For centuries, Americans have been traveling throughout the world to learn about other cultures in order to better understand their own. There is no better mirror for this understanding than architecture. (See January ROUTES, The Stone Churches of Ethiopia.) Millions of people have visited the pyramids of Egypt, the Parthenon in Greece, the Vatican in Rome and the great cathedrals of France. They have come away awed by the architectural beauty and achievement and have gotten a better understanding of earlier cultures. Conversely, millions of people from around the world come to New York City to stand in awe at our architectural achievements, not in stone and marble but in glass, steel and concrete; and they try to better understand our culture.
There is a certain kind of visual pleasure one gets from good architecture, which abounds throughout the five boroughs of the City; it is not exclusive to midtown Manhattan’s towering office buildings. Too few tourists see the splendor of Harlem’s Striver’s Row, (138th and 139th Streets between 7th and 8th Avenues) or the beautiful brownstones and brick fronts of Chauncey, Bainbridge, Decatur and Macon Streets in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant section. But in these and hundreds of others, our cultural heritage can be appreciated. So many people are interested in good architecture as a form of entertainment that the American Institute of Architects has published a guide book for walking tours of the five boroughs and includes thousands of buildings of architectural excellence.
Although the number of Black architects in the metropolitan area is small, their work in both residential and commercial buildings is impressive, and more and more people are turning to them for the design, construction or alteration of apartments and homes instead of relying solely on a contractor.
We talked to several who currently are practicing in the metropolitan area, and they discussed their backgrounds and professional accomplishments.
Garrison McNeil, a native New Yorker, attended City College, where he now teaches. He graduated from the Columbia University School of Architecture in 1969 and opened his first office in 1972. Today he maintains a staff of six. The firm prepares its own cardboard scale models for clients and handles all interior design including selection of carpeting, fabrics, and furnishings. Some of their current projects include a new store for Le Mans haberdashers in the World Trade Center, exterior and interior alteration of a Queens home, a Manhattan apartment building and a major renovation of the Apollo and Victoria Theaters on 125th Street for the Harlem Urban Development Corporation. They are also designing 20 floors of Bristol-Myers’ Park Avenue offices to make them barrier-free for the physically handicapped.
In addition to professional activities, Mr. McNeil devotes considerable time to community activities. Last summer, he worked with a group of high school students who were conducting an urban planning study of the Convent Avenue area from 140th to 150th Streets.
Jeh V. Johnson is president of Gindele and Johnson in Poughkeepsie. He grew up in Nashville, where his father was president of Fisk University. He feels that the architectural excellence at Fisk may have influenced him in selecting architecture as his major at Columbia University. After graduating from Columbia in 1958, he worked for four years at a firm in New York before joining his present organization.
When his partner retired in 1971, Mr. Johnson assumed the presidency. His work includes houses, apartment complexes and commercial buildings. Because of his Poughkeepsie location, one-third of his business is in Dutchess County, with the remaining in New York City and the East Coast.
In addition to teaching architecture at Vassar College, he also is very active in various committees of the American Institute of Architects, the Dutchess County NAACP, New York State Board of Examiners for Architecture, the National Urban League, and the Poughkeepsie Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Johnson’s work can be seen in the 52-unit apartment house on St. Mark’s Avenue in Brooklyn, the 375-unit Lake Street Houses in Newburgh, an elementary school in Highland, and a 100-unit senior citizen housing project in Poughkeepsie. The home he designed for a vice president of Vassar College is one of his most striking projects.
The Manhattan firm of Bond and Ryder also is involved in a wide variety of projects, including the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, the Lionel Hampton apartments in Harlem and the Schomburg Center. Donald Ryder and Max Bond established the firm in 1969 after both had worked for other architectural firms. Mr. Ryder graduated from the University of Illinois and then worked for Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in Chicago, where his first project was as a member of the team that designed the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
After he moved to New York, he worked for the celebrated international architect, Marcel Breuer. Then he joined the firm of Harrison and Abramowitz and was a member of the team involved in the design and construction of the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center. Ryder becomes very animated when talking about that particular project. Not only was the team responsible for the total design of the building, but also they were involved with all of the interior design including acoustics.
Max Bond, who lives with his wife and two children in a lovely renovated brownstone in upper Manhattan, graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1959 and was a Fullbright Fellow from 1958 to 1959, studying in France.
“For architecture and design to be successful, a building should reflect an understanding of social, economic, and cultural conditions supported by excellent technical and aesthetic execution,” the Bond and Ryder brochure states.