Joseph W. Robinson, Sr., FAIA was born on November 25, 1927, in Hartsville, South Carolina at a time when the “Negro” was considered to be largely subservient to his white counterpart. The persistence of negative images of African Americans was ingrained in American culture and served as a constant reminder of the harsh discriminatory environment that existed during that time. Upon graduating from Hampton Institute with a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture, Mr. Robinson, Sr. relocated to Atlanta. After being denied employment in the profession of architecture due to segregation, he started his career as a public school teacher at Booker T. Washington High School (1953-68) where he began inspiring students to enter the field of architecture.
Robinson started J. W. Robinson & Associates, Inc. more than 45 years ago with a focus on residential architecture because a license was not required. He designed over 200 private homes using architecture to reshape communities like Collier Heights that is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The Collier Heights Historic District is widely recognized as the premier example of mid-20th Century Suburban architecture developed between 1941 and 1979 exclusively for middle and upper-middle class African Americans.
Robinson’s leadership played a key role in preserving places that represent the cultural life and accomplishments of African Americans. He worked on many projects for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s family to which included renovations to the King birth home, as well as the last home of Dr. King’s on Sunset Avenue. Coretta Scott King credited Robinson as being instrumental in bringing international acclaim to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site by taking it from a dream to reality. He was the winner of over 40 individual awards, as well as serving as one of the co-founding members of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). In 1995, he became the first African American in the State of Georgia to be elected to the College of Fellows in the American Institute of Architects (AIA). J.W. Robinson and & Associates, Inc. continues to be a beacon of success and perseverance, and a design leader for minority businesses and architects in Atlanta.
Robinson was married to Willie Louise Robinson and had three children, Joseph, Jeffrey, and Janice. He died in Atlanta at the age of eighty on September 14, 2008.
Today, Jeffrey L. Robinson, AIA, NOMA, is the president of J.W. Robinson & Associates, Inc., and Joseph Robinson, Jr. is responsible for the development and management of the firm’s production staff. Jeffrey and his brother continue the legacy of excellence in design started by the senior Robinson. During his StoryCorps interview, Jeffrey Robinson speaks passionately about being exposed to architecture at an early age by his father and how that impacted him as a child and a professional today. A graduate of Hampton University like his father, he recounts specific stories about his dad’s relationships with leading civil rights leaders like Dr. King and Ralph David Abernathy. He describes the Collier Heights homes designed by his father playing a crucial part in the Civil Rights Movement. Social and business meetings for many of its leaders were held in these homes, as they were unable to meet in many other parts of the city because of segregation.
Jeffrey gives vivid descriptions of the barriers his father faced after he came to Atlanta in 1949 as a result of segregation and the extreme impact of race discrimination in the architecture profession during the early 1950s and 1960s. In one story, he recounts a conversation with his father on the definition of the word “Negro” from 1929 describing a black man’s brain size and how he was not capable of independent thought. The younger Robinson believes the definition clearly highlighted the struggles and the mental slavery that his father’s generation had to suffer through to be successful. In another story he recalls his father describing Dr. King’s joy in playing with a remote for an automatic garage door, as he made the door go up and down. Such a device was rare at that time however, he needed it for security. Finally, he shares stories of discrimination in today’s architecture profession and how the, “fight is about being considered an equal…. Being considered equal as a designer” and how we still have a long way to go.
Jeffrey Robinson is very active in the leadership and practice of his firm and sits on several boards. He served as past president of the Atlanta Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (1998-2000). He serves on the Architecture Advisory Board for Kennesaw State University and Advisory board for the Atlanta Center for Creative Inquiry, the non-profit foundation founded by fellow NOMA Atlanta Trailblazer Oscar Harris, which exposes youth to the profession of architecture in public high school throughout the Atlanta metro area. Joseph W. Robinson, Sr. and Jeffrey Robinson are members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. In his leisure, Jeffrey plays the French horn with the Metropolitan Atlanta Community Band. He is married to Clarissa Robinson and has three daughters, Chantia, Janae and Ciera.
Joseph W. Robinson, Sr.’s commitment to architecture and empowering the community during a time when African Americans were severely discriminated against continues to be a beacon of success and perseverance for minority architects. The firm he created, J.W. Robinson & Associates, Inc., leaves an incredible legacy that carries on through his sons as a design leader for minority businesses and architects in Atlanta – a major inspiration for the next generation of Atlanta architects that truly makes him one of NOMA Atlanta’s Trailblazers of Change.
Author: Garfield Peart| May 10,2015 | © NOMAATLANTA
Select Firm Awards and Recognitions
2011 – American Institute of Architects (AIA) Citation Design Award; Atlanta Botanical Gardens Parking Facility, Visitors Center and Canopy Walk
2009 – South Atlantic Region American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honor Award; Renaissance Walk @ Sweet Auburn
2008- Atlanta Business League “Company Hall of Fame”
2007 Design and Practice “Firm Award”, Service to the Profession and Community Service, Hampton University
2002 – Atlanta Urban Design Commission “Award of Excellence”, City of Atlanta, Fire Station #4
2001 – Award of Excellence: Associated Builders & Contractors: EIC Celebration, Construction Excellence by Juneau Construction, Greenforest McCalep Christian Early Learning Center, Decatur, GA
2000 – American Concrete Institute, Georgia Chapter, “FIRST PLACE AWARD”, Public Works Building Category for The Savannah International Trade & Convention Center
1999 – Citation Award: The Council of Educational Facility Planners, International 1991 Design Portfolio, Atlanta, GA
Notable Atlanta Projects:
Atlanta Life Insurance Headquarters
C.B. King U.S. Federal Courthouse
City of Atlanta Fire Station #4
Fort Valley State University Academic Classroom and Laboratory Building
Fort Valley State University Historic Huntington Hall Rehabilitation
GDOT Rest Area – Bibb County
M.L. King, Jr. Birth Home
Mount Zion Primary School
J.W. Robinson & Associates, Inc.
1020 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd.
Atlanta, Georgia 30310
Phone: 404-753-4129 (Ph)
Fax: 404-753-4435 (fx)
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