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AIA Honors Architect Gantt

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

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DENVER—Harvey B. Gantt, FAIA—a civil rights pioneer, public servant and award-winning architect—was presented the 2013 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award Friday (June 21) during the American Institute of Architecture National Convention in Denver.

Harvey B. Gantt
Gantt Huberman Architects

Harvey B. Gantt, FAIA, says stronger communities come from solving problems and working together. His decades of political and architectural advocacy has been recognized by the American Institute of Architecture.

As 70-year-old Gantt stepped across the stage to receive recognition for championing a range of social issues throughout his career, a photo of a young Barack Obama wearing a “Gantt for U.S. Senate” t-shirt flashed on the projection screen.

Though Gantt did not win his races for U.S. Senate, he has paved the way for minority architects and political leaders alike.

Answering Young’s Charge

AIA’s Whitney M. Young Jr. Award was established in 1972 and is named after the former leader of the Urban League who challenged the AIA’s absence of socially progressive advocacy at the 1968 AIA National Convention.

Gantt remembers being a young architect listening to Young’s speech during the 1968 AIA National Convention, according to his firm.

“We were all charged with this notion that we, minorities, young people, could do our part to make our communities better,” Gantt said.

Harvey B. Gantt Center
Mark Clifton / Flickr

The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, NC, honors the community leader and architect.

Three years later, he co-founded Gantt Huberman Architects with the principles of community involvement and civic engagement, he said.

The award honors an architect or architecturally oriented organizations that have demonstrated a commitment to today’s critical issues, including homeless/affordable housing, minority inclusion, and access for persons with disabilities.

Gantt joins a list of 33 past Whitney M. Young Jr. Award recipients and organizations such as the National Organization of Minority Architects and Habitat for Humanity.

Clemson, Early Career

AIA provided the following details on Gantt’s architectural and political career in a press release.

Gantt entered Clemson University as its first African-American student in 1963, after a protracted court case. He earned his Bachelor of Architecture degree from Clemson in 1965, graduating third in his class.

After college, Gantt relocated to Charlotte, NC, where he began his career at Odell Associates.

In 1970, he earned a master’s degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The next few years brought a number of opportunities to Gantt. He served as a lecturer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and as a visiting critic at Clemson.

He also worked with civil rights activist Floyd B. McKissick as a planner for Soul City, NC, an experimental community in a rural site north of Durham, NC.

In 1971, Gantt returned to Charlotte to found Gantt Huberman Architects with Jeffrey Huberman, FAIA.

Clemson University

Gantt was the first African-American student to attend Clemson University, a significant event in American social history. 

The firm’s portfolio consists of a wide variety of building types, including higher education, K-12 schools, civic, governmental, and religious structures. These projects range from small renovations and additions to new, high-rise structures, according to the architect.

City Council to U.S. Senate Race

In 1974, Gantt was appointed to fill a seat on the Charlotte City Council vacated by Fred Alexander, then the council’s only African-American member. Gantt went on to be elected to one of the council’s citywide seats.

In 1983, Gantt was elected Charlotte’s mayor, the first African-American to hold that position. During his two terms as mayor, he focused on programs to preserve old neighborhoods and the city center, and was instrumental in bringing the city a new professional basketball franchise.

“Architects are well aware of the importance of informed and effective leadership in government, but few of us are willing or able to take on this significant role,” Freelon Group founder Philip Freelon, FAIA, wrote in reference to Gantt’s career.

“Harvey not only embraced this challenge but demonstrated remarkable courage and leadership.”

Inspiration for President Obama

Gantt was also active in statewide Democratic Party politics, becoming the party's candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1990 and 1996 against Sen. Jesse Helms. Although he lost both races, he remained committed to public service.

“Harvey's run for statewide office helped set the course for young African-American leaders who wanted to become more engaged in the political process,” President Obama told the Charlotte Observer in 2012.

“His decision to enter the race showed great courage and a strong commitment.”

In 1995, Gantt accepted an appointment by President Clinton to serve as chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission.

Public Service to Bring Progress

During Clemson University’s convocation in 2012, Gantt said that as an elected official, “I saw firsthand the importance of solving problems and building a stronger community by engaging as much diversity as possible, by blending neighborhood leaders with business leaders, or academicians with politicians, or Democrats with Republicans, or conservatives with liberals, to find that elusive common ground needed to move the needle and to bring about progress.”

“It's the story of my life,” Gantt added.

More information and images of Gantt is available here.


Tagged categories: Architects; Architecture; Awards and honors; Color; Color + Design; Design; Politics

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