Robert P. Madison, FAIA, Architectural Pioneer, Mentor and Arts Patron


Robert P. Madison’s long career as an architect has been distinguished not only by the important buildings he has designed here and abroad, but by the role he has played as a mentor and nurturer of talent and as a creator of opportunities for others. Since Robert P. Madison International was founded in the mid-1950s, it has trained some 190 African-American architects and engineers, many of whom have gone on to do distinguished work, and spawned at least five other black architectural firms. 

The first African-American graduate in architecture in Ohio, Madison himself embarked on the profession at a time when far fewer opportunities existed. Indeed, the World War II veteran, who had earned a Purple Heart in the service of his country, was told, on applying to Western Reserve University in 1946, that “no colored person had ever graduated from that school.” He was finally admitted, on the strength of his work, and later earned a graduate degree from Harvard University, won an honorable mention in the prestigious Prix de Rome Architecture Competition and went to Paris as a Fulbright Scholar.

After winning commissions from the governments of Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates, he was also to design the U.S. Embassy office building and staff residences in Dakar, Senegal, as well as buildings closer to home, such as the Tuskegee Institute’s Engineering and Nuclear Facility. And he made up his mind early to do something else: He would provide a training ground for other aspiring African-American architects and engineers.

And what a classroom it has been. Known for its expertise in urban design, Robert P. Madison International has had a hand in practically every major downtown building project in the 1990s—from Cleveland Browns Stadium and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum to the Louis Stokes Wing of the Cleveland Public Library. Madison and his protegees have served as principal architects on Continental Airlines Concourses C and D at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, the Arena at Gateway, Great Lakes Science Center, the crisply conceived and engaging stations of the RTA’s Waterfront Line and the Langston Hughes Branch of the Cleveland Public Library, which Plain Dealer art and architecture critic Steven Litt has called “one of the best small new buildings in the city . . . a bright, welcoming building that makes a big impact on its surroundings despite its relatively diminutive scale” because of its “commanding pose” and “optimism about the future.”

A passionate patron of the arts, Bob Madison has served as a trustee of the Cleveland Orchestra and Cleveland Opera, of which he is a major financial supporter. He is a former trustee of Case Western Reserve University, which has bestowed upon him its distinguished alumnus award. At the time he received the Special Citation, Madison personally sponsored WCLV-FM’s “The Black Arts,” whose commercial spots—about black history, culture, and accomplishments—he wrote himself. He went on to serve as chairperson of the Cleveland Arts Prize.

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •