When the Robert Madison-designed Medical Associates Building opened in Glenville in 1964, it served as a haven for African-American doctors who couldn’t practice elsewhere. The repurposed building now serves as the home for the Front International art residency.
”This is appropriate for Glenville, which has been the home of so many cultures,” says Madison. Ohio’s first licensed black architect talks about his iconic career.
When I started my business here in 1954, people were very reluctant about employing me. Back in those days, the South had a segregated society by law, and the North had one by fact. I’m old enough to remember when we were called “colored.”
My first clients did not have a lot of money. I made a promise to encourage everyone who worked for me. … I’m proud we hired black, white, brown and red people.
In 1964, the idea of modern architecture was foreign to the Glenville area and most of Cleveland. My buildings were functional and fit well to the landscape.
Art is the ability of any individual to express themselves. It becomes universal.
My most memorable design was the U.S. embassy in Dakar, Senegal, in 1965. It was amazing to be in a country where everyone looked like me. I visited an island where slaves were held. I saw chains and a gangplank. It was very moving.