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The Harlem office of former President Bill Clinton. The Freddie Mac headquarters in Washington, D.C. The halls of Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre. The Chrysler 300C. What do all of these have in common? They bear the signature of African American designers. Associated primarily with the fashion industry, African American designers have made significant inroads in interior, architectural, automotive, and industrial design.
There are nearly 500,000 designers employed in the U. S. Of that pool, African Americans number an estimated 18,000. A select group has ascended to stardom such as industrial designer David Rice, founder and chairman of Washington, D.C.-based Organization of
Black Designers; interior designer Sheila Bridges, who has created spaces for notables such as Clinton and P. Diddy; and architect Jack Travis, recently named an American Institute of Architects Fellow. But the vast majority of black craftspeople goes unnoticed.
The editors of BLACK ENTERPRISE decided to acknowledge the African American design community as a growing force in America. We surveyed the overall landscape, drawing on the resources of industry insiders, design schools, and associations. The goal: to identify those who best represent both style and substance.
STEVE MCLEOD, EAST LANSING, MI: PRINCIPAL SCM DESIGNS: In a game where every stroke counts, all elements—trees, grass, water, sand—affect playability. When it comes to African American visibility in golf, Tiger Woods may be a rare breed but Steve McLeod belongs to a more exclusive club—that of landscape architects. The 38-year-old draftsman has more than 12 years experience. Previously, he was a design associate at the Matthews Group, headed by third-generation golf course architect W. Bruce Matthews III. While there, McLeod worked on Angels Crossing, a heralded golf course in southwest Michigan. Over the years, the master planner has mapped out 150- to 200-plus acre, 18-hole sites with budgets ranging from $2 million to $10 million. “You may have a site that is flat, has no contours on it. So you have to build features into it.” Golf course architecture is divergent in that it offers aesthetic appeal for spectators and golfers but it’s beset with grueling conditions to test each player. McLeod was in junior high school when his father introduced him to the game. So how’s this architect’s form? He jests: “That’s why I design for handicappers and not just the better golfers.” —CMB
ED WELBURN, DETROIT, VP OF GLOBAL DESIGN, GENERAL MOTORS: Ed Welburn’s crew is receiving rave reviews for its latest creation, the Buick VÃ©lite. The finely tailored, four-seat convertible with its gleaming, shield-shaped grille, will roll out in 2008. A lot is riding on the VÃ©lite as part of Buick’s $3 billion makeover. The company’s goal is to create its own luxury models; comparable to Lexus. Welburn, 54, oversees 600 designers at 11 studios worldwide. As design chief, Welburn is the sixth person in GM’s 95-year history to hold the position and the first African American. He is best remembered for giving birth to GM’s
Pontiac Solstice, Hummer H3, and its Cadillac Escalade. As the world becomes more global and the marketplace more crowded,