African American Design Nexus

Harvard's GSD launches platform to feature work of black designers

The Ripple Effect by Wodiczko + Bonder / Maryann Thompson Architects, with Walter Hood, one of the professionals highlighted in the African American Design Nexus (Courtesy MLK Boston)

Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD) has launched a new platform to counteract the pervasive and enduring impact of racism that disproportionately affects black designers. The African American Design Nexus brings together the work of black architects and landscape architects from the past and present on the same website to explore their practices and provoke change within design institutions.

That change is sorely needed. Only 2 percent of the nearly 110,000 licensed architects are black, while in landscape architecture, just 0.3 percent of licensed practitioners are black. For context, 2017 U.S. Census data estimates that people who identify as black or African American compose 13.4 percent of the country’s population.

Among the Design Nexus profiles is Hood Design Studio founder (and GSD alumnus) Walter Hood; Studio And founder and Columbia GSAPP professor Mabel O. Wilson; FAD Studio founder, professor, and textile engineer Felecia Davis; and Paul Revere Williams, the midcentury L.A. architect whose stylistically diverse work gained posthumous recognition.

The Design Nexus grew from the leadership of Dana McKinney, president of the GSD’s African American Student Union and one of the principal organizers of the school’s first Black in Design conference. McKinney and her peers generated a list of 2,000 African and African American designers, and from this list, an initial 50 designer profiles were created for the Design Nexus website by the student union and by the Frances Loeb Library. While there are fewer than 50 pages up now, more will be added over the summer.

The project follows in the footsteps of the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation’s directory of women in architecture, which seeks to boost the visibility of women designers.

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