Louise Harris Brown
Written by Roberta Washington, FAIA
Early life and education
Louise Harris Brown was born June 12, 1918 in Topeka, Kansas into an affluent African American family. She was the middle child of five and from an early age, and showed an interest in painting and drawing. At the age of 17, Louise visited her older brother in Chicago and decided to take an architectural design class at Armour Institute of Technology (later renamed Illinois Institute of Technology). The class was taught by none other than Mies van der Rohe, who had recently arrived to the United States from Germany.
After returning to Kansas, Louise enrolled at the University of Kansas at Lawrence. It is here that she faced racist and sexist attitudes towards her chosen career path. She graduated in 1944 with a degree in Architecture. She later went on to Illinois Institute of Technology and received a degree in civil engineering in 1953.
Career in Architecture
In 1945 Louise moved to Chicago to work and landed a job at Kenneth Roderick O’Neal’s architecture firm, the first African American owned architecture firm located in downtown Chicago. Projects included residential buildings, churches, schools and government buildings. She worked there until 1949. It was also in this year that she took the registration exam and passed on her first try, becoming a licensed architect on July 19, 1949. Louise became the second African American woman architect to become licensed in the United States.
She began working at Frank J. Kornacker and Associates in 1949, a prominent Chicago civil engineering firm specializing in the effect of wind stress on high rise buildings. At Kornacker and Associates Louise was responsible for reinforced concrete and steel structure calculations and coordinating between architectural and engineering efforts for buildings including the Promontory and Lake Shore apartment buildings designed by her former professor Mies van der Rohe. Louise’s interest in structural design led her back to school. While working full time she went to night classes at Illinois Institute of Technology and moonlighted at General Engineers & Designers Co., an engineering and architectural office in Chicago Il. There she acted as architect, engineer and project supervisor for church and office building projects.
Louise became excited about the architectural developments in Brazil and thought that a fresh start there would be an opportunity to practice architecture free of the the confines of racism. In 1954 she made a permanent move to Sao Paulo, Brazil and began working for an American expatriate Charles Bosworth at his architectural firm. Shortly thereafter, she opened up her own interior design firm, Escandia LTD. Louise began working for Headeager Bosworth do Brazil in 1957, a firm known for its engineering, architecture, construction, erection and installation of industrial facilities. She worked as a designer and project manager on large industrial projects for American companies in Brazil such as Ford Motor and Pfizer. In 1963 Louise began work for RACZ Construction where she designed and supervised the construction of large scale residential projects and the Kodak Brazil film factory that was over 350,000 sq ft. Louise also designed small commerical projects and residential projects for wealthy families in her private practice. She created furniture and designed spaces that took into account the personalities of each of the family members living in the home.
In 1993 Louise Harris Brown retired. She died September 21, 1999.
Major Buildings and Projects
- Promontory Apartment Building, Chicago, IL
- Lake Shore Apartment Building, Chicago, IL
- Prairie Court Apartments, Chicago, IL
- Lunt Lake Apartments, Chicago, IL
- East Dentistry Medicine Pharmacy Building at the University of Illinois
- Fayette County Hospital in Vandalia, IL
- supermarket, Glencoe, IL
- Urban Renewal Plans, Babbit, MI
- City Bank of New York office, Sao Paulo, BRAZIL
- Ibirapuera city park installations, Sao Paulo, BRAZIL
- Pfizer corportion complex, Guarulhos, BRAZIL
- Kodak Brasileire Comerico film factory, Sao Jose dos Campos, BRAZIL
Member of the Chicago chapter of Alpha Alpha Gamma, a professional association of female architects