An obituary in Thursday's newspaper about Robert Johnson Nash incorrectly described the office he held with the Washington chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He was a commissioner. (Published 12/10/1999)
Robert Johnson Nash, 70, a Washington architect who designed churches, schools and public facilities throughout the metropolitan area, died of cancer Dec. 5 at his home in Fort Washington.
Mr. Nash was a former vice chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission. During the 1970s, he served with various community organizations on urban renewal efforts in Washington.
He was a founder and former president of the National Organization of Minority Architects and the first black president of the Washington chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the first black national vice president of the AIA.
He designed more than 100 churches and other religious facilities, including St. Stephen's Catholic Church, Metropolitan Baptist Church, Peoples Congregational Church and Second New St. Paul Baptist Church, all in Washington, and First Baptist Church of Glenarden.
Working on churches, he once said, was the most professionally satisfying architecture he did. "It is a special kind of building -- a space to worship in with a minimum of utilitarian requirements. . . . To design a church you have to go a step beyond the design of an auditorium. You must capture a spiritual quality to be successful. . . . You have to satisfy an ethereal quality. The search for that quality stimulates the designing process."
Other facilities designed by Mr. Nash included the U Street Metro station in Washington, the ambulatory-care research facility at the National Institutes of Health, an addition to the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home in Washington, Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Wheaton, and several projects at Howard University, including the undergraduate library, North Gate Plaza and WHMM-TV.
He also did design work on the regional rapid-transit system in Baltimore and designed the exhibit space, the auditorium, the offices and the brick-paved gardens at the Museum of African Art on A Street NE in Washington.
Mr. Nash was born in Memphis and came to Washington to attend Howard University, where he graduated in 1952. At Howard, he won the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects for his class.
He chose architecture as a career, he said, because "it stood halfway between the two subjects I loved -- art and mechanical drawing."
While at Howard, Mr. Nash and several classmates formed a Maryland-based business that produced and tested building materials. One of the partners was a young geologist from Nigeria whose father invited the men to set up business operations in Nigeria.
After graduating from Howard, Mr. Nash traveled to Nigeria aboard a cargo ship. There, he became a partner in an African American design and construction firm. "I just decided that it would be better to get actual experience doing things on my own rather than serving a conventional apprenticeship," he told The Washington Post in 1970. "As a result, I learned about wood, termites, sawmills, and I did industrial buildings and schools."
In Nigeria, Mr. Nash established a brickmaking factory and trained four Nigerians as draftsmen. He helped develop new techniques and materials for construction, and he designed a one-room schoolhouse, 300 of which were later built in Nigeria.
Returning to the United States in 1954, he joined the Army Corps of Engineers, later serving in England. On leaving military service, he joined the Washington architectural firm of Johnson and Boutin. In 1960, he opened his own architectural office in Washington, and he practiced architecture until shortly before his death.
In 1979, Mr. Nash was named by then-Mayor Marion Barry to the National Capital Planning Commission, which reviews District, Maryland and Virginia government activities for their effects on federal interests. He served for 13 years on the panel.
He was a member of the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects and was the first recipient of the AIA's Whitney M. Young Award.
His marriage to Teixeira Nash ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife, Barbara Ann Nash of Fort Washington; three children from his first marriage, Robyn Bandele Nash of Martha's Vineyard, Mass., Carolyn Bettina Nash Burgess of Oxon Hill and Steven Andrew Nash of Fort Washington; a stepdaughter, Terry Ann Savory Scott of Fort Washington; a sister; and four granddaughters.