Some Oft-Overlooked Contributions of Black Architects to Chicagoland

The Harvey Public Library in Harvey, Illinois. Photo: Lee Bey
The Harvey Public Library in south suburban Harvey was designed by the Chicago office of the Black-owned architecture firm Moody Nolan. Photo: Lee Bey

Black Chicagoans have famously left their mark on every aspect of the city, from its music and culinary scene to business and politics.

But Black people’s contributions to the city’s historic architectural legacy have been a story less told for too long—from Walter T. Bailey, Illinois’ first licensed Black architect, who designed the striking, Streamline Moderne First Church of Deliverance at 4315 S. Wabash Avenue in 1939; to architect and engineer Georgia Louise Harris Brown, who worked out the structural calculations that hold aloft Mies van der Rohe’s revolutionary steel-and-glass towers at 860-880 Lake Shore Drive, built in 1951.

To help correct the record, here are a few of the many Black architects, designers, and urban planners who have contributed to Chicago’s neighborhoods and skyline.

John Moutoussamy

John Moutoussamy (1922-1995) was probably best known for designing the 11-story former Ebony Jet Building at 820 S. Michigan Avenue, from 1971. But the IIT-trained architect—he studied under the famed Mies van der Rohe—is responsible for a collection of fine modernist buildings around town, including Truman College at 1145 W. Wilson Avenue and the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority headquarters at 5646 S. Stony Island Avenue. 

The Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority headquarters at 5646 S. Stony Island Avenue. Photo: Lee BeyThe Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority headquarters at 5646 S. Stony Island Avenue. Photo: Lee Bey

Among his many standouts is Luther Terrace, 4747 S. King Drive, built in 1974. The 22-story tower is an affordable housing high-rise, but Moutoussamy gave the building grace and proportions that complement the historic boulevard on which it sits.

Luther Terrace at 4747 S. King Drive. Photo: Lee BeyLuther Terrace at 4747 S. King Drive. Photo: Lee Bey

Roger Margerum

Roger Margerum (1931-2016) designed a few noteworthy Chicago buildings before moving to Detroit in the 1960s and finding greater acclaim. Among his best work here is the glassy, single-story Ingram House at 6500 S. Eberhart Avenue, built in the Woodlawn community in 1959 for E.J. Ingram, a pioneering Black doctor. The Lanier House at 1026 E. 48th Street in the Kenwood neighborhood is another fine work. The brick, one-story 1966 home wraps around a small exterior courtyard.

Ingram House at 6500 S. Eberhart Avenue. Photo: Lee BeyIngram House at 6500 S. Eberhart Avenue. Photo: Lee Bey

The interior of Ingram House at 6500 S. Eberhart Avenue. Photo: Lee BeyThe interior of Ingram House. Photo: Lee Bey

The Lanier House at 1026 E. 48th Street. Photo: Lee BeyThe Lanier House at 1026 E. 48th Street. Photo: Lee Bey

Kenneth Childers

Kenneth Childers (1931-1997) worked with architect David Haid to create Walter H. Dyett High School for the Arts, at 555 E. 51st Street. The school was built to some controversy in 1972 because it was constructed inside historic Washington Park. But Childers and Haid addressed the concerns by designing a pair of less obtrusive buildings—a school with a separate natatorium—that hug the landscape rather than overwhelm it.

Walter H. Dyett High School for the Arts at 555 E. 51st Street. Photo: Lee BeyWalter H. Dyett High School for the Arts at 555 E. 51st Street. Photo: Lee Bey

Moody Nolan

The Chicago office of the Black-owned architecture firm Moody Nolan designed this handsome brick-and-glass addition and expansion of the Harvey, Illinois public library, at 15441 Turlington Avenue in the southern suburb. Built in 2016, the library gives a friendly nod to the environment with a landscape that retains storm water. The building also features energy-efficient mechanical and lighting systems.

The interior of the Harvey Public Library. Photo: Lee BeyThe interior of the Harvey Public Library. Photo: Lee Bey

Johnson & Lee

Johnson & Lee are the architects behind St. Edmund’s Oasis, a housing redevelopment effort composed of 58 rental apartments and townhomes built in 2017 on three sites around 61st Street and Prairie Avenue in the Washington Park neighborhood. The firm wisely varied color, facade design, and building heights to keep the development from looking monolithic.

St. Edmund's Oasis in Washington Park. Photo: Lee BeySt. Edmund's Oasis in the Washington Park neighborhood. Photo: Lee Bey

St. Edmund's Oasis in Washington Park. Photo: Lee BeySt. Edmund's Oasis consists of 58 rental apartments and townhomes. Photo: Lee Bey

Andre Brumfield

Andre Brumfield, global director of urban planning and design for the Chicago office of architectural giant Gensler, is responsible for Woodlawn Station, a residential and commercial structure built in 2018 at 6253 S. Cottage Grove Avenue. Built next to the Cottage Grove CTA Green Line stop, the building brings a dash of color to the historically disinvested corner, and is seen as a catalyst for further development planned for the intersection.

Woodlawn Station at 6253 S. Cottage Grove Avenue. Photo: Lee BeyWoodlawn Station at 6253 S. Cottage Grove Avenue. Photo: Lee Bey