chance to Draft History.” New York Times.
13 Id. “Clement Price, an adviser to the Museum of African American Music in Newark, which has hired the Hillier Group, a- Princeton-based firm, said: ‘We may have transitioned to a period when the race of the architect is not as much of an issue as in the heady days of black nationalism 25 years ago.’”