Designing Community Impact


Robert P. Madison

Did You Know?

The Robert P. Madison Scholarship Fund has helped 24 students finance their education since 2005.

Breaking Barriers

Bob Madison won a Purple Heart for service in World War II. He was the first African-American to graduate from Western Reserve University’s School of Architecture. He went to Paris’s Ecole Des Beaux-Arts as a Fulbright Scholar. Among these enormous achievements, what may define Bob the best are his extraordinary contributions to his hometown.

Born in 1923 in Cleveland, Bob graduated from East Technical High School in 1940, and studied architecture before serving in World War II. Wounded in action, he was awarded the Purple Heart, three combat ribbons, and the combat infantry badge. He returned to Cleveland, earning a bachelor’s degree from Western Reserve University — the first African-American to graduate from the School of Architecture. His skill in the field brought him to the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, where he studied under Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius and was president of his graduating class. Next, Bob went to the Paris on a Fulbright scholarship.

Despite his talent and experience, the color of his skin barred Bob from securing job interviews and bank loans. His wife Leatrice took a teaching job to generate seed money, and together they started Robert P. Madison International Inc. in 1954. Bob was the first African-American to register an architectural firm in the state of Ohio.

A Lifetime of Impact

60 years later, Bob’s architecture firm has contributed to some of Cleveland’s most iconic and admired landmarks, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Quicken Loans Arena, FirstEnergy Stadium, the Great Lakes Science Center, and the Cleveland Public Library’s Louis Stokes wing.

From Bob’s perspective, architecture, much like philanthropy, has the power to propel a community to new heights. “Architecture is the profession that has historically provided prestige to society,” he said, citing world-renowned structures from the Roman and Egyptian empires through the Renaissance. “It has the ability to create a better lifestyle and a better community.”

For Bob, the spirit behind architecture is deeply connected to philanthropy. The design of a community should be inspired by service to its citizens, and Bob’s charitable giving works in much the same way. That’s why he and Leatrice, who passed away in 2012, created the Robert P. Madison Scholarship Fund at the Cleveland Foundation to unite the couple’s passions by helping African-American students fund their education in architecture. “My concern is helping a person who wants to study architecture, but may not have the money to attend a university, to enter this field if he or she chooses,” he said.

Bob has consistently supported a brighter future for Greater Cleveland. “As human beings, the biggest thing we have to offer is our humanity,” he said. “Success in a profession is one thing, but when you couple that success with the ability to help others, it becomes far more meaningful.”

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Robert P. Madison at the Tommy Li Puma Center for Creative Arts, a building his firm designed on the campus of Cuyahoga Community College.

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The Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts is also home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Library and Archives, which Bob remembers working on by incorporating special air quality and temperature control systems, as well as sophisticated sound proofing in the library area to block road noise.

Awards & Recognitions

As a result of Bob’s lifetime of excellence in architecture, he was advanced to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and honored with the AIA Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award and the AIA Ohio Gold Medal Award. In addition, in 2009, Bob and Leatrice received the Frederick Harris Goff Philanthropic Service Award, named for the Cleveland Foundation’s founder.