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The National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Photo via Shutterstock/rarrarorro

10 notable D.C. projects designed by black architects

From museums to dwellings to public artworks

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The National Museum of African American History and Culture.
| Photo via Shutterstock/rarrarorro

In the architecture field, African Americans are underrepresented with progress on diversifying the field remaining slow. While African Americans made up 13 percent of the total U.S. population in 2010, only 2 percent of licensed architects in the U.S. are African American. Despite this, black architects have always had a huge impact on the nation’s capital.

Below, Curbed DC has compiled a list of buildings, parks, public art, and libraries in the District, each designed by notable black architects, such as Michael Marshall and John Anderson Lankford.

Note: The mapped points have been ordered geographically, from the most north to the most south.

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“From a Model to a Rainbow”

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Since 2011, this mural by D.C.-based artist Sam Gilliam has been installed right outside the Takoma Metro station. The 14-feet-by-39-feet, 2,000-pound mosaic was commissioned by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities in cooperation with the Metro Art in Transit Program. In a statement, Gilliam said, “I wanted to make a work that is part of its environment, yet changes that environment. A work filled with color and light.” Gilliam is internationally recognized as the foremost contemporary African American Color Field painter.

Photo via Google Street View

Chuck Brown Memorial Park

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Opened in August 2014, this $1.8 million park serves as a tribute to Chuck Brown, the godfather of Go-Go music. The entire park spans 42,000 square feet with plenty of benches for lounging around. The architect behind this park was Michael Marshall, the same designer behind D.C.’s Audi Field and the student center at the University of the District of Columbia.

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Founders Library

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Albert Irvin Cassell has a long history with Howard University, serving as campus planner and architect during the 1920s and 1930s. One of his most famous buildings is the University’s Founders Library, which opened in 1939 as the largest and most extensive research facility at a historically black university. In March 2016, the non-profit National Trust for Historic Preservation named the library a national treasure.

Howard University.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons/RaEdits

Frank D. Reeves Center of Municipal Affairs

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In honor of lawyer and civil rights activist Frank D. Reeves, this building was opened in 1986 in the U Street neighborhood. When it opened, it was meant to bring government services closer to a struggling neighborhood and to revitalize the neighborhood. It was also the first major building to rise on U Street in decades. The building was designed by Marshall Purnell and Paul Devrouax of the firm, Devrouax & Purnell. It was also designed as a joint venture with Robert Traynham Coles, Architect, PC.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/AgnosticPreachersKid

True Reformer Building

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According to D.C. Preservation League Executive Director Rebecca Miller, this building is worth an inclusion on this list as it was designed in 1903 by John Anderson Lankford, the first African-American to be registered as an architect in Washington, D.C. The building was the first in the nation to be designed, financed, built, and owned by the African-American community after Reconstruction.

U Street Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Aude

Anthony Bowen Branch YMCA

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D.C. Preservation League Executive Director Rebecca Miller suggested to Curbed DC that this building be included on this list as it was designed by William Sidney Pittman, a world-renowned architect with works that included the first Fairmount Heights school and the Garfield Elementary Public School. Pittman was also the first African American to design a YMCA building. Founded in 1853, this was also the first YMCA open to African-Americans in the world.

Photo via Google Street View

Marvin Gaye Mural

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When this mural was installed in Shaw in 2014, artist Aneikan Udofia told DCist, “I do like the idea of it being ‘reborn.’ So I would call it ‘The soulful return of Marvin Gaye.’” This “reborn” idea is based off of the fact that a previous mural in Shaw depicting Marvin Gaye, created by Udofia, was covered by construction. With this new mural, Udofia said, “I added more soul to it.”

Photo via Elvert Barnes

Langston Terrace Dwellings

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Hillyard Robinson was born in D.C. and went on to accomplish many projects in the area, from the Ralph Bunche House to most notably the Langston Terrace Dwellings. Constructed in 1938, this national landmark in Carver/Langston was the first federally funded housing project in D.C. and the second in the nation. The name is in honor of John Mercer Langston, an abolitionist, founder of Howard University Law School, and U.S. congressman from Virginia.

(Note: The mapped point may be a little off from where it should be located and this item has been updated to reflect the complex’s neighborhood.)

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Smallbones

Capital One Arena

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Designed by a joint venture between Marshall Purnell, the first African-American president of the American Institute of Architects, and Paul Devrouax, Capital One Arena opened in December 1997. When it opened under the name MCI Center, it was known as “perhaps the biggest bet yet on downtown.” This was the first major sports facility to be built in the city since Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium opened in 1961. It has since undergone two name changes, from MCI Center to the Verizon Center to Capital One Arena.

Photo via Shutterstock/Andrei Medvedev

National Museum of African American History and Culture

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After winning an international competition in April 2009, lead designer David Adjaye and lead architect Philip Freelon, together with their architectural team Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup, designed the Smithsonian’s latest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The museum opened in September 2016 with a theater and displays on subjects that include sports, visual and performing arts, business, education, and the African slave trade. For more information on the design of the building, see Alexandra Lange’s architecture column on Curbed here.

Photo via Shutterstock/GiuseppeCrimeni

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“From a Model to a Rainbow”

Photo via Google Street View

Since 2011, this mural by D.C.-based artist Sam Gilliam has been installed right outside the Takoma Metro station. The 14-feet-by-39-feet, 2,000-pound mosaic was commissioned by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities in cooperation with the Metro Art in Transit Program. In a statement, Gilliam said, “I wanted to make a work that is part of its environment, yet changes that environment. A work filled with color and light.” Gilliam is internationally recognized as the foremost contemporary African American Color Field painter.

Photo via Google Street View

Chuck Brown Memorial Park

Opened in August 2014, this $1.8 million park serves as a tribute to Chuck Brown, the godfather of Go-Go music. The entire park spans 42,000 square feet with plenty of benches for lounging around. The architect behind this park was Michael Marshall, the same designer behind D.C.’s Audi Field and the student center at the University of the District of Columbia.

A post shared by Debdia (@debragrowe) on

Founders Library

Howard University.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons/RaEdits

Albert Irvin Cassell has a long history with Howard University, serving as campus planner and architect during the 1920s and 1930s. One of his most famous buildings is the University’s Founders Library, which opened in 1939 as the largest and most extensive research facility at a historically black university. In March 2016, the non-profit National Trust for Historic Preservation named the library a national treasure.

Howard University.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons/RaEdits

Frank D. Reeves Center of Municipal Affairs

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/AgnosticPreachersKid

In honor of lawyer and civil rights activist Frank D. Reeves, this building was opened in 1986 in the U Street neighborhood. When it opened, it was meant to bring government services closer to a struggling neighborhood and to revitalize the neighborhood. It was also the first major building to rise on U Street in decades. The building was designed by Marshall Purnell and Paul Devrouax of the firm, Devrouax & Purnell. It was also designed as a joint venture with Robert Traynham Coles, Architect, PC.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/AgnosticPreachersKid

True Reformer Building

U Street Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Aude

According to D.C. Preservation League Executive Director Rebecca Miller, this building is worth an inclusion on this list as it was designed in 1903 by John Anderson Lankford, the first African-American to be registered as an architect in Washington, D.C. The building was the first in the nation to be designed, financed, built, and owned by the African-American community after Reconstruction.

U Street Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Aude

Anthony Bowen Branch YMCA

Photo via Google Street View

D.C. Preservation League Executive Director Rebecca Miller suggested to Curbed DC that this building be included on this list as it was designed by William Sidney Pittman, a world-renowned architect with works that included the first Fairmount Heights school and the Garfield Elementary Public School. Pittman was also the first African American to design a YMCA building. Founded in 1853, this was also the first YMCA open to African-Americans in the world.

Photo via Google Street View

Marvin Gaye Mural

Photo via Elvert Barnes

When this mural was installed in Shaw in 2014, artist Aneikan Udofia told DCist, “I do like the idea of it being ‘reborn.’ So I would call it ‘The soulful return of Marvin Gaye.’” This “reborn” idea is based off of the fact that a previous mural in Shaw depicting Marvin Gaye, created by Udofia, was covered by construction. With this new mural, Udofia said, “I added more soul to it.”

Photo via Elvert Barnes

Langston Terrace Dwellings

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Smallbones

Hillyard Robinson was born in D.C. and went on to accomplish many projects in the area, from the Ralph Bunche House to most notably the Langston Terrace Dwellings. Constructed in 1938, this national landmark in Carver/Langston was the first federally funded housing project in D.C. and the second in the nation. The name is in honor of John Mercer Langston, an abolitionist, founder of Howard University Law School, and U.S. congressman from Virginia.

(Note: The mapped point may be a little off from where it should be located and this item has been updated to reflect the complex’s neighborhood.)

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Smallbones

Capital One Arena

Photo via Shutterstock/Andrei Medvedev

Designed by a joint venture between Marshall Purnell, the first African-American president of the American Institute of Architects, and Paul Devrouax, Capital One Arena opened in December 1997. When it opened under the name MCI Center, it was known as “perhaps the biggest bet yet on downtown.” This was the first major sports facility to be built in the city since Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium opened in 1961. It has since undergone two name changes, from MCI Center to the Verizon Center to Capital One Arena.

Photo via Shutterstock/Andrei Medvedev

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Photo via Shutterstock/GiuseppeCrimeni

After winning an international competition in April 2009, lead designer David Adjaye and lead architect Philip Freelon, together with their architectural team Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup, designed the Smithsonian’s latest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The museum opened in September 2016 with a theater and displays on subjects that include sports, visual and performing arts, business, education, and the African slave trade. For more information on the design of the building, see Alexandra Lange’s architecture column on Curbed here.

Photo via Shutterstock/GiuseppeCrimeni