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Stamp Honors Pioneering Architect

Monday, February 16, 2015

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The life of the first African-American graduate of MIT and the first academically trained black architect has been honored with a U.S. postage stamp.

The first-class "Forever" stamp, featuring Robert Robinson Taylor, was issued Thursday (Feb. 12).

U.S. Postal Service officials and President Obama’s senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, dedicated the 38th stamp in the Black Heritage Series during a ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, according to a news release.

Robert Robinson Taylor
© 2014 United States Postal Service

Architect Robert Robinson Taylor (1868-1942) is honored in a limited-edition Black Heritage "Forever" stamp.

Taylor was an influential figure who designed elegant structures and trained generations of students in building trades. He was also Jarrett’s great-grandfather.

Dedicated and Determined

“Anytime I face a daunting challenge and self-doubt creeps in, I think of my great grandfather, Robert Taylor […],”Jarrett said in a statement.

“He believed that with a good education, hard work, relentless determination and a dedication to family, there were no limits to what he could accomplish.”

Valerie Jarrett
Official White House photo

“Anytime I face a daunting challenge and self-doubt creeps in, I think of my great grandfather, Robert Taylor […],” President Obama's senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, said.

Born in 1868 in Wilmington, NC, Taylor developed a love for carpentry and construction from his father, Henry Taylor, a former slave-turned-successful builder and merchant.

Robert Taylor was believed to have been the first black student to enroll at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was admitted in 1888, majored in architecture, and graduated in 1892, at or near the top of his class.

Tuskegee Institute Design

Following graduation, and for more than 30 years, Taylor “supervised the design and construction of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama while overseeing the school’s programs in industrial education and the building trades,” according to officials.

Buildings he designed included libraries, dormitories, lecture halls, gymnasia, a hospital and a campus chapel that he considered his masterpiece, family members relate.

Taylor’s Colonial-style designs, including a half-dozen buildings with grand porticos and large classical columns, were built of richly textured, multihued bricks made by the Tuskegee students themselves.

Library of Congress

Booker T. Washington recruited Taylor to the Tuskegee Institute, which Washington founded in 1881. Taylor spent 30 years designing buildings and teaching at the private institution.

Taylor worked in a style that was consistent with his own personality: elegant, dignified and persuasive without being showy, officials note.

Architectural Educator

While at Tuskegee, Taylor taught architectural and mechanical drawing in all industrial trades, including building construction.

He established a beginning architecture curriculum that included carpentry, cost estimation, training in drawing building plans, and the study of construction problems.

MIT News Office / MIT Museum

According to MIT, Taylor's thesis project, "Design for a Soldiers' Home," was a detailed plan for a long-term care facility for war veterans.

With Taylor’s guidance, the school offered a certificate in architectural drawing, furthering a dream of Tuskegee’s founder Booker T. Washington.

In His Words

In 1911, Taylor gave a talk during MIT’s 50th anniversary celebratory events. He spoke about his training at the first architecture school in the U.S.

Taylor noted that “some of the methods and plans of the Institute of Technology have been transplanted to the Tuskegee Institute and have flourished and grown there…[including] the love of doing things correctly, of putting logical ways of thinking into the humblest task, of studying surrounding conditions, of soil, of climate, of material and of using them to the best advantage in contributing to build up the immediate community in which the persons live” so that America, in turn, could flourish.

Taylor died in 1942, at the age of 74.


Tagged categories: Architects; Architectural history; Architecture; Design; Education; Good Technical Practice; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; North America; Schools

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