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New Map Highlights Civic and Other Important Projects in which
African American Architects Were Significant Contributors

November 8, 2016 (Los Angeles)--Yes, there’s Google Maps, but a new entry in the cartography realm traces architectural territory in the Los Angeles region not accessible elsewhere. A map, recently published by the AIA|LA, highlights projects in which African American architects, past and present, were significant contributors. Projects selected for inclusion hold social, cultural and/or historical relevance.

The cited schools, civic centers, hospitals, housing developments and commercial projects impact their communities or Los Angeles at-large in a positive way. In addition to being a historical record, the endeavor is intended to inspire next-generation African American professionals and to motivate all minorities to pursue professions in the AEC community.

“A Map of Featured Los Angeles Buildings by African American Architects”

The project is the idea of Debra Gerod, FAIA, Partner at Gruen Associates, and 2016 President of the AIA|LA Board of Directors. She was looking for a meaningful way to have AIA|LA show support for the 2016 National Organization of Minority Architects conference. Gerod decided to initiate the mapping of buildings completed by African Americans architects in Los Angeles in order to develop awareness of this body of work.

At Gruen Associates, Jason E. Morris, Assoc. AIA, and high school intern Shaellen Franco, from the ACE Mentor Program, took on the project. Its secondary objective—to increase African American participation in the AEC fields—was initiated when Morris, who as an Ex-Officio Associate Director also serves on the AIA|LA Board, realized there were fewer African American Architects practicing in Los Angeles and fewer buildings to include than he’d hoped.

The reasons include lack of opportunities as well as instances when African American architects did not receive due recognition for their contributions, leadership and/or design on projects. Morris also saw a gap in terms of having a key inspirational figure that exposed to the field and encouraged next-generation designers to enter AEC professions.

“In doing my research—many architects of the previous generation were motivated by seeing Paul Williams [FAIA] and the high-profile clients he attracted,” Morris says. “We may not see another Paul Williams in our lifetime, but with the map, there’s an aggregate of all these accomplished architects joining Williams that students may see as examples today and always.”

“African American architects are here, and they’re doing good work, here, in LA,” he continues.

To develop the map’s database of buildings, Morris and Franco culled lists of contemporary Los Angeles architects, tracked online records, reached out to architecture firms and the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), and contacted architects’ relatives. The resulting data will be updated for the use and education of future generations.

Working on the map re-introduced Morris to his own firm’s history. Embarking on it, he was aware that Victor Gruen had hired minority architects and assigned them “prominent roles in the firm during a time when it was unpopular to do so.” But what struck him, during his four months investigating projects to include in the database, was the preponderance of names he encountered that had passed through the Gruen office. “Robert Kennard [FAIA] was one of them, Norma Sklarek [FAIA], Roland Wiley [AIA], even Marion Sampler, the well known African American graphic designer,” he says.

Presented at the 2016 National Organization of Minority Architects National Convention in mid-October, “A Map of Featured Los Angeles Buildings by African American Architects” is available on the AIA|LA website:

The endeavor is co-sponsored by AIA|LA, Center for Architecture and Urban Design Los Angeles, ARC Document Solutions, Gruen Associates, and SoCal NOMA.
Last updated: 22-Nov-2016 10:15 AM
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