If you were asked to name the greatest American architects, who would you pick? Folks like Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra and Philip Johnson usually spring to mind. However, alongside those men were many Black architects who also pioneered the design world alongside their white colleagues while simultaneously facing major social barriers — all while never attaining the same level of recognition.
The art and architecture that surrounds us can influence the way we live our lives, but they also reflect the times during which they were made. Design can be used as a way to bring people together, with public works projects like affordable housing, or be used to divide, such as in the case of racially motivated urban planning. Many major cities, Los Angeles included, remain starkly racially divided due to the redlining of yesteryear.
In fact, Black people were still barred from studying architecture and design in many states until the 1950s and ‘60s. And, due to segregation and restrictive property covenants, even the most successful and well-known Black architects, such as Paul R. Williams, were frequently unable to live in the neighborhoods where the homes they designed were built.
Of course, not all trailblazing Black architects lived in the past. And while schools are no longer segregated and people of color are no longer barred from pursuing architecture as a profession, the design world is still often criticized for its lack of diversity.
That’s why DIRT has added five influential working architects to our list of ten legends who not only broke ground on the buildings they designed but also broke real-world racial barriers and proverbial glass ceilings. (Additions are the final five on the list.) Each addition, which includes a husband and wife team who have practiced together for more than 40 years, seeks to harness the power of architecture to reflect, challenge and better the society in which it exists. Many are also educators and theoretical movers and shakers in addition to practicing architects.
Like their legendary professional forebears, all of the practicing architects own this list are blazing their own unique architectural trail and will leave their own indelible stamp on the world.
A version of this story first appeared on Dirt.com in February 2021.