Nathan Johnson 1925-2021
November 16, 2021 6:28 AM   Subscribe

The great Detroit architect Nathan Johnson passed away at age 96. Although Mr. Johnson designed buildings of all types, he was particularly important as a pioneer and innovator of modernist architecture for Black churches. Lots of great photos on this thread.

Further reading on Nathan Johnson:
  • Obituary from the Detroit Free Press
  • From In 1950, he came to Detroit with an architectural degree from Kansas State University. He opened his own architectural office in Detroit during the height of the civil rights challenges of the mid-1950s.
  • According to the Society of Architectural Historians, The Second Baptist Church addition at 441 Monroe (1967) was Johnson’s first large commission and one of his most well-known design projects. Second Baptist Church serves Detroit's oldest African American Baptist congregation. It was organized in 1836 by thirteen formerly enslaved people who had been members of First Baptist Church. Its members met in various halls and schools until 1857, when the group purchased the Zion Reformed (Evangelical) Church. On January 1, 1863, Black Detroiters held the first public celebration of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation at this location.
  • Nathan Johnson’s Space Age Style on Floyd Home
Credit to Kimberly R. Drew for posting about Mr. Johnson on her substack, Something I Saw, where I saw the Midwestern Modern thread this morning.
posted by wicked_sassy (12 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, man, those are great churches.

I am a lifelong Catholic, but I can usually date a church's construction pretty easily because of how sharply the forms changed in the 1970s. The shift from just traditional, cross-shaped Gothic buildings into all sorts of geometries was so clear.

. for all that creativity
posted by wenestvedt at 6:52 AM on November 16, 2021

posted by riruro at 6:53 AM on November 16, 2021

Updated link to

Thanks for posting this. I had the very good fortune to meet Mr. Johnson in 2019 when our Michigan chapter of Docomomo US sponsored a tour of several of his buildings, including the Second Baptist addition and Bethel AME. We also sponsored an oral interview by Noir Design Parti (a project to document the work of pioneering Black architects), excerpts of which they have posted on Facebook (that's my colleague Saundra Little sitting next to him!).

A very great - and nice - man.
posted by Preserver at 7:04 AM on November 16, 2021 [11 favorites]

Great work. I'd never heard of him before now. Thanks for posting.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:14 AM on November 16, 2021 [5 favorites]

posted by JoeXIII007 at 8:50 AM on November 16, 2021

posted by mumimor at 10:05 AM on November 16, 2021

posted by clavdivs at 10:50 AM on November 16, 2021

posted by sepviva at 12:53 PM on November 16, 2021

Stanley Hong's Mannia Cafe
posted by clavdivs at 1:07 PM on November 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Presumably no relation to Bergholt Stuttley Johnson.
posted by notoriety public at 9:34 AM on November 17, 2021

posted by hydra77 at 10:06 AM on November 17, 2021

posted by adekllny at 4:34 PM on November 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

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