The African American Influence on Greensboro’s Modernist Architecture
Afrique I. Kilimanjaro, Editor | 10/12/2013, 10:43 a.m.
Modernism. It is an architectural movement rooted in the early
20th century which uses rectangular forms, open interior
spaces, expansive floor to ceiling windows thus creating live
and work environments where interior comforts blend with the
natural environment. Famed modernist architect Ludwig Mies van
der Rohe described modernist architecture by the principle,
“form follows function.” This style explores innovative ways
to use manmade (metal and concrete) and natural (wood and
sunlight) elements and echews external ornamentation thus
creating some of the world’s most striking structures.
Greensboro architect Edward Loewenstein embraced the modernist
style. His work, along with the designs created by several
notable African American architects, including Clinton
Gravely, Edward Jenkins, William Gupple, Gerard Gray and
William Streat have raised North Carolina to be ranked as
having the third largest concentration of modernist homes and
buildings in America.
This week culminates a celebration of modern architecture in
Greensboro and features lectures and home tours sponsored by
Preservation Greensboro, The Greensboro Historical Museum and
Professor Patrick Lee Lucas, director of the School of
Interiors at University of Kentucky and preservation activist
Sally Shader will be presenting an 11:30 a.m. lecture focusing
on the contributions made by African American architects in
Greensboro to the modernist style. This lecture will be at St.
Matthews United Methodist Church, 600 E. Florida Street.
Admission is free.
Lucas said, “People will walk away from the symposium and tour
with a renewed vision of how modernism unfolded in Greensboro
and across the nation. By thinking through the political,
social, and cultural inspirations and reverberations of
modernism in design, we understand the nature of who we were
as individuals, as a community, and a nation emerging out of
world war (WW I).”
After earning a degree in architecture from MIT in 1935,
Chicago native Edward Loewenstein established an architectural
firm in Greensboro in 1946 and by 1953, he became partners
with Robert Atkinson Jr, thus forming Loewenstein-Atkinson
architecture firm. This firm would be the first in the state
to hire African American architects. Among those architects
were Clinton Gravely, Edward Jenkins, and William Gupple.
Loewenstein also collaborated with architects such as the late
William Streat, professor and chair of the Architectural
Engineering Department at NCA&T State University from 1949 to
1985 and Gerard Gray, professor of Architectural Engineering
at A&T from 1942 to 1974.
The architectural designs by these men continue to grace
Recently, Clinton Gravely recounted his interest in
architecture as a young boy growing up in Reidsville, N.C. and
discussed his experience working with Ed Loewenstein.
Gravely said he had an interest in architecture since the
fifth grade. That interest was rooted in the work of his
father and grandfather, both contractors in Reidsville. His
interest in Modern architecture was cultivated by studying the
design aesthetic of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who
believed that design should be in harmony with the
Like Wright, Gravely’s modern style contains elements of clean
lines, high ceilings and expansive windows. By 1955, Gravely
entered Howard University to study architectural engineering.