ENR Midwest is proud to announce that Robert P Madison, FAIA — the founder and longtime principal-in-charge of Cleveland architecture firm, Robert P Madison International, Inc. and former AIA Cleveland President — has been named our 2019 Legacy Award honoree.
Madison, 96, retired from full-time practice in 2016 and sold his firm to CFO Robert Klann and his nephew, R. Kevin Madison and his wife Sandra Madison where it still operates as RPMI, Inc. today, but his life story touches much more than his work or the time it happened.
Madison moved back to Cleveland from Washington, DC, in 1937 so he would have an opportunity to study architecture in high school. In 1940 he was accepted to Howard University as an architecture student. World War II called while he was studying at Howard and he served in the 92nd Infantry in what was then the segregated U.S. Army as a Buffalo Soldier, second lieutenant. His unit was the only African-American unit to fight in ground combat in Italy during the war. He was wounded by shrapnel that destroyed the jeep he was driving during the fighting to earn his Purple Heart, recovered and spent the period immediately after the war studying the classic architecture of Italy while he recuperated.
After the war, Madison decided to enroll in the architecture program at Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) in Cleveland, only to be summarily denied access based on his race. He returned in full dress uniform, with his Purple Heart medal displayed, and declared they could not keep him out of college and deny him the freedom he personally fought for. Under duress, he was admitted, but told by the administrators that he would never work as an architect.
How wrong they were. After graduating from Western Reserve, Madison got his Master of Architecture Degree from Harvard University, studying under Walter Gropius, and was granted a Fulbright Fellowship in Architecture and Urban Design to study at the L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris where he received instruction from Le Corbusier and Eugene Freyssinet. In 1954, after teaching architecture at Howard, he returned to Cleveland and started RPMI, reasoning that the only way to effect the social change he wanted to see was to open an African-American-owned architecture firm to employ people of color. It was only the 10th African-American-owned architecture firm in the US. This was only the beginning of many accomplishments and contributions to American society, including working as either associate architect, architect of record or design architect on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the American Embassy in Senegal, Cleveland Browns Stadium, Quicken Loans Arena, the engineering and nuclear facility in Tuskegee, Ala., and buildings for Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland State University. Exactly 25 years after Madison was told he would never work as an architect, Madison was elected President of AIA's Cleveland chapter and admitted to the college of fellows.
"I learned early on," Madison says, "That the halls of academe and the corner offices of the workplace are not the only way stations where one learns about life."
Please join us in honoring the life and work of Robert P Madison December 3 at the Renaissance Chicago.