Though he never got the starchitect coverage accorded to many of his peers, J. Max Bond--who died yesterday, at 73--was one of the country's leading architects, and inarguably its most revered African-American architect. I got to interview him late last year, and though I didn't know he was suffering from the cancer that would eventually kill him, I was struck nevertheless by the passion and energy he exuded, at a time when most men are slowing down.
Bond's relatively low profile outside the profession wasn't the result of racism, but rather his decision to work at the head of a big corporate firm doing big corporate work. What began in 1970 as Bond Ryder & Associates and is today known as Davis Brody Bond Aedas (DBBA) operated at the very highest level of American architecture, winning and completing a long list of campus, corporate, and nonprofit structures. This position may not have won him celebrity, but it allowed Bond to show, through tireless work and professional activism, a generation of African-American architects (and architects of African descent worldwide) the way to success in an overwhelmingly white, upper-class profession.
Which is not to say Bond did not design landmark structures. His early work, as the court architect for Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah in the 1960s, was a pioneering effort in the creation of a African, postcolonial strain of modernism; his later work included some of America's civil rights landmarks, such as the King Center in Atlanta and the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham. At his death, DBBA--in collaboration with the Freelon Group and British wunderkind David Adjaye--was a finalist for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, to be located northeast of the Washington Monument on the National Mall. Presumably, their bid will continue; it would be a fitting tribute to a great man if they won.