Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans, and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. History.

This year’s celebration of Black History Month sparked my own curiosity about the contributions of black Americans to our skylines. So I took a closer look at two pioneering contemporary black American architects who, like us at Paladino, embrace sustainable design, wellness, and the infinite inspiration of nature.

Norma Merrick Sklarek (1928-2012)

Norma Merrick Sklarek black history month

Norma Merrick Sklarek was the first black woman to become a licensed architect in New York and California and to become an AIA Fellow – being both black and a woman gave her a steeper hill to climb in this profession than most others. Her many projects include the Pacific Design Center in California and a new terminal for Los Angeles International Airport.

As we know, existing buildings are the greenest buildings – and Sklarek designed buildings that endured. For example the 11 story example of modern design, the U.S. Embassy Office Building in Tokyo, Japan was designed by Sklarek and her team at Gruen Associates in 1974 to exacting standards, and continues to serve its purpose without significant alterations – despite the frequent and significant earthquakes it continually withstands.

“Architecture should be working on improving the environment of people in their homes, in their places of work, and their places of recreation. It should be functional and pleasant, not just in the image of the architect’s ego.” Norma Merrick Sklarek in Brian Lanker, I Dream a World (1989)

Harvey Barnard Gantt (1943 – )

Harvey Barnard Gantt black history month

This Charleston-born architect has also served as mayor and civil rights activist. Harvey B. Gantt (born January 14, 1943) fused a love of urban planning with a mind for policy decisions. When beginning his career, Gantt was forced to take legal action to study architecture in South Carolina. In 1963, Gantt won the lawsuit and became the first African-American student at Clemson University. With a Bachelor’s Degree from Clemson, Gantt went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to earn a Master of City Planning degree. He moved to North Carolina to begin his dual career as architect and politician.

Joe and Joan Martin Center

Joe and Joan Martin Center ImaginOn

Gantt Hubmernan Architects and Holtzman Moss Architecture collaborated to design the Joe & Joan Martin Center in Charlotte, NC. This LEED Silver project, called ImaginOn, is a partnership between the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. The team saw sustainability as “an expression of faith and hope in the future.” You can read more about its green features like sustainably harvested wood, flooring made from recycled rubber tires, wool carpet, and toilet partitions made from post-consumer detergent bottles here

Our industry – specifically architecture, and real estate development – has room to grow in terms of inclusivity and representation. I will continue to seek out the black leaders helping to shape our buildings, communities, and skylines through architecture and development. I join the rest of America in celebrating the contributions of black architects of the past, present, and future during Black History Month and beyond.

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