Home Wisconsin Building Black: Celebrating Wisconsin’s Black Architects, Part 1

Building Black: Celebrating Wisconsin’s Black Architects, Part 1


Building Black, Part 1: Celebrating Wisconsin’s Black Architects

The National Council of Architect Registration Board says there are about 1,528 licensed architects in Wisconsin. Of those 11 are Black – just  0.71%. Several projects around the state aim to change that. We have a state chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects and the Hip Hop Architecture Camp. Additionally, several significant projects around the state led by Black business leaders who have hired firms owned by or led by Black architects to be part of their project. 

To celebrate Black History Month, National Guardian Life Insurance Company has sponsored this three-part series, highlighting some of those architects, aspiring architects and designers literally building Wisconsin.


AIA: American Institute of Architects
FAIA: Fellow, American Institute of Architects
NOMA: National Organization of Minority Architects

Marion Clendenen-Acosta

Marion Clendenen-Acosta AIA, NOMA, has been an architect with Milwaukee-based Kahler Slater for more than 30 years. Born in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, she was the first Black woman licensed as an architect in Wisconsin. She is the immediate past president of the Wisconsin Chapter of NOMA. A 1989 graduate of UW-Milwaukee with a degree in architectural sciences, she has led many projects, including St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, a 158-bed facility located in London, Ontario, Canada. Kahler Slater partnered with the Toronto architectural firm Montgomery-Sisam on this Ministry of Health-approved Redevelopment Project that includes a complete replacement of the hospital’s Emergency, Surgery and Central Processing departments plus a new 17-bed Behavioral Health unit. 


St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital
St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital

Michael Ford, AIA, NOMA, better known as the Hip-Hop Architect, launched the now-world-famous Hip-Hop Architecture Camp in 2016. Since then the Camp has expanded across the country and the world. Born in Detroit and based in Madison, Ford heads the small but dynamic studio Brandnu Design, focusing on architecture, community engagement, textiles, and fashion. He partnered with furniture maker Herman Miller to create a special Eames Lounge Chair emblazoned with the names of Black people who’ve lost their lives to police violence, and toured with the piece in a program called “Conversations for Change.” He is also the creative force behind a mural in National Guardian Life Insurance Company’s new office lobby, literally setting their commitment to diversity and inclusion in stone. 

Bronzeville Center for the Arts, designed by Michael Ford.


Walter Wilson FAIA, NOMA, was the second Black architect in The State of Wisconsin. He previously served as the Milwaukee County Architect and ran his own firm, Wilson Architects, before selling to a larger firm. He is the AIA Wisconsin Gold Medal Winner, the highest distinction an architect can have in the state of Wisconsin and an AIA Fellow, the highest distinction an architect can have in the United States. He has served on the board of directors of the Wisconsin AIA and as president of the Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects. He earned degrees in architecture and architectural engineering from Oklahoma State University in 1971.

128th Air Control Squadron HQ, designed by Walter Wilson
Milwaukee Public Museum, designed by Walter Wilson.

Alonzo Robinson, AIA, was the first licensed architect in the state of Wisconsin, earning his license in 1956. He contributed significantly to architecture all over the City of Milwaukee, but was not given his due credit during his lifetime. He was the lead architect on the Milwaukee Fire Department headquarters, designed in 1962, but wasn’t recognized as such until the original hand-drawn plans were recently re-discovered. The fire chief, mayor or Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor all attended a ceremony in December at which Fire Chief Aaron Lipski offered an apology to the Robinson family for his lack of recognition and officially renamed the building in his honor. Robinson passed away in 2000.

Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, designed by Alonzo Robinson.


Alonzo Robinson Fire Administration Building

Part 2 coming tomorrow!