Perspectives in Architecture: An interview with Cecil A. Alexander Jr.
Ninety-three year old Cecil A. Alexander, Jr. describes his exceptional life during a visit to his home and in his unpublished biography. A founder of the former 300-person architectural firm, FABRAP, and Fellow with the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), Alexander served as the architect for numerous buildings in Atlanta and around the United States.
Alexander designed his first office building in 1949, the Peachtree and 7th Building and now the converted Peachtree Lofts in Midtown. From 1953 to 1984, Atlanta-based FABRAP created architecture emphasizing the function and structure of buildings over ornamentation as evident with the Coca-Cola Headquarters off North Avenue, BellSouth Tower near the Fox Theatre, and Georgia Tech facilities such as the Student Center and Chemistry Building.
Asked about his favorite project, Alexander responds, “My house.” Aptly named the Round House, his former Buckhead home with late wife, Hermi, remains a masterpiece today fifty-four years after its completion for its innovative use of brick, glass and steel. He calls the 1965 opening night of the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, a FABRAP facility designed with the local firm Heery, “a dream realized in fact” and its 1997 demolition “criminal”. He championed the re-use of the facility as a soccer stadium.
The name FABRAP represented the first letter from the last names of its principals: James Finch, Cecil Alexander, Miller Barnes, Bernard Rothschild, and Caraker Paschal. The only living principal, Alexander exemplifies a life full of courage and leadership. In the company of Helen, his lovely second wife, he recalls, “I lost all interest in architecture” after hearing the horror of the Holocaust from Jewish survivors.
The Atlanta native halted his graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) for four years to join the Marine Corps and fight as a bomber pilot in sixty World War II missions.
Back in Atlanta by 1948, the war veteran led the battle against racial segregation as a committee chairman under Mayors William Hartsfield and Ivan Allen. He helped to organize a dinner reception honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. for his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize despite reluctance in the business community. Dr. King wrote him saying “…few events have warmed my heart, as did this occasion.”
Detesting the Confederate symbols in the 1956 state of Georgia flag, Alexander personally designed its replacement. His design for the state flag flew over Georgia from 2001 to 2004.
The architect received AIA awards for his civil rights and community activism and attracted clients who supported his civic work. He adds, “I did well by doing good.” A two-hour conversation with Cecil A. Alexander, Jr., FAIA leaves me in awe.
Melody L. Harclerode, AIA, a local architect, promotes the power of architecture and design as a Board Member of the Atlanta chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Principal of Harclerode Architects (harc-arch.com). For more information about AIA Atlanta, check out aiaatlanta.org.