The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has named Harvey B. Gantt, FAIA, the 2013 recipient of the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award. The honor recognizes Gantt’s efforts as a civil rights pioneer, public servant, and award-winning architect. The Whitney M. Young Jr. Award is named after the former leader of the Urban League, who challenged architects at the 1968 AIA National Convention to actively increase participation in the profession by minorities and women.
Gantt enrolled in Clemson University as its first African-American student in 1963. Two years later, he earned his Bachelor of Architecture degree, graduating third in his class. Gantt then moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he began his career at Odell Associates before receiving a master's degree in city planning from MIT in 1970. He partnered with civil rights activist Floyd B. McKissick as a planner for Soul City, North Carolina, an experimental community in a rural site north of Durham. Gantt founded Gantt Huberman Architects with Jeffrey Huberman, FAIA, in Charlotte in 1971.
Gantt had entered the political realm by 1974, when he was appointed to fill a seat on the Charlotte City Council. In 1983, Gantt was elected as Charlotte’s first African-American mayor for two terms, during which time he focused on programs to preserve old neighborhoods and the city center. He also played a key role in bringing an NBA franchise to the city. Gantt ran as the Democratic Party’s candidate for U.S. Senate against Sen. Jesse Helms in 1990 and 1996. He lost both races, but President Bill Clinton appointed him as chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission in 1995.
Gantt shared his experiences as an elected official at Clemson’s 2012 convocation. “I saw firsthand the importance of solving problems and building a stronger community by engaging as much diversity as possible, by blending neighborhood leaders with business leaders, or academicians with politicians, or Democrats with Republicans, or conservatives with liberals, to find that elusive common ground needed to move the needle and to bring about progress,” he told the crowd. “It's the story of my life.”