For Years, Black Architects Have Been Underrepresented In Their Field. A Local Group is Trying to Change That.

Writer Matthew Piper and architect Saundra Little of Noir Design Parti join CultureShift to spotlight the legacy of African-American architects in Detroit.

LaToya Cross

A story published by Curbed Detroit is sparking conversation about the history of African-American architects in Detroit.

Writer and photographer Matthew Piper covers the city’s art and architecture and recently penned the story “Designing the Future: The Legacy of Black Architects in Detroit” last week.

“We’re all here in the city – taking the bus around the city; riding bikes around the city. We’re all seeing these buildings, this urban fabric, and we don’t know much about it,” says Piper. “I have found on so many occasions [that] I basically jump out of my seat when I see a particular building. And I’ve come back to find that those [structures] are designed by black architects.” 

That lack of public knowledge and acknowledgment of black faces in the architectural space is something architect Saundra Little and business partner Karen Burton are in the process of changing via their group Noir Design Parti.

A winner from the 2016 Knights Art Challenge, Noir Design Parti is a multi-layered project dedicated to documenting and sharing the legacy of eight black architects who were instrumental in the structural design of Detroit.  

“We have to tell this story collectively,” Little says. “Everybody doesn’t know the history. We know [the history] through association, but it’s not known to the general public. [With Noir Design Parti’s website], we plan to have video vignette storytelling and a directory of all the American black architects – licensed and unlicensed. Designers will be featured as well.” 

Click the audio player to hear CultureShift’s Ryan Patrick Hooper interview Piper and Little’s about the history of black architects in Detroit.