John S. Chase: A trailblazing Texas architect – Curbed

Up till his passing, architect John Saunders Chase stored a field of letters at his home. Lots of them, written by individuals who had by no means really met him, refer again to a second when Chase discovered himself within the nationwide highlight.

The primary African-American to attend the distinguished structure college on the College of Texas in Austin in 1950, Chase was a pioneer. AP photographers confirmed up when he registered for courses, and along with the hate mail, he was trailed by a federal marshall between courses, and was compelled to stay off campus since no landlords close to the college would hire to a black man on the time.

By the point he retired—after establishing a profitable observe, John S. Chase, Architect, serving to discovered the Nationwide Group of Minority Architects (NOMA), and serving as president of the Texas Exes, an honor at his alma mater—Chase had change into not only a revered architect, however a group chief. It confirmed in his welcoming, expansive designs: trendy buildings made to be inspiring and inclusive.

“Chase mobilized trendy structure as a democratic course of, and his buildings embraced the longer term that was decided to be higher than the previous and the current,” Stephen Fox, an architectural historian at Rice College, instructed the Daily Texan.


Rising up in Baltimore, John S. Chase knew he appreciated to create and to attract. Nonetheless, he couldn’t fairly work out what that meant for his future till he determined, as a toddler, to stroll into an structure workplace and discover out. As he defined in a series of oral history interviews, he knocked on the door of a agency in Annapolis, Maryland, the place the workers sat him down at a drafting desk and confirmed him blueprints. He maintained a friendship with these architects a long time later.

The path to opening his personal agency proved tougher. After serving with distinction within the Military within the Philippines throughout WWII, he earned an structure diploma at Hampton College in Virginia, and commenced drafting for a agency in Philadelphia, concentrating on residential work. In search of greater and higher issues, Chase took a job supply with the Lott Lumber Firm in Austin, Texas, an African-American-owned agency specializing in personal houses.

The Philips Home
James W Moore

Chase felt that he wanted extra formal coaching to get forward, and in 1950, approached the dean on the College of Texas, looking for a method into the college regardless of its segregation coverage . At practically the identical time, the Supreme Courtroom had issued a choice in Sweatt v. Painter, which barred segregation in skilled colleges. In 1952, Chase could be the primary African-American graduate from the college, however quickly discovered that not one of the white-owned companies would rent him. Fed up with rejection, Chase determined to work for himself, turning the eating room of his dwelling into an workplace.

Whereas his first gig as an architect and enterprise proprietor was designing the Luxe Lodge in Austin, most of his early years centered on houses and church buildings. Transferring to Houston after being supplied a instructing place at Texas Southern College, he drummed up enterprise by introducing himself at African-American church buildings and sharing his concepts for progressive church structure, the topic of his grasp’s thesis.

“I noticed that, if I wished enterprise, I wanted to strategy the African American group,” he mentioned. “And the easiest way to do this was to attend church. I figured I might learn to construct church buildings with somewhat onerous work and plenty of religion.”

Impressed by Wright’s Usonian ideals, Chase envisioned streamlined, spacious public areas. He designed the primary black-owned financial institution in Texas, Riverside Nationwide Financial institution, and shortly discovered his observe increasing as he took on bigger alternatives. At one level, he had designed greater than half of the buildings on Texas Southern College’s campus, and he was ultimately requested to design the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia and even renovate the Astrodome. His agency opened places of work in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and Washington, D.C., and in 1980, he’d be named to the U.S. Fee of Superb Arts by President Carter.

Chase did greater than construct bodily constructions of group. All through his profession, he continued to advocate for and help minority architects. In 1971, he helped co-discovered the Nationwide Group of Minority Architects (NOMA), and all through his profession, at all times made it a degree to have places of work in native neighborhoods. In any case, who knew when the subsequent John S. Chase would possibly stroll within the door?

“The factor I at all times wished to do was serve for example to younger youngsters, elementary college and highschool, who can move by your constructing, see the phrase architect and are available in and ask ‘what do you do?’” he instructed a radio interviewer. “You possibly can’t do this engaged on the 30th flooring downtown.”

Buildings to know

Chase’s largest assortment of labor may be discovered on the Texas Southern College campus. His Martin Luther King Jr. Humanities Constructing stands as one in every of his finest, a suspended collection of white circles that hovers above the campus garden.

Public structure was his forte, exemplified by his ecclesiastical designs in East Austin, such because the Olivet Baptist Church, a steep, brick-clad design with an angular roof, and the David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, its trendy, slanted roof off-setting a minimalist bell tower. His most well-known residential work, the 1966 Phillips Home, additionally in East Austin, stands out in a neighborhood of ranches and bungalows, with sweeping horizontal strains and a diamond-formed, inexperienced-trimmed roof.

Legacy and fame right now

John S. Chase left a diversified physique of labor, and by no means stopped constructing group, whether or not it was by way of his commissions or enterprise practices. His agency would offer alternatives to African-American draftsman, architects, and engineers for many years, persevering with to open doorways and enhance the structure group.

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John S. Chase: A trailblazing Texas architect - Curbed