For groups like the National Organization of Minority Architects, which officially celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, such milestones offer a useful chance to reflect and recognize a bigger-picture view of historic change. Rarely, however, are such moments met with major transformations of what’s known and understood about that past. Yet that’s precisely what’s happening with NOMA today. As the organization kicks off UNPLUGGED, its first in-person conference since 2019, in Nashville, Tenn., it’s adding new texture to its own history by announcing the discovery of two “forgotten” founding members, Pedro Frank Lopez, AIA, NOMA, and Louis E. Fry Sr., FAIA, NOMA, according to an announcement from the organization. Their rediscovery, NOMA historian Joshua Foster, Assoc. AIA, tells ARCHITECT, is a valuable opportunity to reconsider how NOMA exists in this present moment.
“The worst thing that could ever happen is realizing that someone has, for lack of a better word, been forgotten, even if unintentionally,” Foster says. “Having space to recognize their accomplishments is really important, especially with what this organization is.”
You can read more about NOMA's history in ARCHITECT's Equity Issue, guest-edited by NOMA.
To date, NOMA’s origin story seemed straightforward: After starting some initial conversations at the 1971 AIA conference in Detroit, a group of 12 architects then gathered on November 12, 1971 at the Paradise Island Hotel in Nassau, Bahamas, launching what would soon formalize into NOMA, which has grown to encompass 35 professional chapters and more than 80 student chapters across the U.S. But two participants were lost in this history, a discrepancy first noticed last year by former historian and current NOMA president-elect Pascale Sablan, FAIA, as she put together NOMA 50: SAY IT LOUD, a retrospective exhibit about the organization. Foster was then able to dig into the meeting minutes of the Bahamas gathering, revealing Lopez and Fry’s role in NOMA’s founding, and their wider impact on the profession.
Born in 1925, Lopez served as a Corporal in the U.S. Army Air Force before studying architecture at the Hampton Institute in Hampton, Va., and urban planning at Columbia University in New York. As a practicing architect in New York and New Jersey, he primarily worked on religious community buildings, including Ebenezer Baptist Church in Flushing, Queens, and St. Anargyrol Greek Orthodox Church in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Lopez also practiced architecture in Florida and the Virgin Islands, even helping to launchan AIA Virgin Islands chapter, before passing away in 2018.
Fry was born in 1903, graduated high school at age 15, and then studied at Prairie View A&M University, in Prairie View, Texas, and Kansas University in Lawrence, before earning his M.Arch. from Harvard University. He served in multiple academic roles, chairing architecture departments at Lincoln University in Missouri, Tuskegee University in Alabama, and Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1954, he co-founded Fry and Welch, a D.C.-based firm which primarily designed educational institutions, public agencies, and governmental buildings, such as the Founders Library and Douglass Hall at Howard University. He was an AIA member for more than 50 years, before passing away in 2000.
Fry and Lopez’s role in NOMA’s founding will be incorporated into NOMA 50, which will be on view at the conference. To challenge their previous disappearance from the historical record, Foster is also collaborating with Los Angeles–based Poché Design Studio on a separate exhibit highlighting the two architects and their contributions, which will also be featured on NOMA’s website. This work, he hopes, will honor the colossal impact that both men had in their work.
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“As we continue to discover more about our past, the biggest thing we can do is to be able to publicly honor the contributions of those who have shaped the organization,” Foster says. “Seeing the success that they were able to have, it really emphasized the fact that there's a lot of rich cultural history within our people.”