David C. Sharpe



4 September 1928(Birth)

19 June 2020(Death)


David Carold Sharpe was an African American architect and academic, who spent the majority of his career as a designer for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). At SOM, Sharpe contributed to some of the firm's most significant large-scale projects, and rose to become an associate partner. Sharpe received his Bachelor of Architecture in 1960 and Master of Science in Architecture in 1962 from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), where he became a protégé of Mies van der Rohe. While working at SOM, he taught architecture part-time at IIT’s College of Architecture. He was the school’s first African American professor.

In 1985, Sharpe left SOM to teach full-time at IIT. He worked closely alongside Myron Goldsmith and helped lead the implementation of a new curriculum. It transitioned the program from theory to applied research, steering the program to place more emphasis on research in "structures and building systems." IIT became a pacesetter in the design and construction of super-tall and mega-tall buildings. "Beginning as teacher and student, Goldsmith and Sharpe established an intellectual and academic partnership at that effectively spanned an astonishing 50 years," writes alumnus Ed Windhorst.

Born in Decaturville, Tennessee to Alvin and Gertrude Sharpe, both of Sharpe’s parents graduated from Tennessee State College and taught high school. David received a full scholarship to the Tuskegee Institute for his aptitude for architecture and engineering. In 1950, he graduated and enlisted in the Air Force, and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant during the Korean War. After his service, during an extended layover in Chicago, David toured the city and became mesmerized by buildings under construction on Lake Shore Drive. When he learned that Mies was the architect and taught at IIT, David decided he had to be under his tutelage and applied to study architecture at IIT. 

In 2009, the American Institute of Architects' Chicago chapter recognized Sharpe with the Distinguished Service Award. A year later, he retired from IIT after teaching there for 50 years. In 2015, Tuskegee University School of Architecture presented Sharpe with its Distinguished Alumni Award and renamed the award in his honor.


"Remembering David Sharpe, College of Architecture Professor for nearly 50 years," arch.iit.edu, June 26, 2020. Accessed July 1, 2020.

"SOM, In Memory: David Sharpe, Architect, and Educator," som.com, July 1, 2020. Accessed July 5, 2020.

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