2021 AIA Small Project Awards: Lyllye Reynolds-Parker Black Cultural Center by Architecture Building Culture
Lyllye Reynolds-Parker Black Cultural Center
Category: Under 5,000 square feet (category three)
The nucleus for Black student life on the University of Oregon’s campus in Eugene, the Lylle Reynolds-Parker Black Cultural Center houses organizations and initiatives that directly benefit Black students. It welcomes all campus and community members to participate in cultural events while learning more about the history of student activism and labor that led to its creation.
In 1968, the school’s Black Student Union tasked the university with enacting radical institutional change to combat racist treatment of Black students. Its grievances highlighted the distinct lack of Black history and culture on campus, a shortage of Black professors and graduate students, and the absence of subjects related to Black culture. Five decades later, Black and African American students were still underserved in many of the areas the union highlighted. The formation of a Black Student Task Force in 2015 saw many of the desires outlined in 1968 re-emerge in a new plan that sought a culturally appropriate and welcoming campus for all current and future Black students.
“This is a very thoughtful building that brings a sense of belonging to the community it serves. An impactful roof form with a strong architectural narrative on the history of the project.” – Jury comment
Demand number seven of that plan called for creating a substantial endowment and support system for a cultural center with spaces to teach African-American history and for Black student organizations to meet. A highly collaborative design process was initiated in 2017 and included Black student organizations, faculty, and staff voices.
The resulting center’s architecture, which is LEED-certified Silver, hinges on four interrelated concepts, chief among them The Veil, first conceived in W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk. As a literary concept, The Veil describes a Black person’s first encounter with race and represents a universal Black experience. The Veil is translated into carefully arranged spatial voids in the building, the most significant of which are the center’s entry garden and program transparencies. The shotgun housing typology, a cultural artifact found in the southern United States, is also expressed in the center through its simple domestic roof forms.
“This is a very thoughtful building that brings a sense of belonging to the community it serves. An impactful roof form with a strong architectural narrative on the history of the project,” said the jury. “An efficient spatial response with great community impact.”
Ideals of Black autonomy and self-determined creativity were also central to the center’s success. The team provided a dignified architectural form on a challenging site, straddling institutional and residential buildings on the campus. While the site projects several potentially negative connotations, including its location on the campus margin and its adjacency to a service alley, Black autonomy addresses the challenges through subtle contemporary transformations. The shotgun house’s iconic front porch was shifted to the alley, increasing the institutional presence along 15th Avenue and providing a semi-secure place for center visitors and students. The center’s east and north faces are wrapped with an inverted shed roof, projecting a strong profile from simple domestic forms.
“An efficient spatial response with great community impact.” – Jury comment
While the concepts that informed the architecture are open to interpretation, so, too, are the curatorial opportunities that wait inside. The center’s gallery, multipurpose room, and porch are all spatial placeholders for performances and artistic expression. The multipurpose room’s chapel-like form references the importance of spirituality and education.
After it opened in October 2019, the center quickly became a place for students to study. Its first large-scale event focused on Black history and networking and drew more than 80 students, staff, and faculty. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the center continued to support students through its augmented programming.
Associate Designer: The Maxine Studio
Engineer – Civil: UO Office of Design and Construction
Engineer – MEP: Cole Breit Engineering
Engineer – Structural: All Structure Engineering
General Contractor: Anderson Construction
Landscape Architect: Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects
Bhaskar Srivastava, AIA, (Chair), dencityworks, Brooklyn, NY
Kevin Erickson, School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL
Jonah Stanford, AIA, NeedBased, Santa Fe, NM
Janeen Harrell, AIA, Janeen Harrel Architect, GREC Architects, Chicago, IL