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STYLE: STYLEMAKER : Building With Heart

September 26, 1993|AARON BETSKY

In her own words, Michaele Pride-Wells is used to being "the only African-American woman anything." While growing up in Granada Hills, attending architecture school at Arizona State University and becoming "one of three African-American female architects in the city, as far as I know," she has always been a pioneer woman of color. "It has made me very aware of being a role model," she says. "That's why I teach and work with the community."

Last year, Michaele (pronounced like the man's name) helped found the nonprofit Design Professionals' Coalition, which makes architects, engineers and others available to communities devastated by the April, 1992, riots. The group has already helped design city-funded affordable housing to be built in 1994, organized design workshops for the Crenshaw community and is providing consultants to L.A. County as it upgrades clinics to meet new state requirements for facilities that offer TB treatment.

But Pride-Wells is most excited about the group's work on St. Elmo Village. The collection of wood bungalows and garages at La Brea Avenue and Venice Boulevard is home to a flourishing arts organization that teaches, creates and celebrates art. The design coalition recently helped devise guidelines for expanding the community and, working with the Southern California Gas Co., trained neighborhood residents to remodel the buildings.

When not volunteering her time and seemingly endless energy, Pride-Wells, 36, and her husband, flooring contractor Reginald Wells, raise their son Bryant, 3. She also runs a small architectural practice, re: Architecture, out of Marina del Rey. For the Crenshaw project, she is helping residents rethink the structure of their neighborhood to attract investment and enhance livability. "I'm finally doing what I always thought I should be doing with architecture--helping the community, building better places for people," she says.

Even with the pioneering work of noted African-American architects Paul Williams, Norma Sklarek and Robert Kennard in L.A., Pride-Wells speculates that the number of African-American architects is low because "most people in our community never come into contact with architecture. . . . What we are doing with the coalition is bring architects into the community."

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