John Louis Wilson, FAIA
New York City
Housing rights advocacy, mentorship
For the 1984 Whitney Young Award, AIA leadership selected John Louis Wilson, FAIA, not only for his list of major architectural achievements, but also “for the 50 years his office served as a training ground for young architects.”
Born in 1898, Wilson, the son of a Methodist minister, moved from Mississippi to New Orleans to study classics at what is now Dillard University. A chance conversation with noted Louisiana architect Moise H. Goldstein, FAIA, helped motivate the young student to follow his interests in architecture. In the next decade, Wilson would become the first African American graduate of Columbia University’s architecture program, a pioneer of urban design, and a leader for New York City housing rights.
Upon completing architecture school, Wilson worked as an inspector for New York City’s Housing Department as well as the Board of Transportation. After opening his own firm in 1931, he was later appointed to a group designing the famous Harlem River Houses. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the project remains a hallmark in the history of affordable multifamily housing, with modern architectural notions of space, environment, and community. Maintaining an office in heart of Harlem, Wilson spent his career working closely with minority students and young architects from across the city, concentrating on projects that bolstered neighborhoods and supported equitable housing opportunities.