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Ohio's first black architect, Robert P. Madison, reflects on legacy

Posted at 6:46 PM, Feb 07, 2020

CLEVELAND — Robert P. Madison grew up in Cleveland, but his career took him around the world, including places where his ancestors were enslaved.

“I saw on the walls the shackles and bars, the irons, all the instruments of torture. I sat there [for] about an hour and cried,” Madison said. “Here I am, about 300 years later, [designing] a building to house the embassy of the country that enslaved my country.”

Madison has lived an amazing life, and News 5 met with him to speak about some of his proudest accomplishments.

"I started practicing in 1954," Madison said. "In three years, I will be 100.”

Madison’s narrative is sketched out of bold imagination, and as with any story, there's a foe—in Madison's case it was being denied jobs due to the color of his skin.

"And they'd say, 'Oh no! We don't hire coloreds,'" Madison said.

Despite racist opposition, Madison has carved out a legacy.

"About every African American architect in the city of Cleveland, or state of Ohio perhaps, has worked in my office,” Madison said. "I was the first African American architect to be registered in the state of Ohio. I was the first one to open an office and practice."

Madison’s practice became perfection. He has designed about 300 structures locally.

"Cleveland Browns Stadium, I was associate architect on that one. And I was the associate architect on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Q [Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse],” Madison said. "Then I did the American embassy in Dakar, Senegal."

The Frank J. Lausche State Office Building in downtown Cleveland is one of his favorites.

Madison drafted the building over a space that, like America, didn't have a supportive foundation for his goals.

"We had to build a platform over the railroad tracks before we could start even building the building,” Madison said.

In addition to his impressive architecture resume, Madison also served as a member of the Buffalo Soldiers and was awarded a Purple Heart.