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Women in Architecture — Amaza Lee Meredith

Women in Architecture honors the architectural achievements of the creators behind our built environments that are often missing from history books. We explore their inspiring life stories, their design philosophies, and their work.
Shaina Mote — Women in Architecture  — Amaza Lee Meredith

Born 1895 in Lynchburg, Virginia to Samuel Peter Meredith and Emma Kennedy, Amaza Lee Meredith was the eldest of two daughters. Meredith’s family experienced racist reverberations of the Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation era laws of the South. Samuel, a white master-level stair builder lost significant business after traveling to Washington, D.C. to lawfully marry Emma, a Black woman. Samuel Meredith committed suicide Amaza’s senior year of high school. The tragic loss of her father catalyzed Meredith’s dedication to creating African American material culture and design. In 1926 she moved to Brooklyn with her sister to attend Teachers' College at Columbia University. She graduated in 1934 with honors with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in fine arts.

Amaza Lee Meredith forged her own path in architecture through practice. Her legacy is deeply tied to the campus of Virginia State University’s Art Department, founded by Meredith in 1935. In 1939, Meredith completed Azurest South, her residence and work quarters, self-designed to freely express her artistic sense, an appreciation of International Style architecture, and avant-garde design. With little to no formal training, Meredith received Virginia's first land grant for African American scholars. Though the plans for Azurest South are not expertly drawn, they display an innate understanding of construction and materials believed to have been inherited from Meredith’s father. The exterior of the residence is described to have “clean lines, a strong geometry emphasizing regularity rather than symmetry, and a flat roof designed as a terrace.” The interior of Azurest South remained in constant flux. Acting as a studio, it often reflected her studies of color and materials. “Dramatic use of color; vivid patterning of walls, floors, and ceilings; and the use of inventive lighting fixtures characterize the interior design.”

Azurest South Floor Plan — image courtesy of Michael Borowski Azurest South — Virginia Department of Historic Resources
Caress — image courtesy of Michael Borowski 

Though much of Meredith’s historical endeavors have been lost, Virginia State University continues to preserve her legendary efforts. While her total number of works remains unknown, architectural design has been credited to Amaza for residences in Virginia, Texas and New York. Most notable of these are two residences in Azurest North, a Sag Harbor, NY community established in the 1940’s by a syndicate of Black doctors, intellectuals, and artists seeking vacation homes during the height of redlining practices in the United States. 

Picture Window — image courtesy of Michael Borowski

The integral thread of Meredith’s career was her commitment to her family, friends, and the advancement of Black cultural equity. She resided at Azurest South and vacationed in Azurest North with her partner and lifelong companion, Edna Meade Colson until her passing in 1984. 

Amaza Lee Meredith Teaching an Art Class — Virginia State University Libraries Digital Exhibits

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