School of Engineering and Architecture, University of Kansas, Lawrence, 1938–44 Architecture Department, Illinois Institute of Technology, Fall 1942–Winter 1943
Institute of Design, Architecture Department, Illinois Institute of Technology, 1950–53
The Promontory Apartments, Chicago, Mies van der Rohe, 1946–49, structural calculations
860 Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Mies van der Rohe, 1948–51, structural calculations
Lunt Lake Apartments, Chicago, Holsman, Holsman, Elekamp and Taylor Architects, 1949–51, structural calculations
Prairie Court Apartments, Chicago, Keck and Keck, Architects, ca. 1950–51, structural calculations
East Dentistry, Medicine Pharmacy Building, University of Illinois, Pace Associates, Architects, 1952–56, structural calculations
Ford Motors do Brasil, Osasco, Brazil, 1957–63
Irlemp Purolator S/A, São Paulo, 1957–63; 1972–73
Pfizer Corporation do Brasil, Guarulhos, Brazil, 1960
Pravaz Recordati Laboratorios S/A, São Paulo, 1960–63
Trorion S/A, Diadema, 1963–65
Arndt Von Bohlen und Halbach, Angatuba, 1967–68
Edda Frost, São Paulo, 1968
Kodak do Brasil, São José dos Campos, 1969–71; 1975–76
Alessandro Giunta São Paulo, 1975
Siemens do Brasil, São Paulo, 1975–76
Instituto Nacional de Previdencia Social, Posto de Atendimento Heliopolis, São Paulo, 1978
Instituto Nacional de Previdencia Social, Posto de Atendimento Ipiranga, São Paulo, 1978
Paulo Aranha, São Paulo, 1986
Urban Renewal Plans, Babbit, Mich., Pace Associates, Architects (date unknown)
Fayette County Hospital, Vandalia, Ill., Pace Associates, Architects (date unknown)
Glencoe Supermarket, Sidney Morris and Associates (date and location unknown)
Kenneth Roderick O’Neal Architects, 1945–49
Frank J. Kornacker & Associates, Inc., Structural Engineers, 1949–53
General Engineers and Designers Co., associated with Woodrow B. Dolphin Wayne, 1945–53
Charles Bosworth Sociedade Civil de Engenharia Ltda, 1953–56
Construtora Bosworth Ltda, 1956
Hedeager, Bosworth do Brasil S/A Engenheiros, Arquitetos e Construtores, 1956–62
Hoffmann Bosworth do Brasil S/A–Engenharia, Arquitetura e Construções, 1962–69
Hoffman Bosworth Engenharia S.A., 1970
Racz Construtora S.A., 1963–70
Cia Territorial e Urbana Paulista Ltda, 1980s
Cia Comercial Agrícola e Industrial Grama, 1980s
CIT Pavimentação e Terraplangem Ltda, 1980s
Emprimo Empreendimentos Imobiliarios Ltda, 1980s
Chicago chapter of Alpha Alpha Gamma, later known as Women in Architecture
Conselho Regional de Arquitetura e Engenharia, 1970
Location of Last Office
Rua Nundiáu, 59, São Paulo, Brazil
Brown, Harris Georgia Louise Records, archives of the Servicos da Policia Maritima Aerea e de Fronteira, Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Fundacão Bienal de São Paulo, São Paulo
IV Centenary at the Arquivo Histórico Municipal Washington Luís, São Paulo
Municipal Department of Engineering Works at the Arquivo Histórico Municipal Washington Luís, São Paulo
Conselho Regional de Engenharia e Agronomia do Estado de São Paulo, 1274/1969
Private archive, Washington, D.C.
By Anat Falbel, University of Campinas, Brazil and Roberta Washington, Roberta Washington Architects
Georgia Louise Harris Brown (1918–1999), a pioneering African American architect practicing in Chicago and Brazil from the 1940s to the 1990s, is recognized as the second African American woman licensed as an architect in the United States.11See Roberta Washington, “Georgia Louise Harris Brown,” in African American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1965–1945, ed. Dreck Spurlock Wilson. New York: Routledge, 2004, 72–74. She forged an impressive career in industrial architecture in Brazil, where she may have immigrated in the hope of escaping racial prejudice, though she was rarely credited as the designer in publications about these works. (Generally, it was the engineering firms that received the credit.)
Early Life and Education
Georgia Louise Harris Brown was born in Topeka, Kansas, on June 12, 1918, only six years after the extension of equal voting rights to women in the state.22In fact, since 1887 women in the state of Kansas had already gained the right to vote in municipal elections. Her family’s genealogy of strong women of mixed ancestry included former enslaved African Americans who arrived from the South to the Union’s slavery-free state after 1861, Native Americans, and German settlers.
The daughter of Carl Collins Harris and Georgia Louise Watkins Harris, the future architect was part of a middle-class family with four other siblings, all of whom would become university graduates. From an early age, she exhibited an interest in drawing and painting, as well as working on cars and farm equipment with her brother Bryant. After graduating from Seaman High School in North Topeka, where she distinguished herself as one of the top students, she attended her mother’s alma mater, Washburn University, from 1936 to 1938. Washburn was established as a college in 1865 by a pro-abolitionist congregational community whose aim was to provide education without distinction of color. Soon after graduating from Washburn, Georgia Louise went to Chicago to visit her brother. The large, cosmopolitan city presented a strong black urban culture and was a wonder for the young woman, who attended a summer course with Mies van der Rohe at the Armour Institute of Technology and took flying classes from one of the female pilots at a black aviation club, pursuing a passion that continued throughout her life.
In the fall of 1938, Brown enrolled in the School of Engineering and Architecture at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, a traditional educational institution that opened in 1866. Since the early 1930s, the architecture school had embraced a modernist agenda that advocated a unity of art and technology, with studies linking industrial production and professional practice. The program placed a strong emphasis on building processes and techniques, concerns that would be reflected in Georgia Louise’s later practice.33See Anthony Alofsin, “American Modernism’s Challenge to the Beaux-Arts,” in Architecture School, Joan Ockman ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2012), 95–102. Translation of the University of Kansas program for Bachelor of Sciences in Architecture. In 1940, she interrupted her studies and, in 1941, married James A. Brown, a roommate of one of her brothers in Chicago and an electrical contractor. By the summer of 1942, Georgia Louise was taking evening classes at the architecture department of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago, which had been reorganized by architect and former Bauhaus director Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969); as director since 1938, he focused the curriculum on modern technologies of construction and standardized components. In Chicago, she attended classes taught by van der Rohe and later described her contacts with the German architect as some of the most interesting times of her life. By the fall of 1942, she was back in Kansas, where she completed the architectural program in the winter of 1943. In June 1944, she received a bachelor of science in architecture degree from the University of Kansas. Although the number of women in the architecture schools had increased during World War II, her university years were not without reminders of racism and sexism; later, she recalled being asked several times by one professor if she didn’t think she should be in home economics instead of architecture.44See Joan Ockman and Avigail Sachs, “Modernism Takes Command,” in Architecture School: Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North America, ed. Joan Ockman (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2012), 123.
By 1945, Georgia Louise was again in Chicago, now working at the recently opened office of black architect and structural engineer Kenneth Roderick O’Neal (1908–1989), who had returned from Europe after serving in an engineering unit during the war. She and O’Neal had much in common. Besides being a graphic designer, O’Neal had studied structural engineering at Iowa University, as well as architecture at IIT (then the Armour Institute) with Mies van der Rohe, and became a mentor and first employer to many black aspiring architects. It was probably at O’Neal’s that Brown, who at that time had endorsed the civil rights movement, became acquainted with a number of other young black professionals who, like her, were struggling for a place in a racist society, such as architects Beverly Lorraine Greene and John Moutoussamy. She worked with O’Neal until 1949, when she was licensed as an architect in Illinois. That same year, she moved to the office of Mies’s favorite structural engineer, Frank J. Kornacker Associates, Inc., where between 1949 and 1953 Brown was the only professional female.55See Franz Schulze, Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 266, 285. It was probably the office’s specialization in structural design, in addition to her own interest in construction, that led her to register at the Institute of Design at IIT, this time for the course Techniques of Civil Engineering, which lasted until 1953.66Between 1950 and 1953, Brown excelled in ten disciplines: Calculus I, Calculus II, Statics, Mechanics of Materials, Theory of Reinforced Concrete, Soil Mechanics, Stresses in Framed Structures, Differential Equations, Concrete and Foundation Design, and Continuous Structures.
While at Kornacker Associates, she designed residences and additions to factories, and an office and auditorium building, while developing structural calculations for reinforced steel and concrete buildings, which included Mies’s now emblematic Promontory and 860 Lake Shore Drive apartment buildings.77In her CV, Brown stated that she was responsible for structural calculations for other projects designed by Mies van der Rohe’s eventual associates, such as the Lunt Lake Apartments by Holsman, Holsman, Elekamp and Taylor Architects; the East Dentistry, Medicine Pharmacy Building at the University of Illinois, the urban renewal plans for Babbit, Michigan, and the Fayette County Hospital in Vandalia, Illinois, by Pace Associates, Architects; as well as other projects such as the Prairie Court Apartments by Keck and Keck, Architects, and the Glencoe Supermarket by Sidney Morris and Associates.
Those were very active years for Georgia Louise. Since 1945, she had also moonlighted with Woodrow B. Dolphin Wayne,88At that time Woodrow B. Dolphin, who received his bachelor degree in engineering at Wayne State University, Detroit, in 1937, was working for the Federal Public Works Agency, moving in 1946 to the Clarck Hickey Company as chief engineer in charge of supervising construction projects. an African American engineer in the engineering and architectural firm of General Engineers and Designers Co., designing local houses, churches, and office buildings. During this time, she became one of the first black members of the Chicago chapter of Alpha Alpha Gamma, the professional association that in 1948 would be renamed the Association of Women in Architecture.
Unable to reconcile her career and marriage, she divorced in 1952 and sent her two children, James and Georgia Louise, to live with her parents in Topeka. This period of her life was also a time of reflection about her future. Louise Brown was acutely aware that opportunities for advancement were limited by her race and gender.
By the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s, the achievements of Brazilian modern architecture had already been fully recognized within the architectural milieu in many American and European magazines and exhibitions.99See The Architectural Forum, November 1947; the special issues of L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui in December 1947; July 1948; and August 1952; and the Brazil Builds exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1943. Brown visited Brazil in 1951 and may have been seduced on that trip by the idea of being able to continue work in a creative ambiance that seemed comparatively free of racial boundaries.1010In the early 1950s, Brown met the progressive academic Maria Luisa Barros in the United States, who invited her to visit the country. Apparently, that trip was transformative, and after her visit she decided to move to Brazil. In fact, the myth of a Brazilian racial democracy was propagated by the nationalist and populist cultural politics of dictatorship Getulio Vargas and was often referred to in contemporaneous articles on Brazilian architecture published abroad; its shortcomings would not be fully apparent until the 1980s and after.1111See George Reid Andrews, “Brazilian Racial Democracy, 1900–90: An American Counterpoint” in Journal of Contemporary History 31, no. 3 (July 1996): 483–507. The notion of a Brazilian racial democracy was formulated by sociologist Gilberto Freyre and incorporated by the nationalist discourse of dictator Getulio Vargas, also saturating the Brazilian reports such as the special American Life magazine edition in 1951, photographed by Leonard McCombe.
Brown began to study Portuguese and to get her emigration papers ready. She moved to Brazil on October 1, 1953, and by January 20, 1954, she received a permanent residency visa.1212In this period, permanent residency in Brazil was facilitated by decree 7967, issued July 24, 1945. This decree was more flexible than its predecessor, which closed the Brazilian shores to exiles and refugees displaced by World War II, but still carried the racist political orientation of dictator Getulio Vargas government directed toward a policy of “whitening” the Brazilian population. Although she may have been somewhat naïve about how racially democratic Brazil actually was, she arrived in the country at an opportune time.
Because of the strong nationalist fervor of the period, a foreign professional like Brown could not open her own architectural office or sign her projects without first being accepted by the Engineers and Architects Regional Council (Conselho Regional de Engenharia e Arquitetura/CREA). It took some years for her diploma to be validated and her work license to be issued; it was approved only in 1970.1313As one of the first steps to get her architect’s license in Brazil, Brown had to undergo an exam at the Architecture School of the University of Mackenzie in 1966. The approval was issued in August, 23, 1968, and ratified in November, 6, 1968 (signed by Salvador Cândia, the director of the Architecture School, and the rector Esther de Figueiredo Ferraz). The diploma was revalidated by the University of São Paulo, following the process 109/69 on January 23, 1969. On April 7, 1969, Brown petitioned to obtain her Architects Order’s registration (Process 1274/1969), as a foreigner with permanent residency. She was approved on June 25, 1970, and signed her registration on August 13, 1970. At that time, she lived in São Paulo at Camanducaia, 85, Campo Belo. Meanwhile, she designed and did structural calculations for the office of American-born Charles Bosworth, a former associate of the American designer Raymond Loewy and Associates. Bosworth had arrived in Brazil in 1947 to set up the Brazilian headquarter of Loewy, attracting among its clients a consistent number of national and foreign companies.1414With his American experience, which included automotive and aeronautical design, Charles Bosworth was able to gather around the Raymond Loewy Associates headquarters in Brazil important enterprises such as Gessy Industrial, Fabricas Peixe S.A, the Ford Motors do Brasil, Industrias Reunidas Francisco Matarazzo S.A., and Pignatari S.A. (Rochedo), Companhia Calçado Clarck, and Cassio Muniz S.A., with whom he worked designing packing and offices. In 1953, he founded the Charles Bosworth Sociedade Civil de Engenharia Ltda that grew into a major industrial construction company and a major reference point for international clients.1515As a foreigner without an engineering or architecture diploma, Charles Bosworth was required to associate with Brazilian licensed professionals, which explains his many, but always successful, associations such as Charles Bosworth Sociedade Civil de Engenharia Ltda (1953); Construtora Bosworth Ltda (1956); Hedeager, Bosworth do Brasil S/A Engenheiros, Arquitetos e Construtores (1956); Hedeager, Bosworth do Brasil S/A Engenheiros, Arquitetos e Construtores (1958); Hoffmann Bosworth do Brasil S/A-Engenharia, Arquitetura e Construções (1962); Hoffman Bosworth Engenharia S.A. (1970). In its early beginnings, Bosworth’s office was the only industrial contracting company of size in the country, and, among more than one hundred commissions, the office was responsible for the design and construction of projects for many multinational companies such as Pfizer Corporation, Merck, Sharp & Dohme, Willys Overland do Brasil, General Motors, Ford, General Electric, White Martins, Union Carbide, Dominium Café Solúvel, Ericsson, Nestlé, Solteca Usina Termodinamica, Avon, Xerox, Squibb & Sons, Lion S.A, and the foundations of the Sheraton Hotel in the city of Rio de Janeiro, designed by Henrique Mindlin, among others. On Charles Bosworth’s work in Brazil, see Edward Leffingwell, “Charles Samson Bosworth,” in Catalogo Salas Especiais. 4 Bienal de Arquitetura, São Paulo Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, pp. 124–27; Letter of presentation to the Commission of the 4 Bienal de Arquitetura, 1999; Edward Leffingwell, A Memória do guardião. A coleção Kim Esteve e uma história da Chácara Flora (São Paulo: Terceiro Nome, 2003). Bosworth’s first important achievement was the design and construction of the National City Bank Building in the heart of São Paulo. The project design was done in association with the Los Angeles-based architect Welton Becket and was probably the first large undertaking in which Brown was involved in Brazil, participating in both design and structural calculations. She worked for Charles Bosworth from 1954 to 1966. This period roughly coincided with the country’s great industrial development that began under President Getulio Vargas and culminated with President Juscelino Kubitschek’s project for economic “national development,” which stimulated and attracted international capital and multinational enterprises.1616See Ana Claudia Caputo and Hildete Pereira de Melo, “A industrialização brasileira nos anos de 1950: uma análise da instrução 113 da SUMOC,” in Estudos Econômicos 39, no. 3 (July/September 2009): 513–38. Bosworth’s office was frequently hired by American companies wanting to get established in Brazil, and Brown’s cultural and professional background enabled her to understand and operate efficiently within the foreign companies’ programmatic and technological demands. At the same time, she was acquiring significant experience in the design, construction, and administration of industrial and prefabricated building sites that she very likely could not have obtained in the United States at that time.1717In her resume, Brown mentioned particularly her engagement in the design of automobile assembly factories, engine plants, and vehicle parts plants such as the new complex of Ford Motors do Brazil (Osasco); Lion do Brazil (São Paulo); Brasmotor, Willys Overland do Brasil, and Gemmer (São Bernardo do Campo); in addition to the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer Corporation of Brazil, established in Guarulhos, and the Pravaz Recordati S/A (São Paulo). The experience with industrial projects continued at Racz Construtora, a firm with which she collaborated on many works between 1963 and 1972. Another important contractor of the period, the company was founded in 1941 by Jewish European refugees.1818The Racz Construtora was founded in 1941 by the Italian refugee Silvio Segre with the name of Construtora Moderna. After World War II, in 1948, the Hungarian-born Joseph Racz became the second associate, and with Segre’s return to Italy in 1952, Racz became the sole owner. It was while working for Racz that Brown developed two of her larger projects: the Kodak film plant at the city of São Jose dos Campos (1969–1971) and the Trorion S/A, a foam and mattresses plant (1963–1965).1919The first Kodak office in Brazil opened in Rio de Janeiro in 1920. In 1958, the main office was transferred to São Paulo, where at the end of 1960 the first Brazilian cameras began to be assembled. The new plant in São Jose dos Campos, which opened in 1972, produced color and black-and-white film, among other products. In 1976, the new central building in São Paulo was inaugurated in the Morumbi district of that city.
As Brown was not an employee of those large contractors, it was easier for her to also undertake private residential projects, which were sometimes developed in partnership with associate designers. One of her first associations was with the American-born former Air Force official Julian D’Este Penrose (1916–1968), who, while not an architect,2020Julian Penrose, whose father was a consulting engineer and historian, did not have an architecture diploma but was a creative designer and built many residences in São Paulo in which he tried to harmonize the architectural program with the landscape and the use of local materials. had very good connections among wealthy foreign industrialists and Brazilians. She also designed some residences with her close friend Karl Hans Adolf Wiechman, a creative German émigré who had interrupted his architecture studies in Frankfurt at the beginning of World War II.2121Wiechman was in the cavalry corps of the German army during World War II.
After obtaining her Brazilian architecture license in 1970, Brown felt less dependent on the large construction contractors and worked increasingly with private investors and real estate developers who were planning and operating new condominium residential areas in the city.2222Between the 1970s and 1980s, Georgia Louise worked for real estate brokers Cia Territoria e Urbana Paulista Ltda, the Cia Comercial Agrícola e Industrial Grama, and the CIT Pavimentação e Terraplangem Ltda pertaining to the industrial and real state conglomerate Matarazzo, as well as the Emprimo Empreendimentos Imobiliarios Ltda. Although she preferred to work alone, she often had a Brazilian male partner. She founded the firm Brown Bottene Construtora Ltda, followed by Gryphus Arquitetura Ltda, which lasted until 1993 when illness forced her retirement and return to the United States.2323The Brown Bottene was a partnership between Brown and the couple Neyde Bottene Camacho and Petronio Theodoro Camacho; the firm closed in 1976. That same year, Brown established another firm with the engineer Anibal de Almeida Fernandes called Gryphus Arquitetura S/C ltda. A year later, engineer Anibal Fernandes was replaced by a young architect whom she trained, Daniel R. M. Iongbloed. The company folded in 1993 when Georgia Louise Harris left for the USA.
In a letter sent from Brazil in the mid-1980s, Brown asserted that she never thought of herself as having been a black pioneer female architect, but simply an architect.2424“I never thought of myself as been a Pioneer of black female architect. I was always just an architect. . . . after I left school and started working I never have any problem professionally. Sexual harassment! Maybe. I don’t remember any. If I encountered it, I guess I was going in such a pace and with my mind so occupied with my job that I didn’t notice it, or didn’t interpret it in that sense . . .” Georgia Louise Harris Brown, letter to Jeanne Harris (her sister-in-law), 3 pp., circa 1984. Brown wrote this letter at the request of Harris, who thought it important that there be a record of Brown’s legacy. Harris generously gave Roberta Washington a copy of this letter. Nevertheless, the analysis of her many residential projects may uncover some characteristics of what might be called a “feminine approach to design,” following Karen A. Franck’s concept of connectedness and inclusiveness and a sense of complexity and flexibility.2525Karen A. Franck, “A Feminist Approach to Architecture: Acknowledging Women’s Ways of Knowing,” in Gender Space Architecture: An Interdisciplinary Introduction, ed. Jane Rendell, Barbara Penner, and Ian Borden (New York: Routledge, 2007), 292–305. When designing, especially residences, Brown always established a close relationship with her clients, listening carefully and trying to understand the family’s daily patterns and everyday experiences, which she then reenvisioned in her projects with great attention to spatial and visual connections in order to create a sense of spatial continuity. Perhaps while trying to create a domestic intimacy, one that had largely been lost by the modern movement, she was also recovering within her imposed exile the faded memories of a centennial family home in Topeka, Kansas.
Brown’s final projects always encompassed the design of special pieces of furniture, closets, cabinets, and wardrobes, in addition to careful detailing of the openings such as doors and windows; these features demonstrate her attentiveness to human comfort and domestic design needs, a concern also shown in her careful sketches of a Japanese house done on a trip to that country.
Whether designing an industrial plant or a residence, Brown never sought to make a formal statement, but rather engaged in deep analysis of functional and technical issues, with an awareness of change in time and the need for flexibility and transformation. She took the same approach on several renovations of her original industrial projects, including a hospital. She also did renovation work on some of her earlier residential buildings.
The dialogue forged between what could be understood as her American architecture background culture and a new Brazilian modern architecture culture was tenuous. She never let herself follow the fluidity of shapes and curves of the “Carioca” school. While her industrial buildings were functionally subordinated to the production processes, her residential buildings were always introverted, with the exception of her use of a gambrel, mansard-roof type. A popular design in America during the early 1970s and 1980s, she transposed this roof type to the Brazilian landscape in at least four residential projects in São Paulo, using slate or fiber cement as shingles. Her interior design and furniture also showed an American colonial influence, which might be seen as having certain resonances with the revival of the Brazilian colonial forms that were much in vogue between 1970 and 1980.
In 1990, Michele Wallace2626Michele Wallace, Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory (New York: Verso, 1994). Rev. and expanded edition: Invisibility Blues: From Pop to Theory and Back Again (New York: Verso, 2008). proposed that black feminist creativity might be seen as emerging from the most extreme form of “otherness,” in that black women were “other” to both white women and black men, who themselves were already seen as “other.” We suggest that the otherness of Georgia Louise Harris Brown might be seen as even more “other” than that of most black women, because not only was she a black woman architect during a period when the profession was composed almost exclusively of white men, but she was also a foreigner in Brazil, an “other,” in a country buffeted by nationalistic waves coming from both right and left. Nevertheless, neither any sense of estrangement nor of exile would challenge her strong will, pride, and lifelong commitment to architecture. In 1999, following surgery for cancer, and suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, she unexpectedly went into a coma in Washington, D.C., where she had moved to be close to family. Two weeks later, on September 21, 1999, Georgia Louise Harris Brown died at the age of eighty-one.