April 3, 2009
  Clyde Porter, FAIA

by Heather Livingston
Contributing Editor

Summary: Clyde Porter, FAIA, is the recipient of the 2009 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award. Based in Dallas, Porter is the Assistant Vice Chancellor and Director of Facilities and District Architect for the Dallas Community College District (DCCCD). Porter and his twin brother, sons of a carpenter/contractor, both showed an early propensity for architectural design. They followed their father around to work sites and frequently did odd jobs like pouring concrete and building cabinetry. Before completing high school, the two brothers had designed and helped construct a home for a local businessman and designed an apartment building in Galveston, Tex. In his position with DCCCD, Porter started a program that requires female- and minority-led AEC firms be hired for at least 50 percent of the district’s work. In selecting Porter for the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award, the AIA Board of Directors recognized him for his work to make educational and design opportunities available to underserved and minority communities.

Where did you go to school?
I went to Prairie View A&M University. I graduated in 1967 with a degree in Industrial Arts Education because Prairie View did not have a school of architecture. I went back and got a Masters in Architecture from Prairie View University, but I became a licensed architect before that.

Tell me about your early career.
I was commissioned in the Army Corps of Engineers when I graduated from college. I went to Army Engineer School and served three years with a tour in Vietnam as a combat engineer. When I left the military, I came to Dallas and worked with Harrell and Hamilton Architects, now called Omniplan, for a few months and then the bottom fell out of the market. I left Dallas and went to work for the city of Corpus Christi as a city planner. I was then called and given a job offer with the Army Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) headquarters and I worked for them as an architecture draftsman.

You were drafting plans for the Exchange buildings on bases?
Yes, on military installations around the U.S. I worked my way up to Architect. While I was there, I started a program and got it approved by AAFES to support the study, materials, and other costs for those who were not licensed architects to take the architectural exam. Several of my peers, plus myself, didn’t have accredited architectural degrees so we took a qualifying exam and the professional exam and became licensed architects.

Why did you become an architect?
My dad brought home a book when we were going to elementary school. It was a blue book with gold letters entitled Construction Simplified for Contractors and Architects. My mom had taught my brother and I early on how to perceive and sketch things and she gave us a talent for art before we got to elementary school. When we saw the book, I asked my mom what was that last word and she said “architects”. I said, “What do they do?” She said, “Let me open the book and show you.” She opened the book and there were plans and elevations, so my twin brother and I would take paper and trace over the plans and the elevations.

In the fourth grade, my teacher asked the kids what do you want to be when you grow up. This was an African American elementary school and many were saying “I want to be a teacher; I want to be a maid; I want to be a nurse.” They asked me and I said, “I want to be an architect.” They said, “What is that?” At the time, in the fourth grade, I couldn’t even spell architect but I knew I wanted to be one.

My mom, who was very encouraging, always told my brother and I, “You can do anything you want to do. Don’t let anybody, regardless of their skin color, deter you from doing what you want to do.” That was very nurturing and I give credit to my mom who was a very positive person in our lives. My dad was very subtle, but technically astute. He passed on to my brother and I the good work ethic and desire to overcome a lot of obstacles.

Describe some of your early architecture projects.
While we were in high school, my dad was building homes for people and they knew about our ability to draw plans and things. People would come to us and ask us to draw plans, so before we finished high school we were drawing house plans for the community and my dad would build the homes. There was a gentleman by the name of Richard Taylor who owned a lumber company. His brother wanted to build a house, so he came to us. My brother and I drew up the plans for him and we built the house right next to the high school we were attending.

To what degree do you think the profession has changed its attitude about minority architects since you began practicing?
I think the profession has changed its attitude now because it’s become paramount that people pull together in order for this world to survive. There are a lot of hurdles and a lot of people that have been left out in the past and I think they’re finding out through diversity, which is the theme of the AIA convention, that we all have to pull together. Diversity is a positive thing rather than a negative thing, but we’ve still got a long way to go because out of the 86,000 architects in the U.S., there are only about 1,600 who are African Americans. There needs to be a change in thought on the part of the minority community as well as the majority community.

When I go to schools, I talk to kids about what they want to be when they grow up. Some of these kids seem not to have any direction, but many times you find those that are pretty alert when I ask if they like to draw. I say, “Well, you’ve got an ability there that you can develop and use to change your community. You can use it to change the scene of the landscape.” I try to educate them as to what architects really do. You’ve got to get the kids when they’re in elementary school because if you wait until high school, they’ve formulated their minds as to what they see as glamorous and glitter. They’re not really focusing on education and how they could be a force for change in their own communities as well as in life.

What are you currently reading?
I’m reading a book by Price Pritchett and Ron Pound, Business as Unusual: The Handbook of Organizing and Supervising Organizational Change. I also was reading Structured Inequality in the United States. It contains a quote by an African American architect: “African Americans have had their fingerprints on everything in the United States and across the world, but they have not had their signature.” I think when we get in the position where we can say that we have a signature on the things that are built and we change environments for the benefit of mankind, then I think the AIA and a social organization like NOMA can say we’ve achieved.

Any final thoughts?
We have to continue to push forward as a profession because the people who are really going to make a change in the environment and make a change for the betterment of all mankind are the architects and the engineers. No matter how much money is thrown out or politics played, when the rubber hits the road, it’s the profession of architecture that’s going to make the change. Everybody has to pull together for the common good of all mankind.

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