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Robert Robinson Taylor: Trailblazing African American Architect

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Robert Robinson Taylor (1858 – 1942) is recognized as the first academically trained Black architect in the U.S.  Taylor grew up in North Carolina, where he worked for his father (Henry Taylor) as a carpenter and foreman.  Henry Taylor was a successful builder. Robert Taylor’s mother was Emilie Taylor.  Both Henry Taylor and Emilie Taylor were reported to be of mixed race.    

Robert Taylor graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  The final project he completed for his bachelor’s degree in Architecture was “Design for a Soldier’s Home.”  The project examined suggested a design to provide housing for aging civil war veterans. He graduated from MIT in 1892 at the top of his class with a bachelor of science degree in architecture.  Taylor was the first black person to graduate from MIT with an architectural degree. 

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Paul R. Williams: African American Architect To The Stars

Black History: Special Delivery!!

paul r williams
Paul R. Williams

Paul R. Williams (1894-1980) was a renowned architect during a period in history where African American architects were rare. Williams was orphaned at 4 when his parents died.   His new foster family recognized his artistic talents and encouraged him to utilize them. His career spanned 50 years and 3,000 projects.

Williams opened his own architectural firm at the age of 28. He mastered the skill of rendering his architectural drawings upside down. He developed this skill so that his white clients (who might have been uncomfortable sitting next to him because he was black) could see his drawings right side up as they sat across the table from him.  Known as an architect to the stars, Williams designed homes for celebrities such as  Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Lou Chaney, Barbara Stanwyck, and Charles Correll.

In 1953 he received the prestigious Springarn Medal from the NAACP for his outstanding contributions as an architect and member of the African American Community.  Williams in reflecting on his life noted the irony that most of the homes he designed and constructed were on property whose deeds included segregation covenants that prohibited blacks from purchasing the property.

 

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