By Guest Blogger Sierra Miles
Hello and Welcome!
My name is Sierra Miles, and I am writing to share my work as part of The Benjamin F. McAdoo Research Collective. I am a rising senior in the Architectural Design major at the University of Washington, working with Professor Tyler Sprague.
While many have heard the name Benjamin F. McAdoo, Jr. (1920 – 1981), it might be surprising to learn just how prolific, talented, and influential he was. As the first licensed black architect in the state of Washington, McAdoo had a busy architectural career of 34 years during which he would complete over 500 professional works. These ranged from small residential renovations to large institutional projects. McAdoo’s early career was defined by his acclaimed mid-century modern single-family residential projects that would go on to characterize his unique style. McAdoo set himself apart by prioritizing low income and affordable housing. This is the first indication that social justice activism would inform his professional architectural work, taking him around the world, to Washington D.C., and ultimately back to Seattle. Throughout his life, McAdoo would directly address the racial equity failures within the city of Seattle through his designs, activism, and written columns in The Seattle Times. He wrote several pointed articles discussing police brutality, educational segregation, over-policing, and housing discrimination through redlining. Benjamin F. McAdoo’s professional work still surrounds us, and his activism lives on through the present-day fight for equality on a regional, national, and global scale.
Acknowledging this important history, in March 2021, The Benjamin F. McAdoo Research Collective commenced to document and celebrate the legacy of his seminal career. It is our belief that by working as a collective enterprise of researchers, historians, and architectural experts we can provide a centralized organization for a diversity of voices. Through our partnership with our sponsors BOLA Architecture + Planning, Docomomo US/WEWA, and The University of Washington we aim to connect with influential and pivotal members of the regional community. Our research focuses on this multi-faceted career of Benjamin F. McAdoo, and how it was shaped and defined in-part by The United States Civil Rights movement.
A little about me – I moved to Seattle five years ago from my hometown of Washington, D.C. As a child, it was fascinating to watch people from all walks of life visit our nation’s capital to commemorate our collective history as a country. Perhaps it is the wonder of commemoration that has pulled me so strongly towards this important architectural research. Researching, documenting, analyzing, and commemorating Benjamin McAdoo’s life and legacy has been a profound experience as a black woman, and as an architecture student.
Benjamin F. McAdoo’s legacy has the power to inspire young architects that wish to make a cultural impact within the profession of architecture. Through documenting and contextualizing the life and work of McAdoo, we can bring representation and diversity to the history of Pacific Northwest modernism.
As we move ahead with our research, I look forward to sharing more of my work. Stay tuned!
Images – Above: Benjamin McAdoo, Jr. architect’s license photo (Washington State Department of Licensing). Below left: Ota Residence; right: King County Central Blood Bank (Sierra Miles)