Paul Revere Williams Becomes First African American to Receive American Institute of Architects Gold Medal


Today the American Institute of Architects (AIA), in a milestone announcement, selected Paul Revere Williams as its 2017 Gold Medal recipient, America’s highest honor for an architect. In doing so Williams, who was awarded the prize posthumously, becomes the first African American to ever receive the honor, which has been awarded to 72 other architects, including Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn.

During the course of his career in Southern California, Williams designed more than 3,000 buildings including more than 2,000 homes for both the middleclass and for stars including Frank Sinatra, and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Fluent in a wide range of architectural styles, he designed buildings that ran the gamut between historicist (all the rage in 1920s Hollywood) to Modern.

Williams achieved wide recognition and went on to become the AIA’s first black member. But he still endured the hardships of working within racist spheres: Famously, Williams drew his renderings upside down, so that his predominantly white clientele could sit at a distance on the opposite side of the table.

The architect passed away in 1980 at the age of 85.

Several architects acknowledged the importance of this announcement at a time when the profession is being criticized for its lack of diversity.

“This is a moment in our Institute’s history that is so important to recognize and acknowledge the work of a champion,” said Phil Freelon of Perkins + Will. “It’s been many decades but Paul Williams is finally being recognized for the brilliant work he did over many years.”

Said architect William J. Bates, “Our profession desperately needs more architects like Paul Williams.”

Meanwhile the AIA named Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (LMSA) the winner of its annual Architecture Firm Award, which recognizes a practice that consistently has produced distinguished architecture for at least 10 years.

The San Francisco-based practice, founded by William Leddy, Marsha Maytum, and Richard Stacy in 1989, is known for its dedication to the environment, social equity, and historic preservation. Its projects encompass diverse building types, including affordable housing, university buildings, k-12 schools, and hospitality projects. The firm has won eight AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) Top Ten awards—one of only three firms to do so.

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Source: Architectural Record | Anna Fixsen and Joann Gonchar