Member Voices 04: Walter D. Street III, AIA, NOMA, AICAE

Walter Street III, Member Voices

Walter Street III, Member Voices

Company: Walter Street Architecture
Education: Wilbur Wright College, University of Illinois Chicago, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
AIA Involvement: AIA Chicago Foundation Treasurer (2024); AIA Chicago Board of Directors President (2010), Vice President; AIA Board Advisory Committee (BAC); AIA Board Director (2012-2014); AIA Illinois Council Board Representative

AIA Chicago member, Walter D. Street III, AIA, NOMA, AICAE, grew up in the south end of Baltimore and move to Chicago in 1969 to study architecture. As the owner of his own firm, Walter Street Architecture, he is an experienced professional who continues to serve the Institute in a number of ways, most recently as the Treasurer on the AIA Chicago Foundation Board of Trustees.

We invited Walter to share his perspective during Black History Month as he brings such a unique and fresh voice to our profession.

What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?

Travel more of the world and acquire a proficiency in more languages.

Which building or public space in Chicago do you wish you had the opportunity to work with the team that designed it?

Johnson Publication Company Headquarters, designed by architect John Warren Moutoussamy, FAIA; and the IBM Building (AMA Plaza/330 North Wabash), designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, FAIA.

Where do you find inspiration?

My father. Nature. History. Family.

What is one item on your desk that you cannot live without?

Sketch book, pens, crayola, and my iPad.

What, or who, has inspired you to be come an architect?

There are a number of people who I have found inspiration from: William H. Britt, my high school history teacher (facilitated my summer urban planning and preservation course); Ms. Parker, my first German language teacher in Baltimore; 1 Charles Center in Baltimore, Mies’ second office building after the Seagram; Benjamin Bannecker, a Maryland scientist, mathematician, surveyor, and farmer; Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier; John M. Johansen, Walter Sobel, FAIA; Wendell J. Campbell, FAIA;  and Harvey B. Gantt, FAIA Member Emeritus.

Architect Paul R. Williams sitting across the table from a client in 1952. Photo by Julius Shulman, courtesy of © J. Paul Getty Trust, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.
Architect Paul R. Williams sitting across the table from a client in 1952. Photo by Julius Shulman, courtesy of © J. Paul Getty Trust, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

What has been the most valuable resource to you in your career? (This can be a mentor, scholarship, organization, initiative, program, tool, etc.)

Childhood teachers, father, mentors, AIA, violin/music, Maryland UN Youth Assoc., drawing, camera, public library, museums. Growing up in the Cherry Hill Public Housing of Baltimore. Besides influence of community, unknowingly, I was introduced to and influenced by its mid-twentieth century master plan and architecture. (Hilyard Robinson, Black 20th century modernist architect was part of the planning and design team.) 

What has been a large challenge or obstacle as an architectural professional and how are you working to/how have you overcome it?

Resistance of the negative. I overcome through counsel, support of great friends, and mentors.

What is the most effective step you’ve taken in your work or your firm toward a more equitable profession?

Making a commitment to our professional associations; AIA, NOMA, Arquitectos, and the American Indian Council of Architects & Engineers.

What does equity mean to you?

EQUITY is attributing humanity to ALL without exceptions and/or qualifiers.

Currently, Black/African American licensed architects comprise only 2% of all architects in the United States. How can individuals and firms work together to change this statistic to better reflect our society?

This is a societal problem. We need to be honest and critical in addressing marginalization: redlining, racism, misogyny. Return to the unique U.S. legacy investment in Public Education.

What is the most effective step you’ve taken in your work toward a more sustainable built environment?

As an architecture student, I was introduced to explorations and works of Paolo Soleri and works of James Stirling. I embraced the concept of working within the existing context. Focus on using materials efficiently to reduce impact on site, adjacencies, community. Aspire to do work that rests gently in place. (“How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?“) 

Archival poster by ArchiPAC featuring Walter

What is one actionable way that young designers can positively impact climate change in their firms?

Research historical and contemporaneous ideas and practices that look to minimize waste up front and long-term. Learn and engage honestly with firm leaders.

What change would you like to see in Chicago’s built environment?

Critical honest addressing ongoing historic racism, redlining.

If you could redesign anything, what would it be?

Interfere with, redo colonial impact on lake Michigan shoreline through Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan.

What is your favorite quote about architecture?

“Architecture is frozen music,” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. “And if you don’t know, now you know,” Biggie Smalls.

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