The Paul R. Williams Project is a collaboration of individuals and organizations in which AIA Memphis and the University of Memphis are the core institutions. The project began in early 2006 as an initiative of the Memphis chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in honor of the 150th anniversary of the AIA. The Memphis AIA 150 Committee developed two ideas, the first was a permanent downtown design center; the second was an exhibition or some form of public recognition of the life and work of Paul R. Williams (1894–1980), the first African American member of the AIA and the first to become a Fellow (FAIA).
Why would the AIA Memphis 150 Committee focus on Paul R. Williams, an architect who was born in Los Angeles and whose career, though national and international, was largely realized in Southern California?
Memphis has an historical interest in Paul R. Williams. His parents, Chester Stanley Williams, Sr. and Lila A. Wright Williams were from Memphis, where Chester Williams worked at the famous Peabody Hotel, and where Paul’s brother, Chester, Jr., was born before the family moved to Los Angeles during the early 1890s. Decades later in 1960, Paul R. Williams contributed his design for the original building of Memphis’ renowned St. Jude Research Hospital for Children, which was the realized dream of his friend Danny Thomas.
The Paul R. Williams Project committee’s motivation was and is to help expand public knowledge about this American architect, whose extraordinary accomplishment was achieved against a background of pervasive racism in a particularly exclusionary profession.
The AIA150 Committee presented the exhibit concept to the board of the Art Museum of the University of Memphis (AMUM). The University of Memphis has a young but exceedingly successful architecture program with close ties to the Memphis professional community, and AMUM’s director earned a Ph.D. in 20th Century art and architectural history with a specialization in mid-century American architecture.
AIA Memphis also presented the Paul R. Williams project to the national organization, which sanctioned it as part of the AIA150 celebration. The original project has expanded to include research, K–12 education and publication components. Decisions are made by the Paul R. Williams Project committee listed below with AMUM serving as administrative center. Additional participants sit on specific committees for the education, exhibition and publication segments of the project.
The first phase of the Paul R. Williams project focuses on research and promotion of scholarship through this website.
Website. The project encourages scholarship by providing on-line resources. The primary resource is a bibliography with over 1500 citations. The bibliography, which includes specific references to Paul R. Williams found in books, newspapers, scholarly, architectural and popular publications and ones that relate to the architectural and social contexts of his life and career, is updated regularly. Citations are verified for accuracy. The project encourages and welcomes contributions of bibliographic citations by scholars and others for addition to the list. The resources also include information about publicly accessible archives containing materials relating to Paul R. Williams.
See research Resources.