Paul Revere Williams, the pioneering black architect who designed nearly 3,000 buildings during his five-decade career, has been posthumously awarded the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Gold Medal, which honors an individual whose significant body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.
Williams, who was born in Los Angeles in 1894 and orphaned when he was four years old, broke down many barriers: He was the first black architect to become a member of the AIA (in 1923), the first black member to be inducted into the Institute’s College of Fellows (in 1957), and, today, the first African-American to receive the AIA Gold Medal.
After attending the University of Southern California, where he designed several residential buildings while still a student, and after a stint working for architect John C. Austin, Williams opened his own practice in the early 1920s during Southern California’s real estate boom.
Williams gained fame for his residential designs, from small, affordable houses for new homeowners, to Tudor Revivals for his more affluent clients, to show-stopping mansions for stars and business magnates like Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Frank Sinatra, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, and Barron Hilton. Working mostly in the areas of Los Angeles, Pasadena, and La Cañada Flintridge, Williams was fluent not only in the historic and vernacular styles of the region, but also in modernism.
Many of Williams schools, public buildings, and churches are considered American landmarks, and include the futuristic LAX Theme Building, a renovation of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Palm Springs Tennis Center, First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles County Courthouse. Eight of Williams’ buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Williams died in 1980 at the age of 85 and will be the 73rd recipient of the AIA Gold Medal, joining the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Courbusier, Louis Khan, and Julia Morgan, who won the award (posthumously) in 2014 and was the first woman to do so.