Bond, J. Max

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J. Max Bond

Architect, educator

An award-winning architect and designer of international acclaim, J. Max Bond has built a variety of structures; his range includes libraries in the States and abroad, cultural centers, university research facilities, office buildings, and museums. Although the plan was later discarded, he is the first African American to become a major player in redeveloping the trade center site, or the World Trade Center memorial, scheduled for erection at Ground Zero, the site of the terrorists attack in New York City on September 11, 2001.

Roots in an Educated Family

James Max Bond was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on July 17, 1935, the middle of three children. His father, J. Max Bond Sr., held doctoral degrees in sociology and economics from the University of Southern California, and his mother, Ruth Clement Bond, studied literature at Northwestern University. The Bonds valued education, and they wanted their son to become a doctor. When they lived in Louisville they arranged for him to work as a hospital emergency room orderly. "The first time I saw an operation, I virtually fainted," he told the Washington Post. After Bond Sr. served as a dean at Dillard University in New Orleans, the family moved to Tuskegee where he joined the faculty. From five to nine years of age, young Bond lived at Tuskegee where he was fascinated with the construction of a new residence hall on campus. The huge airplane hangar located near the campus impressed him as well. The hangar served a military base where the storied black pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen, trained.

Bond entered Harvard University where he studied architecture. One of his professors at Harvard told him that there were no famous and prominent black architects and that he should choose another profession. But Bond knew the reputation of several, including Hilyard Robinson and Paul Williams; in fact, he later worked with Williams. In 1955 Bond graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, where he was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He continued to study at Harvard Graduate School of Design, graduating in 1958.


Born in Louisville, Kentucky on July 17
Graduates from Harvard Graduate School of Design; awarded a Fulbright
Works for Ghana National Construction Company
Teaches at Ghana University of Science and Technology
Collaborates with Don Ryder to form Bond Ryder and Associates
Begins teaching at Columbia University
Becomes dean and professor at City College of the City University of New York
Merges with Davis, Brody and Associates to form Davis, Brody, Bond LLP Architects
Becomes architect for Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham
Becomes architect for the Audubon Research Center at Columbia University
Completes Master Plan and Design for the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe
Completes plans for expansion of Harvard Club in midtown Manhattan
Completes design of Munto Dance Theatre in Chicago
Designs a memorial for World Trade Center area in New York City

Bond spent a summer in Los Angeles where he worked with legendary African American architect Paul Williams. Afterwards he sought employment with architectural firms that were impressed with his credentials but unimpressed when they met and the firms' officials saw that he was black. Bond earned a Fulbright scholarship and worked in France for a year on projects for Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris), the architect for the United Nations Building in New York and an urban designer, whom he actually never met. He studied Le Corbusier's designs as well as those of Auguste Perrett and others who had designed religious buildings. As the end of the year drew near, Bond wrote to five architectural firms in the United States and his credentials and experience again brought favorable response. Again when he came for interviews, somehow nothing was available or the firm claimed that there must have been some mistake.

Work in Ghana, New York, and Tunisia

Finally Bond was successful and worked for two firms in New York for a while, then, with his wife, he returned to Ghana. There he worked for the Ghana National Construction Corporation in 1964 and 1965. "Professionally, I grew up there," he told Jimmie Briggs for Crisis magazine. He thought about cultural issues and appreciated the modern culture that he saw in the villages and in the country. While there he built one of his largest projects and his favorite, the Bolgatanga Library in Northern Ghana. Later he built a broadcast station and the residence and offices of then-president Kwame Nkruma, for which he was jokingly referred to as "palace architect." From 1965 to 1967 Bond was an instructor in Ghana's University of Science and Technology.

Bond returned to New York and helped to establish the Architect's Renewal Committee of Harlem (ARCH) and was also its executive director in 1967 and 1968. ARCH was one of several early community design centers developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1969 Bond collaborated with black architect Don Ryder to form Bond Ryder and Associates; the firm was among the nation's largest and most successful black architectural firms. Among the projects that the firm undertook were the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change and Memorial in Atlanta, Georgia; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem; and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Bond's design for the King Center, where columns and a barrel-vaulted roof are used, reflects the influence of his travels in Tunisia. In 1960 he visited his parents in Tunisia when Bond Sr. was on a State Department assignment.

In addition to working as an architect, Bond began teaching. He served first as assistant professor and later as professor and chairman of the Graduate School of Architecture and Planning at Columbia University, during the years from 1970 to 1985. From 1985 to 1991, he was dean and professor of the School of Environmental Studies at the City College of the City University of New York.

Accomplishments of Davis, Brody, Bond LLP Architects

After Ryder left Bond Ryder and Associates in 1990, Bond merged with Davis, Brody, and Associates, a fifty-two-year-old company; the firm became known as Davis, Brody, Bond LLP Architects. Bond took with him nine of the employees of the previous company. In 1993 he was architect for the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham and in 1996 the Audubon Research Center at Columbia University. In 1999 he completed the Master Plan and Design for the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe. His design for an expansion of the Harvard Club in midtown Manhattan was unacceptable to traditionalists among the alumni, who wanted him to repeat the neo-Georgian style of the existing structure. They ignored a club selection committee's approval of Bond's design for a modernistic glass building and challenged the project in court. Debate among club members was intense; in fact, the debate was believed to call Harvard's image into question. Bond and his supporters won, and the work was completed in 2003. His Munto Dance Theatre in Chicago was completed in 2004.

One of his firm's potentially most notable projects, for which it served as associate architects, was the World Trade Center Memorial that aimed to honor lives lost in the World Trade Center attacks in 1993 and 2001. Israeli-born Michael Arad and Peter Walker, a California-based landscape architect, collaborated on the design known as "Reflecting Absence"; Bond and his firm planned to ensure the construction. They proposed two pools of water over the footprint of the former towers. Bond's use of water with designs was seen surrounding King's crypt in the King Center. A wall surrounding the pools was to be inscribed with the names of all victims. Ramps leading underground would permit family members to view matter from the destruction site, while plantings and trees would be arranged in various places. Construction was scheduled to begin in 2006 but in 2005, after protest from prominent leaders, including builder Donald Trump, the plans were put aside.

Fighting Racism, a Bond Family Matter

From the time he was at Harvard until his work with the Harvard Club, Bond met racism repeatedly. Fighting racism, however, was something that the Bond family experienced as well. His cousin, Julian Bond, fought racism in a variety of ways, including his work as chairman of the NAACP. J. Max Bond knew that racism had gripped his father as well as his father's generation. After his father died in 1991, he reflected on the ills and evils of racism and became bitter. He never forgot the rejection that he experienced early on when he applied for jobs.

Community Service and Awards

In addition to his professional work, Bond has extended himself into the community and to professional organizations. Memberships include the New York City Planning Commission; board member of the Studio Museum of Harlem; the Municipal Arts Society; and the National Organization of Minority Architects. Widely honored for his achievements, Bond received the Award of Excellence from the Atlanta Urban Design Committee for his King Center project; the Harry B. Rutkins Memorial Award, AIA; the Whitney M. Young Jr. Citation Award, AIA; and the Architectural Achievement Award, Ernest D. David Scholarship Fund. He holds an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, from New Jersey Institute of Technology (1994). In 1995 he became a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and in 1996 a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

A genial, genteel man with white hair and an informal manner, Bond is married to Jean Davis Carey, a writer and a publicist for the Black Radical Congress, and they have two children, Carey Julian and Ruth Marian. For forty years Bond has been an architectural designer with primary concern in buildings of lasting importance. He is a man with vision. He is concerned with land use as well as human activity and interaction that should occur within a building. He was quoted in Crisis as saying: "I … hope my legacy would be a part of the effort to encourage more people of color to do what I do."



Who's Who among African Americans. 18th ed. Detroit, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2005.


Briggs, Jimmie. "J. Max Bond, Building a 40-year Reputation in Design." Crisis 111 (September/October 2004): 43-44.

Duke, Lynn. "Blueprint of a Life: Architect J. Max Bond Jr. Has Had to Build Bridges to Reach Ground Zero." Washington Post (1 July 2004): C1, C4.


Hudson, Frederick B. "An Architect Plans for Peaceful Plains." http://www/ (Accessed 30 September 2004).

"J. Max Bond Jr., FAIA. University of Michigan. Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Visiting Faculty." http://www/tcaup.umich/edu/facultystaff/visitingfaculty/bond.html (Accessed 30 September 2004).

                                   Jessie Carney Smith