Watts, CA–When Demar Matthews was in school for architecture, he was the only Black person in the whole graduate program. His overall experience was great, despite working full time to pay for the program. While completing his degree and seeing the absence of people who looked like him in the space, Matthews began imagining what a Black aesthetic would look like in the world of architecture.
“I was never shown architecture in a Black neighborhood,” Matthews shared. “I said man, I am about to go into a world where I’m just a Black face in a super white office. I felt everything I had just learned was not going to benefit my own community.”
During the three-year masters program, Matthews was introduced to various types of design ranging from Indian to Japanese. He realized that we see mainly white folks bringing their designs, rooted in whiteness, into majority Black neighborhoods.
The Los Angeles landscape, where Matthews works, differs only slightly from that norm. Famed Black architect Paul Revere Williams, an orphan who would graduate from The University of Southern California (USC) School of Architecture in 1919, is from Los Angeles.
Although Williams faced racial challenges and discrimination, he designed homes for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars including Lucille Ball and Frank Sinatra. Williams also designed various buildings in Los Angeles county ranging from LAX to The Beverly Hills Hotel and the Nickerson Gardens in Watts.
“Black people have had hand-me-down housing since we have been in America. I followed the history from slavery, until present day,” said Matthews. “Look at the projects in L.A. They were never built for us. They were built for lower-middle class whites, whose families were in the war.”