In 2014, the AIA posthumously awarded the Gold Medal to the award's first female recipient, architect Julia Morgan. For 2017, the AIA is awarding another posthumous Gold Medal to Paul Revere Williams, the first African-American recipient. Voted on annually, the AIA Gold Medal is awarded to an individual's exceptional body of work that has made a lasting impact on architectural practice and theory.
A trailblazer throughout his career, Paul Revere Williams was also the first black architect to join the AIA and to be elected in the Institute's College of Fellows. Phil Freelon, Managing and Design Director at Perkins + Will, presented to the AIA Board of Directors on behalf of Williams. “It’s been many decades but Paul Williams is finally being recognized for the brilliant work he did over many years,” Freelon said in a press statement.
Read on for more.
Born in Los Angeles in 1894, a young Paul Revere Williams pushed toward an architectural career, despite a high school teacher trying to dissuade Williams because he wouldn't garner enough support — whether it was attracting clients in a predominantly white community or that the black community would not provide enough work to sustain his practice. Evidently, Williams thrived, and his work soon “signified Southern California glamour”*.
He won architecture competitions early in his career, and he became the first black architect to join the AIA and to be elected in the Institute's College of Fellows. After opening his practice in the early 1920s, Williams designed over 2,000 residential and commercial buildings, from smaller affordable houses for new homeowners to the larger revival-style abodes for his wealthier celebrity clients. Having to deal with racial obstacles, Williams is also known for developing the ability to draw upside down to accommodate white clients who might not have wanted to sit next to him.
Williams' body of work also comprises iconic buildings like his 1949 renovation of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the infamous spider-like LAX Theme Building (1961), and the Palm Springs Tennis Center that he designed with A. Quincy Jones in 1946. Eight of Williams' buildings are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
“Our profession desperately needs more architects like Paul Williams. His pioneering career has encouraged others to cross a chasm of historic biases,” wrote William J. Bates, FAIA, in his support of Williams' Gold Medal nomination. “His recognition demonstrates a significant shift in the equity for the profession and the institute.”
Paul Revere Williams joins previous Gold Medalists like Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi (2016), Moshe Safdie (2015), Thom Mayne (2013), Fumihiko Maki (2011), Peter Bohlin (2010), and Glenn Murcutt (2009).
All photos courtesy of the AIA.
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