Understanding the works of Black American architects is essential for various reasons. For starters, it addresses a historical imbalance by highlighting Black architects’ and builders’ sometimes forgotten achievements. Their works have had a tremendous impact on the architectural environment of the United States. Appreciating this legacy is a step toward a more inclusive and honest portrayal of the country’s history. Not only that, but these works of art are physical representations of cultural history and perseverance. They represent Black Americans’ tenacity, resourcefulness, and innovation from the era of the Civil Rights Movement and beyond to the present day. 

Harlem – Vertner Tandy’s Legacy

Harlem is the perfect place to start this architectural excursion. The neighborhood is the hometown of Vertner Tandy, a trailblazing Black architect. Vertner Tandy was the first registered African American architect in New York State. In 1906, he was one of seven founders of Cornell University’s Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Together, Tandy and George Washington Foster—who was among the first African-American architects to receive a license from New Jersey—established Tandy & Foster, a firm with headquarters on Broadway in New York City. 

Tandy’s most well-known commission was arguably Villa Lewaro, the $250,000 estate of Harlem wealthy Madam C. J. Walker in Irvington on Hudson, New York. His other notable works are the Ivey Delph Apartments and St. Philip’s Episcopal Church at 204 West 134th Street in Harlem, designed by his architectural firm Tandy & Foster. The Ivey Delph Apartments, created in 1948, were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

Texas – The Visionary Work of John Chase

Next up is a trip to Texas, where John Saunders Chase Jr. made history as the state’s first certified Black American architect. Among his many notable constructions is the 1963 Riverside National Bank, the first bank in Texas owned by Black Americans. Extending the ideas put forward in his master’s thesis, “Progressive Architecture for the Negro Baptist Church,” Chase also constructed the David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in East Austin, Texas. 

Chase is also responsible for several structures at Texas Southern University in Houston. These include the Thurgood Marshall School of Master’s, the Ernest S. Sterling Student Life Center, and the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanities Building. Chase’s architectural style embraced Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian ideals, with the goal of creating places that brought people together. 

Los Angeles – Paul R. Williams’ Achievements

In Los Angeles lives the remarkable legacy of Paul R. Williams, an architect whose talent crossed racial barriers. Williams’ work on the beautiful First AME Church in Los Angeles left a lasting impact on Southern California. The church’s neoclassical architecture and flawless artistry reflect his mastery of architectural aesthetics.

Williams was also responsible for some of the most elegant residential designs in Beverly Hills. His work on the home of famed singer Frank Sinatra exemplifies his talent for combining classical and modern architectural elements. The house’s curved forms, which merge effortlessly with the surrounding terrain, demonstrate his distinct style. William was the first Black American architect admitted to the American Institute of Architects.