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YouthBuild Boston Hosts First-Ever Gallery Exhibit, Bringing the Work of Stull and Lee to a New Generation of Architects

At YouthBuild Boston’s Designery in lower Roxbury, “Stull & Lee: Black Architecture Vision for an Infrastructural City” tells the groundbreaking story of one of Boston’s first Black-owned architecture firms that emerged in the 1960s with community-driven design.

Review by Elisa Rowe

Ruggles Street Transit Station opened to the public in 1987. Courtesy of Stull & Lee.

In the historically segregated city of Boston, the 1960s and ’70s were a time of unrest and radical change as residents began to organize for access to better housing, education, and quality of life. Amid this time of uncertainty, architecture firm Stull & Lee imagined and created a radical new future for the city and its residents through designs for projects like Ruggles Station, the Southwest Corridor Transit Project, and the Savin Hill MBTA Station. 

The designs for many of those projects are now on display in the exhibition “Stull & Lee: Black Architecture Vision for an Infrastructural City,” which is on view at YouthBuild Boston’s Designery in lower Roxbury. The gallery is set in the nonprofit’s open workspace where aspiring youth architects are mentored through one of the organization’s many programs. Curated by local architects Gabriel Cira and James Heard and Boston-based designer Julian Phillips, with funding from the Graham Foundation, the exhibit is an homage to the groundbreaking work of one of Boston’s first Black-owned architecture firms, which reimagined the infrastructure of the city with a focus on “community-driven design.” The multimedia exhibition features slide decks, memos, pencil sketches, newspaper clippings, elevation drawings, bookmarked magazines, and other forms and displays of the architects’ work and impact. Hanging on walls or attached to black-and-yellow ropes mounted from floor to ceiling, these elements are accompanied by descriptive plaques that resemble filing cards the firm once used.

Installation view, “Stull & Lee: Black Architecture Vision for an Infrastructural City,” YouthBuild Boston’s Designery, Roxbury, 2024. Courtesy of Gabriel Cira.



Installation view, “Stull & Lee: Black Architecture Vision for an Infrastructural City,” YouthBuild Boston’s Designery, Roxbury, 2024. Courtesy of Gabriel Cira.



The exhibition describes how the firm was involved with the infrastructure of Boston, as well as some out-of-state urban projects, by dividing the gallery into six parts: Education as Infrastructure, Housing Systems, Social Infrastructure, Infra-tecture, Archetype Ruggles, and The Southwest Corridor. One example of the architects’ radical impact on the city surfaces in the Education as Infrastructure section, where viewers can see their design of the three-floor building that served as headquarters for Operation Exodus, a plan created by a group of Roxbury residents to integrate their children into the better-funded, majority-white schools from 1964 to 1969.

In Housing Systems, visitors can read about the firm’s involvement in the Boston Infill Program, an initiative that used vacant lots as grounds for urgently needed housing after city-wide demolitions as part of urban renewal. The exhibit features images of modular and multi-story housing. The section also includes photos and information on Stull & Lee’s public housing project in Brooklyn, the Rutland Road Houses, which contained 438 rental units. The firm designed the space around the needs of the local population and included social infrastructure such as a teen center, a daycare, and a supermarket.

Unity Bank. Photos courtesy of Stull & Lee. Installation view, “Stull & Lee: Black Architecture Vision for an Infrastructural City,” YouthBuild Boston’s Designery, Roxbury, 2024. Courtesy of Gabriel Cira.

Exterior views of Western Front, interior color views of Western Front at top and bottom. Photos courtesy of Stull & Lee. Installation view, “Stull & Lee: Black Architecture Vision for an Infrastructural City,” YouthBuild Boston’s Designery, Roxbury, 2024. Courtesy of Gabriel Cira.

On a window and adjacent wall, snapshot photos fill the “Social Infrastructure” section, highlighting Stull & Lee design projects like Unity Bank, a Roxbury commercial bank and community space co-founded in 1968 by civil rights activists and businessmen Marvin Gilmore and John T. Hayden to combat the financial ramifications of local redlining, and the Western Front in Cambridge, Gilmore’s popular nightclub and reggae-jazz bar that operated for forty-six years.

Throughout “Stull & Lee,” their work and style are given vivid descriptions, such as “loud geometry,” “exuberant supergraphical style,” and “striking punchcard-like patterns.” In Archetype Ruggles, Ruggles Station is complimented for its “dramatic facades” and “barrel-vaulted corridor,” which viewers can see in the design sketches and model. The station was part of the Southwest Corridor Transit Project, a revolutionary reimagining by Stull & Lee of an area where the city had planned to build a highway. Community activism stopped the highway project, and Stull & Lee was part of the effort to get federal funding to turn the area into greenspace, schools, a hub for public transit, and recreational and civic buildings. The station was based on an archetype the firm created for all Orange Line stations that had pointers such as encouraging the incorporation of landmarks into the station design to help orient passengers and acknowledge the station’s place in the neighborhood.

Installation view, “Stull & Lee: Black Architecture Vision for an Infrastructural City,” YouthBuild Boston’s Designery, Roxbury, 2024. Courtesy of Gabriel Cira.

Installation view, “Stull & Lee: Black Architecture Vision for an Infrastructural City,” YouthBuild Boston’s Designery, Roxbury, 2024. Courtesy of Gabriel Cira.

In some corners, it is difficult to ascertain where the exhibit ends and the students’ work begins. Picture stills are placed on stools, evoking the feeling that they were just examined and put back down. The location gives the show a living element. The drawings are hung on rope with metal brackets as if they are about to be switched out for the next project. The display itself reads as a testament to the firm’s decades of influence. “The gallery serves as a way for students to see Black architects, architects that look like them, in the field,” shared Neil Daniel, program manager at YouthBuild Boston. Today Stull & Lee continues to work on projects in Boston, despite the passing of Donald Stull in 2020. In 2021, M. David Lee was awarded an honor for leadership in land use in the Norman B. Leventhal Excellence in City Building awards.

Designing on the literal ground of some of Boston’s most historic modern movements in what can be a stubborn and resistant city, Stull & Lee created opportunity. The sampling of projects selected in the exhibition demonstrates the firm’s versatility. It is a reminder that in a highly referenced politically and socially tumultuous time, brimming with ongoing racism and gentrification, Stull & Lee took oddly shaped Boston lots and used infrastructure to educate, transport, house, and celebrate. “Stull & Lee: Black Architecture Vision for an Infrastructural City” is a reminder of architecture’s ability to nurture and subvert, displayed in the studio of the potential architects of Boston’s future.

Opening reception for “Stull & Lee: Black Architecture Vision for an Infrastructural City” at YouthBuild Boston’s Designery in Roxbury on February 29, 2024. Courtesy of Wandy Pascoal.


“Stull & Lee: Black Architecture Vision for an Infrastructural City” is on view at The Designery, YouthBuild Boston in lower Roxbury.

Elisa Rowe

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