Category Architecture

Nine Fine Design Pioneers

This month, in recognition of the US celebration of Black History Month, Four Corners breaks from convention to profile not one person, but nine people. Taking a moment to reflect on some of the historical achievements of African-American creative pioneers. The short biographies presented can in no way do justice to these esteemed people, but instead are designed to stimulate your natural curiosity to look further into the contribution made by these extraordinary men and women. Although all of the people featured here are no longer with us, they each made an indelible mark on the cultural and creative landscape and blazed a trail for others to follow. #Respect.Stamp featuring Madam CJ WalkerStamp featuring Madam CJ Walker

Sarah Breedlove, aka Madam CJ Walker, cosmetics designer, marketer and entrepreneur (1867-1919)

Way, way before Oprah, there was Sarah Breedlove, or Madam CJ Walker as she is more commonly known. The first child in her family born free from slavery just after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, this incredible woman made her fortune designing, developing and marketing a highly successful range of beauty and haircare products for black women via the business she founded, Madam CJ Walker Manufacturing Company. Regarded as the first US female self-made millionaire, Walker proved herself to be a great philanthropist, using her wealth to support many black organisations such as the NAACP plus a number of schools, orphanages, individuals, and retirement homes. Her achievements have been celebrated by many prominent institutions, most notably, The National Women’s Hall of Fame and on a postage stamp as part of the USPS Black Heritage USA series. For more information visit, Sing a New Song (1934), by Charles DawsonSource: University of Illinois  O, Sing a New Song (1934), by Charles Dawson

Charles Dawson, illustrator and designer (1889-1981)

As one of Chicago’s leading black artists and designers in the 1920s and ’30s, Charles Clarence Dawson made his name creating illustrated advertisments for beauty products and many of the major black businessmen and entrepreneurs of the day, including the pioneering black filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux. Born in Brunswick, Georgia to hard-working parents, and a student of Booker T. Washington’s famed Tuskegee Institute, he more than paid his dues working a variety of odd jobs to pay the tuition to become the first African American admitted to the Arts Students League in New York. He later went on to attend the Art Institute of Chicago, was a founding member of Chicago’s first Black Arts collective (the Arts & Letters Society) and an integral part of the New Negro Movement in the visual arts or more commonly referred to as the ‘Harlem Renaissance’. For more information visit Bondage (1944) by Aaron Douglas, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, WashingtonSource: Sarah Stierch  Into Bondage (1944) by Aaron Douglas, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington

Aaron Douglas, illustrator and designer (1889-1975)

Another leading figure and architect of the Harlem Renaissance, Aaron Douglas’ bold geometric and angular illustrations alongside the philosopher, Alain Locke’s insightful prose, featured prominently in the landmark 1925 publication, The New Negro. His work enabled the formation of a new visual language that embraced a distinct African heritage. It was a style that found its way onto many a publication cover and would later become known as ‘Afro-Cubism’. His work also translated beautifully into designs for wall murals, the best example of which is calledAspects of Negro Life’ created in 1934 for the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library, or as it is now called, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. For more information visit Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (1961), Paul Williams was consulted on the designSource: brew books The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (1961), Paul Revere Williams was consulted on the design

Paul Revere Williams, architect (1894-1980)

At the height of his career, Paul Revere Williams was popularly described as the ‘architect to the Stars’. This is an incredible accolade and achievement, not least for someone who was orphaned at a very young age, but also as a African American growing up through times of some of the most overt racism imaginable. In spite of all this, and encouraged by a foster mother who nurtured his education and artistic talent, he let his work ethic and perfectionist nature speak for itself. Earning academic awards, winning competition prizes and the respect of  both colleagues and clients along the way, he founded his own architectural practice in 1922 and became the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects in 1923. For almost 40 years, his home designs were commissioned by the Hollywood elite of celebrities, movie stars and powerful and wealthy Californian individuals. For more information visit American Unity Mural (1939), created by Diego Rivera with Thelma Johnson-StreatSource: Joaquin Marinez Rosado Pan American Unity Mural (1939), created by Diego Rivera with Thelma Johnson-Streat

Thelma Johnson-Streat, painter, illustrator, muralist and textile designer(1911-1959)

Against all the odds, this exceptional African American ‘Renaissance-woman’, gained recognition from an early age through her Art. A passion, which she expressed through many different channels and subsequently gained recognition for all of them. Whether working with celebrated Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera; becoming the First African-American woman to have her work exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, New York; as a teacher and activist promoting cultural diversity through art; or performing a dance recital for the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace in the 1950’s; it was all done with her customary grace, style and sophistication. For more information Proclamation stamp (1963), by Georg OldenEmancipation Proclamation stamp (1963), by Georg Olden

Georg Olden, designer and art director (1929-1975)

A man very much after my own heart, Georg Olden produced outstanding commercial work for some of America’s biggest corporations. As CBS’s Head of on-air promotions, in the early days of television, he pioneered the field of broadcast graphics, supervising the identities of programs such as I Love Lucy, Lassie and Gunsmoke, under the wing of leading art director, William Golden. If that wasn’t enough, he turned his attention to advertising, winning shelfloads awards and mentions in Graphis and Art Directors Club annuals continuously. In fact, the Clio Awards statuette of which he won several, was designed by him in 1962. He was the first black American to achieve an executive position in major corporation and also went on to become the first African American to design a postage stamp; a broken chain commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Not bad going for the grandson of slave. For more information visit Magoo. The Mr Magoo animated series was directed by Frank BraxtonSource: Kevin Dooley Mr Magoo. The Mr Magoo animated series was directed by Frank Braxton

Frank Braxton, animator (1929-1969)

Let’s paint the scene. America. The 1950s. And Jim Crow laws of racial segregation are still in place. How the hell does a black animator get his foot in the door as an animator at Warner Bros Animation? Well, the story goes that animator Benny Washam walked into the office of his production manager Johnny Burton and said, ‘I hear Warner Bros. has a racist policy and refuses to hire blacks.’ A furious Burton wheeled around in his office chair and shouted, ‘Whoever said that is a liar! It’s not true.’ ‘Well then,’ said Washam, ‘There’s a young black animator outside who’s looking for a job. Guess he’s come to the right place.’ That man was, of course, Frank Braxton, who went on to become part of the team at the legendary Chuck Jones unit at Warners. Many of Jones’ amazing cartoons of the 1950’s would contain substantial contributions from Braxton. He also served as a director for The Bullwinkle Show, Mr. Magoo, Charlie Brown TV specials and early Cap’n Crunch  commercials. For more information visit Embassy in Tokyo (1976), designed by Norma Merrick SklarekSource: jarsyl US Embassy in Tokyo (1976), designed by
Norma Merrick Sklarek

Norma Merrick Sklarek, architect (1928-2012)

As a first generation African-American, born in Harlem to Trinidadian parents, Norma Merrick Sklarek would go on to accomplish many more ‘firsts’, building an unparalleled career as a pioneering women architect. She became the first African-American director of architecture at Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles in 1966. Sklarek became the first black woman to be elected Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980. In 1985, she became the first African-American female architect to form her own architectural firm: Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond, which was the largest woman-owned and mostly woman-staffed architectural firm in the United States. For more information Channel F (1976), designed by Jerry LawsonSource: Mulad Fairchild Channel F (1976), designed by Jerry Lawson

Jerry Lawson, video games designer (1940-2011)

His name may not be as synonymous with the gaming industry as PlayStation and Nintendo, but Jerry Lawson’s innovative technological design and engineering work helped pave the way for them to follow. For Jerry made history when he created the first ever cartridge-based video game console, The Fairchild Channel F. Hailing from humble beginnings in a housing project in Jamaica, New York, his passion and talent for technology was to take him far, becoming Head of the Fairfield Channel F project where he and his team designed many of its prototyped components. Always looking to push the systems capabilities beyond just cartridge gaming, they put together a daring initiative called TV Pow, which was the first, and only video game played via broadcast television. For more information



Acasa 16th Triennial Symposium On African Art at the Brooklyn Museum will consider the full range of topics related to the arts of Africa and the African Diaspora currently being addressed by ACASA members, from considerations of the archaeological and archival contexts of historical African art to examinations of emerging artistic practices on and off the continent. Like the accomplished Lega elder who once used a three-headed sakimatwemtwe figure, ACASA members look to the future and the past, simultaneously. For more info visit


Bermuda International Film Festival (BIFF) 2014. Since its inaugural Festival in 1997, BIFF has remained steadfast in its mission statement: to advance the love of independent film in a community welcoming to filmmakers and filmgoers and to encourage and inspire young Bermudians to capture their very special narrative through the lens of a camera. This year’s festival runs from 21-27 March.  For more information visit


Still Fighting Ignorance & Intellectual Perfidy: Video Art From Africa presents a selection of African video art that stands beyond the clichés that remain associated with the dark continent and the postcolonial image. It seeks to bring viewers closer to idiosyncratic readings of African video art and its thematic concerns, which are largely ignored. Runs 13-30 March at BEN URI Gallery & Museum, London, United Kingdom. For info

“Haute Africa” – At Photofestival Knokke-Heist 2014. From March up to June 2014, Knokke-Heist will once again focus on contemporary photography. The highlight of the festival is the outdoor exhibition, entitled “Haute Africa”, in which international leading artists and photographers such as Martin Parr, Wangechi Mutu, Zanele Muholi, Viviane Sassen, Yinka Shonibare and many others offer an alternative perspective on the contemporary African continent.For more info visit


‘Du Bois in Our Time’ Final presentations of works by Ghanaian and UK artists, Bernard Akoi-Jackson, Adwoa Amoah, Ato Annan, Yaganoma Baatuolkuu, Serge Clottey, Kelvin Haizel, Kwesi Ohene-Ayeh , Mawuli Toffah, and Mary Evans. Mullti-media and site specific works will be presented in the Du Bois Museum and Mausoleum after several months of reflecting on the legacy of civil rights leader and Pan-Africanist, W.E.B. Du Bois, in our present era.
Opening events will include a discussion, talk with artists and scholars, poetry and workshops over the 2 days. The entire programme of ‘Du Bois in our time’ Accra was sponsored by the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne. For more info visit

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An interview with Bryan Bullen and Trevor Bullen

This month we head to the ‘island of spice’, Grenada. A beautiful, tropical idyll I am proud to claim as my maternal ancestral home. I visited Grenada three times during my childhood; the last time being in 1983, when I was 16, just after the US and allied Forces invasion (or intervention depending on your political point of view). Having weathered years of upheaval, either due to the internal forces of politics or the devastating external forces of Hurricane Ivan, I am genuinely excited at seeing this small and lush realm of the Commonwealth starting to blossom in many areas. From the heroic Victoria Cross-winning exploits of Sergeant Johnson Beharry on the battlefield, to the world-class performances of Kirani James on the sports field. Another field of expertise that may not be so readily associated with Grenada is architecture. And it is this discipline to which we turn our attention to now, and in particular a partnership that is at the forefront of Caribbean architecture and garnering a reputation for progressive work and design excellence. Introducing the award-winning talents of Bryan Bullen and his business partner and cousin, Trevor Bullen.Bryan and Trevor Bullen

Bryan Bullen & Trevor Bullen Founders, CoCoA (Caribbean Office of Co-operative Architecture)

What’s your background?

We are Grenadian, first cousins and have spent part of our formative years in the Caribbean, choosing to repatriate after a number of years living outside of the region. We were fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to train at renowned architectural schools in the United States (Bryan studied architecture at The Southern California Institute of Architecture and Trevor at Harvard). Additionally, we honed our skills through work experience in North America and Europe. Our decision to return to the Caribbean to practice has been shaped by our love for the islands, Caribbean people, and the quality of life which it offers. Our practice, which spans over a decade, has been an enjoyable but challenging journey. With our work, we are constantly testing, probing and exploring the many simple and complex issues involved in the making of architecture for the specific context where we live. In the early years of our practice we completed many residential, and commercial projects, however, our practice has grown to include the design of institutional and civic buildings, in addition to masterplans for larger projects. Our office has been fortunate enough to win architectural competitions over the last few years of which we are currently designing the new Grenada House of Parliament.Grenada House of Parliament

Grenada House of Parliament

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

If we are to dig deep into our backgrounds perhaps having both grown up in households with creative influences has been of primary importance. This has provided a very good platform for our development. Before studying architecture we have had prior experiences in the making of furniture, sculpture and objects which have taught us a lot about materials, building processes, and general methods of construction.  Our love for design and passion for creative work has fuelled our desire to engage in the practice of architecture where our creations can positively influence the lives of others, both at the micro scale of the individual and the macro scale of popular culture. We see this as both a privilege and a responsibility.

What challenges did you face/overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

This is a complex question as there are many challenges which we have encountered in our practice. On the one hand, there are the technical and construction challenges of living in a small place where we must contend with low-technology and the additional effort required for quality control during the building process. We are challenged to design our buildings to be efficient in terms of cooling and energy consumption due to the high cost of electricity. Quite often materials are not readily available, so a greater degree of planning is required in the execution of projects. Additionally, as most building materials are imported they are generally costly, requiring us to use local materials to cut down on costs. We have embraced this in our work, and where possible integrate local materials such as timber and stone in the design of our buildings. With the great push today towards creating green buildings with a low carbon footprint, although we promote such principles, our decisions are made for practical reasons and our desire to make sensible choices. Also on the technical side, the harsh tropical marine environment presents a challenge where on top of designing to suit the requirements of hurricanes, and seismic activity, the sun, sea and salt air are primary factors to overcome. With the practice of architecture in the Caribbean today much of the discourse is centered on identity and what is deemed an ‘appropriate’ language for regional architecture. Many regional architects have chosen to adopt a post-colonial language, which we do not necessarily subscribe to. Our pursuit has more to do with engaging the tropical environment, solving issues of the site and programme, whereby, the outcome and issues of tectonics and overall language is developed out of research, and experimentation which allows our buildings to be naturally shaped through this process. Much of the historical references in our work would be spatial referencing, for example, the idea of open-plan living and outdoor spaces such as verandas, or the allowance of air flow through our buildings facilitated by louvers, and the placement of the spaces which permits our buildings to stay cool, or be protected from the driving rains. In this case, the initial challenge for us was acceptance of our contemporary sensibilities, which as I said previously is generally outside of the typical post-colonial agenda.Jadrosich Residence

Jadrosich Residence

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

We are Modernist at heart and have certainly been schooled in this vein. That said, we do believe that our work should be grounded in its specific context. What interest us most are individuals whose work can provide solutions which express a pure thought and executed as such. Artist such as Robert Smithson, Richard Serra and James Turrel are inspirational. Many of the quintessential Modernist architects such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Oscar Niemeyer, Richard Neutra, Louis Barragan have all provided positive directions in the development of contemporary architecture that we have a great appreciation for. Some of the recent practitioners such as Glen Murcutt, Peter Zumthor, Aires Matheus also offer a lot in their practices. These architects are creating work which is deeply rooted their place, with a clear expression that transcends their localised conditions and speak to a wider global audience.Munding Residence

Munding Residence

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

To pin-point one specific project is difficult as there are always decisions made over the course of designing a building, which we think – what if we had chosen to execute in a different way. We frequently discuss the evolution of our buildings from the time of construction to when they are occupied over years, and the changes they undergo. They can take on a life of their own, sometimes in ways, which we may not have expected. For example, when we visit some of our previous projects and see how the landscaping and gardens can allow our buildings to sit comfortably in the landscape, they can have a very different presence than when construction has just completed. Perhaps it is more important to focus on are the specific ideas and the solutions to problems. What gives us the most pleasure is to know that we have made the right decisions given the specific programs. The Munding residence is a case in point. Our first design for the project appeared a good solution and the client was very happy with it.  After visiting the site on numerous occasions and experiencing the force of the wind we revised the design by changing the exposed veranda space and swapping it for a protected courtyard. Additionally, we devised a double skin of sliding glass doors and operable vertical timber louvers, which allowed us to control the wind without compromising the view of the site. At first our client did not understand this decision, but thankfully he went along with it, and we know today that he appreciates that this decision was made as it has facilitated a usable outdoor space that the original design did not. What is most interesting for us was our decision to provide that the doors of the courtyard were designed to slide completely open creating a fluid space with the main living area. This expresses a great deal about our spatial sensibilities and our pursuit of buildings with open-plan living that we hope can be one with the tropical environment.Munding Residence

Source: Brian Lewis

Munding Residence

What would be your dream job or project?

A dream job would be one which our work can have a significant and positive effect on the lives of people. The project does not necessarily have to be a large facility as our current Parliament project, but, could be a small building, which can resonate and speak volumes in terms of its social impact. Our design for a beach changing facility is one such project – tiny in scale, but, with a strong iconic stature that is imbrued with deep cultural references. What is also enjoyable is the process of collaborating with other architects and creative people. We believe that the production of good architecture requires a team and understanding between the architect, owner and those who are involved in the building process. We have in the past collaborated with other architects, designers and artists, whom we feel have brought further richness and freshness of ideas to our projects which we appreciate very much as it adds greater strength and credence to our work.GBT Changing Facilities

GBT Changing Facilities

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition.

The late regional architects, Roger Turton of Trinidad and Tobago, and Barrisford Wilcox who practiced in Grenada in the 1970s and ’80s. Both were extremely talented individuals with highly personalized styles. Their work exemplifies many aspects of open-plan living, good quality of indoor and outdoor spaces, and general compatibility of building with the natural environment. We very much appreciate their endeavor to create architecture that is suitable for its place, yet, not bounded by the restrictions of post-colonial rhetoric.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Practising architecture requires 100 per cent commitment and consistency of work on a daily basis. It is the everyday work, a step-by-step process that will be the most important over the long term of architectural practice. It requires patience, determination and self-belief. As difficult as this can be at times, it can also be rewarding to see your work come to fruition and have positive effects on the lives of people.Calabash Heaven and Earth Spa

Calabash Heaven and Earth Spa

What’s next for you?

As with all practitioners at this time, we are seeking out the many possibilities for work, and are constantly looking at our business model to ensure that we stay busy. We are currently engaged in the design of a series of case study houses.  Our intention is to partner with others within the building industry, including land owners and financial institutions, in an effort to get projects built. We are inquiring regionally and beyond for perspective jobs, which we can tender on.



The Shadows Took Shape is a dynamic interdisciplinary exhibition exploring contemporary art through the lens of Afrofuturist aesthetics. The 29 artists featured in The Shadows Took Shape work in a wide variety of media, including photography, video, painting, drawing, sculpture and multimedia installation. Participating artists include Derrick Adams, John Akomfrah, Laylah Ali, Edgar Arceneaux, Sanford Biggers, Edgar Cleijne + Ellen Gallagher. Opens Nov 14, 2013 – Mar 9, 2014 Studio Museum of Harlem, 144 West 125th Street, New York, New York (212) 864-4500 For more information visit


10th Annual Bahamas International Film Festival (BIFF) The Bahamas International Film Festival is a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing the local Bahamian community and international visitors with a diverse presentation of films from around the world. In addition to offering films that might not otherwise be released theatrically in the Bahamas, BIFF will provide a unique cultural experience and set of educational programs and forums for exploring the past, present and future of cinema.  Runs from 5-13 December 2013. For more info visit


Patrick Lichfield’s Caribbean This is the first exhibition of Lichfield’s Caribbean images, many unpublished, representing all genres of Lichfield’s photography. Ends 7 December 2013. The Little Black Gallery, 13A Park Walk, London SW10 0AJ
For more info visit

IN THE CITY  Graphic Design & Sound Art Exhibition P21 Gallery is excited to present In the City, an absorbing graphic design and sound art exhibition which provides a rare glimpse into four Arab cities. The exhibition will be a first of its kind in London to showcase a series of commissioned and pre-existing works from an eclectic line up of established and emerging Arab designers, illustrators, video, and sound artists. In the City transports the audience through four enigmatic, but overlooked Arab cities – Alexandria, Algiers, Baghdad and Nablus – by recapturing and reimagining elements of those cities. Runs til 15 December 2013
For more info visit  


Native Nostalgia The Museum of African Design (MOAD) is excited to present its first full-length exhibition, running through 9 February. The group exhibition is an exploration of nostalgia in five African countries; Senegal, Nigeria, Algeria, Benin and South Africa. This exhibition tells the stories of bygone eras – positioning them firmly within present day narratives. Through architecture, construction, cartography, photography, communal archives, and historical reenactment, each artist and participant has a conversation with a past through which they did not live by juxtaposing design elements with those of today. Native Nostalgia explores both why young African artists are interrogating the continent’s difficult past, while also probing whether it is possible to be nostalgic for something one has not directly lived. For more info visit:

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.