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Langston Terrace

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1935–1938, Hilyard R. Robinson. Benning Rd., H, 21st, and 24th streets NE
  • Langston Terrace

Langston Terrace represents a pioneering architectural effort by and for Washington's black community during the depression. Named for United States representative from Virginia John Mercer Langston (1829–1897), the 274-unit complex was designed by Washington's outstanding African-American architect as the city's first low-rent housing erected for blacks under the Public Works Administration. Langston was briefly the acting president of nearby Howard University, its only black president before 1926, and later dean of the law school. Construction was begun within a year after passage of the landmark public housing legislation and completed three years later in 1938.

Robinson graduated from Columbia's School of Architecture, afterward traveling extensively in Europe, where he was inspired by experimental new housing developments of the time. He designed Langston Terrace following avant-garde European ideas concerning suburban habitations within a dense urban environment. Architectural critic Lewis Mumford, who saw the model exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1938, praised the high standard of the complex's exterior design. The fourteen housing blocks, intermingling row houses with apartments, were arranged in a U-shape around a common. The buildings cover only 20 percent of the 13-acre site and vary in height from two to four stories. Although Robin-son's training was largely in the International style and the materials at his disposal (concrete with brick fronting) were spare due to a limited budget of $1.85 million, he managed to provide for a decorative and commemorative life-sized bas-relief frieze and statue grouping in unglazed terracotta that still adorns the pedestrian archway leading into the complex. Executed by sculptor Dan Olney, the cycle depicts Langston leading black farm laborers to industrial jobs in cities.

Writing Credits

Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee


What's Nearby


Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee, "Langston Terrace", [Washington, District of Columbia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of the District of Columbia, Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 281-283.

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