Mortimer M. Marshall Jr., FAIA, Awarded the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award

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Mortimer M. Marshall Jr., FAIA | Whitney M. Young Jr. Award Recipient

By Sara Fernández Cendón, AIArchitect

The American Institute of Architects Board of Directors bestowed the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award on Mortimer Marshall Jr., FAIA, for his continued dedication to the profession and his approach to architecture as a vehicle for leadership and service. Established in 1972, the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award has honored architects and organizations that exemplify the profession’s proactive social mandate, ranging from issues such as affordable housing, minority inclusiveness, and access for persons with disabilities. The award is named after the civil rights-era head of the Urban League who confronted head-on the AIA’s absence of socially progressive advocacy at the 1968 AIA National Convention.

There’s an almost perfect symmetry to Marshall’s career. After 32 years in the public sector, he transitioned to private practice 30 years ago, when he founded The Marshall Group. Spanning these two phases is an approach consistent with Whitney Young’s call for inclusionary altruism as social justice. “Those who know Mort recognize that what he does is simply to advance our profession and benefit others,” wrote David Harris, FAIA, president emeritus of the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), in his recommendation letter.

Marshall is consistently recognized as an architect who has leveraged substantial professional accomplishments to create opportunities for others. “Whether it was as chief architect for the Department of Defense, or as a principal in his own firm, he has championed the rights of those underrepresented in the profession, and mentored a generation of architects—my generation—his entire career,” wrote former AIA president Marshall Purnell, FAIA, in his recommendation letter.

Public service

Marshall’s career began in Tuskegee, Ala., where he attended Tuskegee University and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in architecture. He then joined the U.S. Air Force and rose through the ranks with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command. “He is a trailblazer who, in his capacity as a director of design for the Department of Defense, has opened doors that were previously closed to minority professionals,” wrote past Whitney Young Award recipient William Stanley III, FAIA, in his recommendation letter.

As director of design on the staff of the Secretary of Defense, a position he occupied from 1967 to 1982, Marshall was responsible for developing and implementing design policies and construction standards to guide the multibillion-dollar building program of the U.S. military worldwide.

Former AIA president RK Stewart, FAIA, describes Marshall’s career as having “established a legacy of design excellence within the Department of Defense. While you might expect the military’s operational facilities to receive the greatest attention, Mort assured the human side of the organization received appropriate attention,” wrote Stewart in his letter of recommendation. “Thanks to Mort’s efforts, the quality of medical facilities, family housing, schools, and other facilities serving military personnel and their families were elevated to a new level.”

Beyond the military, Marshall is recognized for his early efforts to help even the playing field for small firms seeking work with public clients. “He worked with the General Services Administration to include small businesses, women, and minorities in their public buildings service program as early as the ’70s,” wrote Purnell. “He promoted joint ventures as a way for smaller practices to gain needed experience.”

Service to the profession

In 1982 Marshall founded The Marshall Group, which he continues to lead as president. The family-owned firm, based in Reston, Va., just outside the nation’s capital, provides architecture, structural engineering, construction management, and general contracting services for public and private clients on a variety of project types, including several facilities for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection department in Newark, New York City, and Washington, D.C. But even as he transitioned into the private sector, Marshall continued his service to the AIA. Having chaired the College of Fellows jury in 1992, Marshall lent his knowledge and experience to members seeking fellowship status by later chairing the Fellows Committee of the Washington, D.C., AIA chapter. Marshall also served as a board member of AIA DC, and is currently a member of the AIA Federal Architecture Task Group.

At about the same time he was starting his private practice, Marshall became the first African-American to attain board membership in NIBS, and was, in fact, the first paid member of NIBS. (His original 1978 application bears member number 101.) He served on the NIBS board twice, and earlier this year NIBS honored Marshall’s commitment by establishing a new lifetime achievement award in his name.

“Mort has shown tremendous commitment to the National Institute of Building Sciences for more than three decades,” said NIBS President Henry Green, Hon. AIA, in a news release announcing the award. “This award recognizes him as a role model to others while honoring his dedication to improving the built environment.”

Harris praised Marshall’s early counsel on the development of NIBS’ Construction Criteria Base and Whole Building Design Guide. These tools, Harris wrote in his letter of recommendation, “first pioneered, and then greatly advanced and increased, the use of IT in the building process.”

In addition to the AIA and NIBS, Marshall has been an active member of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). His board service there was recognized by election to the NOMA Council, the organization’s highest membership honor bestowed on members who have made significant contributions to the profession. Marshall has also served as president of the D.C. Metropolitan Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute, and has been a member of the Construction Sciences Research Board.

Service to the community

Marshall has sponsored scholarships for minority students to pursue architecture and building careers through the ACE Mentor Program, and he has provided financial support, contributed materials, and encouraged his own staff at The Marshall Group to become mentors in the Washington Architectural Foundation Architecture in Schools program. The program matches volunteer architects with public school teachers to engage children in learning activities involving the architectural design process.

Marshall has stayed connected to his alma mater by assisting Tuskegee University’s school of architecture in its accreditation process. He also helped to establish the Florida A&M University School of Architecture.

“As a mentor, Mort has encouraged and supported minority youth to discover and study the power and wonder of architecture as a career,” wrote Whitney Young Award recipient Harry Robinson III, FAIA, managing principal of Washington, D.C.–based TRG Consulting Global, in his recommendation letter. “His example as one who reached and led in the heights of the profession has been a beacon to those he mentored. This combination of leading in the profession and extending that leadership to those without access is in the highest tradition of the servant leader, and the Institute.”

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Photo Credits

  • Mortimer M. Marshall Jr., FAIA image courtesy of Richard Elliott
  • All other images courtesy of Mortimer M. Marshall Jr., FAIA Whitney M. Young Jr. Award Submission

Mortimer M. Marshall Jr., FAIA

(Photo credits at bottom of page)

The Whitney M. Young Jr. Award, established in 1972, is named after the civil rights-era head of the Urban League who confronted head-on the AIA’s absence of socially progressive advocacy at the 1968 national convention.

Members of the AIA Board of Directors, a component, or a knowledge community may nominate architects or architecturally oriented organizations for this award.

Visit the AIA Honors and Awards website
Visit the AIA Diversity and Inclusion website
Go to the current issue of AIArchitect

2012 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award Advisory Jury


Kevin J. Flynn, FAIA, Chair
Kiku Obata & Company, Saint Louis

James Logan Abell, FAIA
Abell & Associates Architects, Ltd., Tempe, Arizona

David Burney, FAIA
NYC Department of Design & Construction, Long Island City

Vergel Lee Gay Jr., AIA
Texas A & M, College Station, Texas

Curtis J. Moody, FAIA
Moody Nolan, Inc., Columbus, Ohio

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