Carolyn Armenta Davis: Celebrating Architects






As Chicago toasts its groundbreaking second Architectural Biennial, we celebrate Carolyn Armenta Davis, Hon. AIA, an international architectural historian who has traveled the world to deliver a compelling message. Lecturer, critic, writer, business consultant, and curator, the elegant and personable Old Town resident has lectured in over 50 countries on five continents.


Carolyn Armenta Davis in Berlin, 1999. Photo shared from her personal collection.

We visited with Carolyn recently as she planned for her latest presentation to the American Institute of Architects’ Triangle Chapter and North Carolina State University. The first stop on her trip will be a visit to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture, whose lead designer was Sir David Adjaye, OBE. Adjaye’s first retrospective was held at the Art Institute as part of the city’s first Biennial.

“My ongoing focus is on contemporary African American, Afro-Latino, Afro-European, and African architects. What I wanted to tell about is the missing chapters on architectural history and what needs to be added to the narratives. For example, in the United States, there are 100,000 architects and less than 3,000 are of African ancestry. There is actually a wide spectrum of their work—from public to private, preservation, and landscape to urban planning.”

Born in Gary, Carolyn graduated from the University of Indiana. Calling her “a crucial voice in the international discussion of diversity”, the American Institute of Architects awarded her an honorary membership in 2014. The citation added:

“Her influence and reputation are appropriately and impressively global. As our profession and the AIA make a greater effort for outreach, Carolyn Armenta Davis’s work lifts the profile of contemporary Black practitioners and serves as a catalyst for inclusion.”


Carolyn Armenta Davis at the American Institute of Architects annual confab in Chicago at McCormick Place, 2014.

Carolyn told us how her projects have evolved:

“The current work actually continues my third project to celebrate the achievements of men and women of African ancestry. The first was Black Classic Composers, a radio series of opera, symphonies, concertos, and other compositions written between 1771 and 1975, which aired on the then-classical station, WEFM, in Chicago. 

“The second, Feminine Footprints, was a radio series, broadcast internationally, on 65 black women trailblazers. The third project, Design Diaspora: Black Architects and International Architecture from 1970-1990, exhibited and toured built projects, not including works on paper, of 50 black architects from 11 countries and four continents.”

In addition to her groundbreaking work on inclusion, Carolyn holds another distinction: She has attended some 15 of the yearly Pritzker Architecture Prize ceremonies that have been held throughout the world and has written about many of the prize’s laureates.

“I am so fortunate to have been invited as a guest and have had a chance to speak with the recipients. One of my most striking memories was talking to Zaha Hadid, the first woman to receive the Pritzker prize, in St. Petersburg at the Hermitage in 2004. She was very friendly and had a great sense of humor. She died much too young.”  


Zaha Hadid and Carolyn in 2004.


The invitation for the 2004 Pritzker Prize ceremony, honoring Hadid.

The jury chairmen have included Lord Rothschild and J. Carter Brown, the late director of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.; Jay and Cindy Pritzker founded the prize in 1979.

A very special opportunity was having her program signed by architect I.M. Pei and President Clinton when the 20th Anniversary of the ceremony was held at the White House.


June 17, 1998: Pritzker Architecture Prize Ceremony for Laureate Renzo Piano at The White House, Autographed by President Bill Clinton and 1983 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate, I. M. Pei.

Carolyn has traveled to Argentina, Japan, Berlin, Lisbon, Paris, Istanbul, South Africa, Kenya, and other destinations, meeting architects such as Lord Norman Foster, Sir David Adjaye, Lord Richard Rogers, Frank Gehry, and Eduardo Souto de Moura. In honor of city’s focus on architects and the deep passion of Carolyn Armenta Davis, Hon. AIA, to support architectural achievement, we show a few of the photos of the Pritzker Prize ceremonies.


Pritzker Architecture Prize co-founder Mrs. Cindy Pritzker; Carolyn; 1989 Laureate, Frank Gehry (USA); and Gehry’s wife, Berta Isabel Aguilera. Photographed in Washington, D.C. in 2011 for the Pritzker Prize ceremony.


Lord Norman Foster and Carolyn at the reception in Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 1999. Still from Canadian Broadcast Company’s Arts & Minds series.


The program from that year’s ceremony, signed by Foster.