Honoring Charles F. McAfee, one of the first African Americans to earn an architecture degree from UNL

Honoring Charles F. McAfee, one of the first African Americans to earn an architecture degree from UNL

By Kerry McCulloug...

February 23, 2022


Charles F. McAfee, FAIA, is a longtime advocate of socioeconomic parity, designer of affordable housing, and the recipient of the distinguished 1999 Whitney Young Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

McAfee’s work has been constantly rooted in social responsibility, even before it became a common term, drawing his design approach from his life experiences of discrimination and segregation, culminating with the development of an affordable housing design and manufacturing plant.

As one of the first African Americans registered as an architect in Kansas, McAfee established his practice in Wichita, Kansas in 1963. With his dedication to developing affordable housing for all, McAfee’s modular housing concept is relevant and even more necessary today: his plan consisted of low-cost, low-maintenance, highly functional, aesthetically pleasing homes that would marry with the existing urban fabric. His “convertible” design, developed in 1966, allowed for a variety of flexible layouts to accommodate limited or confined infill lot locations. Further demonstrating his dedication to uplifting the neighborhood and as a testimony to his visionary ideas for a true live-work model, McAfee established McAfee Manufacturing Company, Inc. to hire, train, and elevate works from the community. This holistic hiring program provided wrap-around skills training to teach trades, including welding, drywall finishing, and electrical installation. The Kansas AIA recognized this work with an Excellence in Architecture honor, in addition to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Building Innovation for Homeownership award. Outside of housing, Mr. McAfee was also responsible for designing numerous other award-winning, landmark projects, including the McKnight Art Center and Ulrich Museum, which serves as a gateway into Wichita State University and houses the university’s College of Fine Arts. McAfee designed two of the three buildings that make up the complex. The interior of the Museum building is both ceremonial and flexible enough to accommodate changing exhibits. The Art Center houses studios, classrooms, and spaces to display student work and is centered on a four-story, sky-lit atrium that encourages interaction among students from the various programs in the college. Vertical fins between recessed clerestory windows shade windows in the upper-level studios. The complex is notable for the clarity of its geometry and its simple and straightforward detailing, demonstrating McAfee’s reputation for designing buildings that are ingeniously planned and handsomely ordered.

McAfee’s legacy includes being one of 45 charter members of the National Organization for Minority Architects. His influence reaches beyond the profession into the civil rights movement, where he served as regional coordinator for the PUSH/Rainbow Coalition, president of the National Business League, and president of the Urban League of Wichita. In addition to the long-standing Wichita, Kansas office, today, McAfee3 Architects includes the second generation of architectural talent with daughters Cheryl McAfee and Charyl McAfee-Duncan managing offices of the firm in Atlanta and Dallas, respectively. Through Cheryl and Charyl’s leadership, the firm has grown exponentially, providing significant work in the Atlanta and Dallas markets, including at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson Airport, DFW International Airport, and a variety of municipal projects for both the cities of Dallas and Atlanta.