Article About Rosenwald in Architect Magazine

Posted on September 19th, 2015 by

Aviva Kempner and her film are mentioned in this article from Architect Magazine, written by Witold Rybczynski.

The article talks about the architectural style used for the Rosenwald schools. Booker T. Washington and Rosenwald’s concept for these projects were community self-help, the buildings were designed and made by the people who would then use them. Advising handbooks were written by Robert Robinson Taylor, who had designed buildings at Tuskegee and many HBCs.

As the school house project moved from Tuskegee to the Rosenwald Fund after the death of Washignton. Rosenwald sought advise from Fletcher Bascom Dresslar, a professor of health education at George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville. He gave Rosenwald much advice on how to design the school buildings. He focused on functional, simple, traditional buildings. Rybczynski compares them to Shaker architecture.

Frank Lloyd Wright also proposed a design for a Rosenwald School in 1928. His version was far more ambitious, it included a courtyard with a swimming pool and a proscenium stage. Its construction would have included pioneering use of concrete and fieldstone that he would use on later buildings. Wright’s Rosenwald School was never built, probably because it would have been too expensive.

Even with their traditional appearance, the schools incorporated many innovative elements. One example was removable walls, which meant that two classrooms could be combined into one larger room. Classrooms were arranged with large windows facing east and west, which gave the highest possible amount of sunlight to the individual rooms. As many of the buildings did not have electricity, this was a necessary feature.

In total, there were 5,357 Rosenwald schools, shop houses, and teacher’s houses built. Despite arson, vandalism and deliberate neglect from white communities, most remained in use until the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling went into effect in 1954 and specifically black schools were no longer a necessity. Since then, many have fallen into disrepair. However, The National Trust For Historic Preservation is working to restore many of the schools. Additionally, many of the buildings have found new uses as town halls, community centers, and more.