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Harry G. Robinson, III

Educator and city planner Harry G. Robinson III was born in Washington, D.C., on January 18, 1942. Robinson attended Howard University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1966 and his master’s degree in city planning in 1970. He went on to receive his master’s degree in city planning and urban design from Harvard University in 1972.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Robinson served in the Army, achieving the rank of First Lieutenant. He earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart during his tour of duty in Vietnam. Robinson began his architectural career with the District of Columbia Redevelopment Land Agency as an architect and planner in 1968, where he remained until 1972. During that same time, he was a professor at the University of Washington, D.C., until 1974. Robinson also taught at Morgan State University from 1971 until 1979. In 1976, he founded and became the principal of the Robinson Group, an urban design consulting firm. In 1979, Robinson was named the dean of architecture and planning at Howard University, a position he held until 1995 when he was named vice president of the university. He remains there today as James E. Silcott Professor of Architecture and Dean Emeritus

Robinson is active in a wide variety of professional organizations. He is the founder of the African American Architect Initiative, vice chairman of the United States Commission on Fine Arts and a professional advisor to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Robinson also serves on the board of directors of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Robinson presided over an international competition in Dakar, Senegal, for urban planners and architects to design a cultural complex, the Goree Memorial, in 1995. Robinson and his wife, Dianne, have three children.

Accession Number

A2003.271

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/19/2003

Last Name

Robinson

Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

G.

Organizations
Schools

Harvard University

Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School

First Name

Harry

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

ROB09

Favorite Season

Spring

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Favorite Quote

Everything Looks Better In The Morning.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

1/18/1942

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Spinach

Short Description

Urban designer and academic administrator Harry G. Robinson, III (1942 - ) is the James E. Silcott Professor of Architecture and dean emeritus at Howard University, where he has served as vice president and dean of the School of Architecture and Planning. In 1976, he founded and became the principal of the Robinson Group, an urban design consulting firm.

Employment

United States Army

District of Columbia Redevelopment Land Agency

University of the District of Columbia

Morgan State University

Robinson Group

Howard University

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Harry G. Robinson, III's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Harry G. Robinson, III lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about his maternal family history, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about his maternal family history, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about his paternal family history

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Harry G. Robinson, III describes his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about his parents' friends and his parents' hospitality

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about his father

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about his family's connections to Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about his extended family

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Harry G. Robinson, III reflects on his family's success

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Harry G. Robinson, III recalls the sights, sounds and smells of growing up near Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about his childhood career aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about the importance of Howard University in his life

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about his elementary and secondary education

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Harry G. Robinson, III describes his high school activities and teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about creating a solar house for a high school science fair

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Harry G. Robinson, III describes attending Howard University as an undergraduate in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Harry G. Robinson, III describes the architects that were on faculty at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Harry G. Robinson, III describes his interest in designing buildings

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Harry G. Robinson, III describes how his architecture degree has been useful in every phase of his life

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about his time in Vietnam and his love for Ho Chi Minh City

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Harry G. Robinson, III recalls returning to the U.S. after being injured in the Vietnam War

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about his recovery from his Vietnam War injuries

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Harry G. Robinson, III explains how he was able to finance his studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about his injury in the Vietnam War

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Harry G. Robinson, III describes his luck

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about his studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about working for Morgan State University and Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Harry G. Robinson, III describes his sabbatical

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about improvements to Howard University's campus in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about his family

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about Africentric architecture

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about Benjamin Banneker

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Harry G. Robinson, III describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Harry G. Robinson, III talks about the National Organization of Minority Architects and his own projects

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Harry G. Robinson, III shares his future plans

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Harry G. Robinson, III reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Harry G. Robinson, III reflects upon how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

9$1

DATitle
Harry G. Robinson, III talks about improvements to Howard University's campus in Washington, D.C.
Harry G. Robinson, III talks about "Africentric" architecture
Transcript
In terms of the campus, there's, you know, Howard [University, Washington, D.C.], the last few years have been undergoing some changes, I guess, in terms of the neighborhood changing and some of the, I know people I know who went to school here have come back and just, they're almost lost sometimes, you know, and some things are closed that used to be opened and some, you know, vice versa, so--$$The, the, president [HM H. Patrick Swygert] is a, is a builder. He's, he's made great moves to fix the environment in which we live. For example, when, when the Howard University hotel [Harambee House Hotel] closed in September of '95 [1995], it was in my portfolio, turned it into the Howard Center. And, we used it as a shuttle space as we did facilities, we put people in them. But, it is now the Howard Center. It has, has some major activities in there.$$Used to be the Howard Inn, they called it the Howard Inn.$$It was the Howard Inn.$$Yeah.$$But, it was actually the Howard Hotel--the Howard Inn then became the Howard Inn, and before that it was Ed Murphy called it, it was The Bombay House. It was called the Bombay House. A black guy bought that hotel, using commerce money. And, they had plans to put the bookstore on the second floor, where, where ISES [ph.] is now, Information Systems (cough, pardon me) and the iLab. I convinced the trustees to put the bookstore on the ground floor of that and that's our, that's our retail gesture to Georgia Avenue. So, it is Howard's department store now. People see it and they go in and buy things and don't have to go look for it--okay, yeah--(laughter) which is very exciting. So, you know, I could name about eight or nine things that I'm really proud of that I did while I was vice president, which is one of them. Now, the president is gonna, is gonna build the Howard Town Center across the street. Housing, retail, a couple new school buildings, a middle school on math and science as a feeder for the university. Really wonderful ideas that we have a developer, Michelle Higgins, a Howard alumnus is a developer. And that's, that's all ongoing now. And, as that happens, you're gonna find that Georgia Avenue is gonna change gradually. I'm on a team to develop (unclear) worth property up in New Hampshire [Avenue] and Georgia. And, there four other major prospects up on Georgia Avenue that I work on. One other things in my portfolio was LeDroit Park, thirty-seven vacant properties. I couldn't keep 'em boarded up. The crack guys just tore 'em up. Of course, I told, (unclear) "This is the ghettoest park in the world. Let's put together a package where, where we sell them to our faculty and our staff." And, so we put that up as their equity and they wouldn't have to pay to have them done over. It was a great deal for people who bought that stuff. Great, great--they may have paid a hundred and two thousand, now they're worth four hundred thousand dollars now. So, we, we solidified and restored the southern boundary of the university, and changed that whole area down there--is now, is now a hot area to buy properties. So, I mean, the president understands how to do that. When Peoples Involvement Corporation went out of business, he bought all their properties along Georgia Avenue. He bought the Burger King up here that's now, that's now a National Car Rental. So, that faculty and students have a place to rent cars. He bought the old P--Piece (unclear) there on Florida [Avenue] on 7th [Street] and Georgia. It's now a CVS. CVS is gonna go through the New Town Center, and something else is gonna go there. So, he understands restoring the environment which you do, in which the educational enterprise occurs. Before that nobody had any respect for the campus, place looked like crap. And, over a period of two years, we did ten years' worth of work of putting this place back to where it was. And for that, I'm very proud of that.$Tell me about--I just wanna ask you about--I know in the '60s [1960s] and '70s [1970s] people starting about a black aesthetic and even affected black poets, writers, painters, sculptures and architects as well, and, people started to discuss more African looking and more not just African looking, but--$$Culturally sensitive art.$$Yeah, right. The forms that were more easily socialized people around whatever function they were engaged in. What is your philosophy about that?$$Architecture is always in a search for its place in society. You know, we had the post-modernists movement where they came out of the buy a house in Germany, the modernists movement, when no matter where you were, you could take this building and you could put it in and it would fit. So, it was an international architecture. You find them Cairo [Egypt]. You find them in Swaziland. You find them in New York City. It was international no matter where you were; very upscale, not much detail. You're from--you know Chicago [Illinois], [Ludwig] Mies van der Rohe--$$And steel. Black steel and glass--$$International architecture. Somewhere in the mid to late '60s [1960s], there was an awakening of the notion of an Africentric [ph.] architect. And, I say Africentric not Afrocentric because, Euro is Euro, we should be African if we're gonna be Africentric. And, there were movement among students and some professionals to try to begin to create this African, African American aesthetic in architecture. I always thought that it had to do with how one lived and how you can figure interior places for people to undertake activities. And, I go back to my grandmother [Mamie Hill Robinson] who sat in the kitchen, had a porcelain kitchen table in her late years and listened to the radio, listened to the soap operas. So, the kitchen had--was always the focus of my home. People came to my home, they sat in my kitchen. The food was there. I had a living room sofa nobody ever sat on it unless I had a large party. Everybody came--we'd have thirty people in the kitchen, you know. The wines there. The liquors there. The food's there. You drop stuff, it's okay. And, it sorta became the eating, drinking, socializing really had to happen in the kitchen. And, then we built a deck and it happened there sometimes. But, that was off the kitchen, and people came back, people came back into the kitchen. Pierre Goudiaby Atepa is an architect in Senegal, in Dakar, Senegal, and Pierre is known for doing very large structures with the African motif. In other words, he takes the notion of a mother and child and did the African Development Bank in, in that format. He did--he's an Africentric high rise building. His office is Africentric (ph.). It's Egyptian, it's round. It's on pendentives and it has African symbolism on it. Peter Mellifont [ph.] was the only private African architect in South Africa during apartheid. And, a lot of Peter's work was Africentric with Zulu and Endelig prints and patterns on facades with traditional African courtyards used as play yards around which schools would configure themselves as classrooms. So, I think that it is as much a visual statement as it is how you organize places for people to live and work and be educated. Jack Travis out of New York City, I think is probably the leading African American architect now who is dedicated his career to Africentricity. So, a lot of really great, great interiors that are Africentric. He's done a black bank that has Africentric motif in it and it's, I mean, Jack is a great designer. He's an elegant designer. So, this isn't some mishmash of applique. It is thoughtful use of African patterns and African symbolism in architecture. I've done some of that. Most of it has to do with using African artifacts and interiors that are really simple, plain backgrounds for this wonderful African art, artifacts that are collected over the years. So, I think that, unlike music and dance and art and theatre, which, which can be produced without a client, the architecture is a capital intensive profession. You need a client to do that. So, you need a client who wants that done. Jack has done it for Spike Lee, Spike Lee's house in Brooklyn [New York, New York]. He did a house with Wesley Snipes that is really an elegant house in Florida. So, a lot of private homes--Jack's own home is elegantly African, Africentric. But, short of Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, and Kobe [Bryant] and Shaq [Shaquille O'Neal] and everyone else you could think that has money coming together and wanting to make that kind of capital investment some place, in Africentrism, you're gonna get the smaller projects that do that. And, it's a personal taste that people have, I believe. And, Jack Travis does it very, very well.