SEPTEMBER 2016 HIGHLIGHT
MARK G. BARKSDALE, AIA, NOMA, PP
Name: Mark G. Barksdale, AIA, NOMA, PP
Firm: City of Newark, Office of Planning, Zoning and Sustainability
Practicing City: Newark, NJ
Type of Work: Urban Planning and Urban Redevelopment
Featured Project: Carman Hall Lounge Renovation
Location: New York, NY
Completion Date: 1997
Your Role: Design Architect (in association with architect of record Lloyd G. Ware, Architect P.C.)
Carman Hall Lounge
Brief Description of Project: 1,600 square foot renovation and refurbishing of an existing Student Lounge to provide new walls, floors, ceilings, lighting, millwork, window treatments, furniture, A/V equipment, kitchen equipment and fixtures, and upgraded HVAC and electrical/telephone/cable distribution systems. Featured a high tech, state of the art media wall system capable of video-conferencing and computer presentations. Also featured a new kitchenette and serving area. Construction cost for the project was $225,000, part of a larger $750 million University-wide capital improvement program. This project made Barksdale and Ware the first African-American architects to ever design a project on the main Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University.
I am a native of our nation’s capital, Washington, DC, and was raised in New York City from the age of three on, arriving in NYC the same year that Jackie Robinson helped the Brooklyn Dodgers win their first and only World Series title. Ebbets Field, where the Dodgers played, was the first baseball stadium I ever visited. It was a time of immense pride for African-Americans. My mother and father were from Harlem and DC, respectively, and their parents were from North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia, having come north as part of the Great Migration in the early 1900s. As a child in DC, I lived near the campus of Howard University, where three of my aunts had obtained their undergraduate degrees during its heyday in the 1930s, on a newly designed campus by architect Albert I. Cassall, and where 400 Black folks with doctorate degrees of one type or another still walk around on campus today.
I was educated in the New York City public school system from kindergarten through high school and was fortunate enough to have been placed in a program for intellectually gifted children at a very early age. I managed to gain acceptance to Brooklyn Technical High School, which at the time was one of the top 10 high schools in America and one of the top three in New York City. At the time, my family lived in a public housing project in the East Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. In my senior year at Tech, though, my parents were able to achieve the American dream and purchased a home on the eastern end of Queens, at a time when whites were fleeing the area due to the blockbusting tactics of unscrupulous realtors after the riots of 1968, as a result of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was a long commute back to Tech every day on un-airconditioned buses and subways but well worth the education I received. In the end, I managed to graduate as a member of Arista, the National Honor Society for students.
Following Brooklyn Tech, I received a four-year, tuition-free education at the City College of New York (CCNY), where I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture. At the time I entered CCNY, there were no full-time Black faculty members in the School of Architecture and so I was among a group of African-American students who led a protest to integrate the faculty at the school, whereupon the school hired Howard alum Arthur L. Symes to teach a design studio that we had formed especially for Black and Latino students, so that we could design projects that were more relevant to the communities we came from, instead of the boat houses the other student were designing at the time. Out of this group of students came author and architect Floyd Graham; Olympic fencing hopeful and architect Howard Settles, who rose to become a key associate at the office of I.M. Pei; and Percy Charles Griffin, who became one of the few African-American architects to obtain tenure and a full professorship at a non-HBCU School of Architecture.
When Art Symes was hired at CCNY, he was also the Executive Director of the Architects Renewal Committee in Harlem (ARCH), which had been started by one of NYCOBA’s founders, J. Max Bond, among others, and was one of the first non-profit community design centers (CDCs) in the nation. I worked at ARCH for a couple of years as a student intern and gained some very valuable experience at both their 116th Street and 125th Street offices. During that time, Art also began simultaneously teaching a course at the Yale School of Architecture, which gave him the opportunity to bring his NY students up to New Haven one day to meet Paul Revere Williams, who had come east from Los Angeles to meet with a group of students in Yale’s School of Architecture known as the Black Environmental Studies Team (BEST). Paul Williams was well-known as being the “Architect of the Stars,” having designed the homes of many Hollywood stars and was the first African-American architect to be admitted to the American Institute of Architects. Upon my graduation from CCNY in 1973, I was admitted to Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation on a full fellowship from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), where I earned two Master of Science degrees – in Health Facilities Design and Urban Planning, respectively. I completed my formal education at Yale University in 1991, where I earned a Juris Doctor degree and served as an Editor on the Yale Law and Policy Review Journal.
While in graduate school, I was fortunate to obtain a summer internship with world-renowned architect I.M. Pei and gained exposure to the very high-level of design he practiced in his Madison Avenue office. After graduation, I started my career with John Louis Wilson, FAIA, the dean of Harlem architects and later went to work for William B. Tabler Architects, who was well known in the hotel design field.
After several attempts at passing the rigorous four-day architects’ licensing exam, I finally became a Registered Architect in New York State in 1984 and later became licensed in New Jersey as both an Architect and Professional Planner. I am certified by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and am a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), the American Planning Association (APA) and the Urban Land Institute (ULI). My application for membership in the AIA was signed by both James Stewart Polshek, FAIA, who was the Dean of Columbia’s School of Architecture at the time, and by John Louis Wilson, FAIA, who was the first African-American student to be admitted to that same institution in 1921.
My career has also included working for, or with, some of the top firms and agencies in New York City, including HOK, Gensler and the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. I have held senior-level positions on transportation, health care and retail/entertainment projects that range from a $150 mil. bus depot on Staten Island to a $42 mil. ambulatory care building for Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn to a $70 mil. entertainment complex for Sony on 42nd Street in the heart of Times Square. I have also worked as an associate with one of the top international law firms in New York City, Rogers & Wells (now known as Clifford Chance US, LLP), where I practiced corporate, banking and public finance law.
Currently, I am Director of Planning, Zoning and Sustainability for the City of Newark, NJ, under the leadership of Mayor Ras J. Baraka. Previously, I worked under Mayor Sharpe James and Mayor Cory Booker. My work is very fulfilling because it allows me to utilize all of my experience as an architect, planner and graduate attorney to help plan the future of the largest city in New Jersey. I am excited by the level of responsibility I now enjoy and by each new project that comes along where I can provide input for planning and design, guided by my many years of experience. I currently manage a budget of $1.1 million and a staff of over 20 employees and consultants, including staff for Newark’s Central Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment, Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission, Environmental Commission and Rent Control Board. Among the projects that I am most proud of are Newark’s Land Use Master Plan adopted in 2004, as well as numerous redevelopment plans representing more than $4 bil. worth of development potential for the city. Among those redevelopment projects was a plan for a section of the Central Ward in Newark, which had been scarred by the riots of 1967 and had suffered from economic decline ever since. That project, which includes a Home Depot and an Appleby’s restaurant, is now helping to lead the renaissance of that area of the city.
In addition to my daytime duties, I have also found time during my career to serve my community and profession as Vice Chairman of my local Community Planning Board in Manhattan and as Vice President, Treasurer and Parliamentarian of the New York Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (nycoba/NOMA). As Treasurer, I was one of the Executive Board members who signed NYCOBA’s charter as a new chapter of NOMA in the fall of 1992, under NOMA President Robert Easter and NYCOBA President William Davis, Jr. I feel very proud to see how much NOMA and nycoba/NOMA have grown since then. The reason I joined NYCOBA was to be among like-minded professionals who understood the struggle to gain a toehold and survive in this profession and to highlight our accomplishments as minority architects. The thing I value most about my nycoba/NOMA membership is the ability to network with fellow professionals and to help guide the next generation of aspiring minority architects in their journey to licensure as a way to help diversify this profession.
At other points during my career, I have also found time to continue my love of music as a Principal Percussionist with the Queens Festival Orchestra, the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Washington Heights Orchestra.
A link for readers to find more information about my work: