What better way to kick off the first blog post of 2021 than by celebrating Black History Month and acknowledging the African-American professionals in the industry who have, and continue to be, an inspirational force for designers, architects and all types of creatives!
First and foremost, I want to recognize a current influential individual who's creativity strikes a chord with me, Michael Ford, also known as the Hip Hop Architect. His main initiative, the Hip Hop Architecture Camp, teaches youth how to integrate hip hop culture with architecture through various activities (read more about this here). Aside from Ford's benevolent endeavours, he has recently partnered with Herman Miller to create the "Remixed Eames Chair". Taking the classic Eames chair that we all know and love, Ford continues its concept of hope and has printed the names of "Black victims of racism who were not afforded the privilege of refuge" to initiate "Conversations of Change" (Fig 1-3). The chair is taking a tour throughout the States as a campaign to raise awareness about the systemic racism and inequality being experienced by people of colour. Read more here.
Another current force to recognize is the design firm Forbes + Masters. Founded by Tavia Forbes and Monet Masters (fig 4), this dynamic duo founded their interior design firm and successfully execute designs that reflect the clients needs while creating immersive environments that allow memorable experiences to be made. I was enamoured by the nursery called "Where The Wild Things Are" (fig 5) and the ethereal environment created for two very lucky children! The wallpaper design and overall colour scheme evoke a sense of imagination, perfect for a developing mind. On the flip side, showcasing their true design abilities, Forbes + Masters created a karaoke room (fig 6) lacquered in blue from floor to ceiling! I personally LOVE karaoke and this room gets me excited as it mixes my two passions, music and bold design, perfectly! Complete with a stage, the soft curved furnishings and velvet upholstery create a feeling of true luxury while welcoming the opportunity to lounge and/or belt out a tune. Forbes + Masters is a firm that I encourage creatives to keep an eye on - it's enjoyable to see such bold designs come to life! Find out more here.
Now let's take it back in time, to Paul Revere Williams (fig 7). Some of you may be familiar with Williams' work, but what has stood out to me is the success of this man, regardless of the obstacles he would've had to overcome. Being the only African-American student in his elementary school, he became the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects in 1923. His projects include designs for celebrities like Frank Sinatra (fig 8), and my favourite, Lucille Ball and Desi (fig 9) from "I Love Lucy". In the residence designed for Lucille and Desi in 1951, we can see how Williams integrated elements of biophilia, which seems to be advanced for the time since the concept of biophilia was only first established by psychologists in 1964. Overall, the influence Williams has had, and continues to have, on the architecture and design community lives on as his practices can be applied to modern designs today. Read more here.
Finally, Norma Merrock Sklarek (fig 10) has been referred to as the "Rosa Parks of architecture" and for good reason. Sklarek's contribution to several commercial projects across the States is impressive along with her story. She had always been intelligent and talented in fine arts and she was able to blend her math and art skills into a successful and rewarding career in architecture. Her works include several large commercial buildings such as the Mall of America in Minneapolis (fig 11) and the Pacific Design Centre in California (fig 12). Specifically in the Mall of America, I notice the deep green complimented by brass metal accents which is extremely relevant today! The linear qualities are accented by soft curves to create balance within asymmetrical compositions - such an artistic touch. Sklarek spent her time mentoring women in the architecture industry, a true testament of humility and setting an example of how sharing one's experience and knowledge in the industry is beneficial for the future of the community. Learning about Sklarek's contributions to the architecture world was so intriguing and I'm eager reference her work in my own practice. Find out more here.
Overall, taking the time to research influential African-American professionals in the architecture and design community was an eye-opening experience. It's so interesting to see how these historical figures have paved the way for design as we know it today. It's also important to recognize and appreciate such figures and reflect on their journey to enhance our perspective and practice as growing creatives. It is through acknowledging the work of minorities that we begin to see diversity within various industries and welcome the benefits such inclusivity brings. Looking forward to the future of out community and how we expand the level of diversity in every niche.