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1902 School of Design graduate Julian Abele (Photo from University of Pennsylvania Alumni Records Collection).

A fellowship named after Julian Abele, the first Black architect to graduate from Penn, recently received $20,600 in support of its aim to increase diversity in the architecture profession.

Abele became the Weitzman School of Design's first Black graduate in 1902 and went on to design notable buildings around campus, Philadelphia, and the nation. The Julian Abele Endowed Fellowship, which funds an incoming graduate student in architecture, was established to honor Abele's legacy and advance diversity and inclusion in the field.

In 2024, Mark Gardner, who received a Master of Architecture from Weitzman in 2000, donated $20,600 to the fund in Abele's name. As the fellowship enters its fourth year, members of the Weitzman community — as well as Abele's great-grandnephew — reflected on the architect's long-term impact on the field. 

Abele designed a myriad of landmark institutions including the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Widener Library at Harvard University. He also contributed to the design of Eisenlohr Hall on campus, which has served as the Penn President’s House since the early 1980s.

Weitzman announced the Julian Abele Endowed Fellowship Fund in November 2020. According to the announcement, the fund began with a contribution of $25,000 and required at least $100,000 in order to create an endowed fellowship. The fund was first awarded to an architecture student in the 2021-2022 academic year and has been granted three times in total, according to Weitzman Senior Director of Communications Michael Grant. 

The names of previous fellowship recipients are not publicly disclosed due to privacy reasons, Grant told The Daily Pennsylvanian.

In recent years, Weitzman has recognized Abele for his enduring legacy on campus. Weitzman Curator and Collections Manager William Whitaker said that Abele had the respect of his peers, despite the struggles that came from working as a Black architect in a predominantly white field. 

“He was able to find success because he was talented, because he could do the work at a very high level," Whitaker said. "He found something that he truly loved to do, and he found a place where he could do it that was supportive and respectful."

After graduating from Penn, Abele began working for Horace Trumbauer. Trumbauer’s office designed several noteworthy buildings, including a substantial portion of Duke University’s campus. Separately, Abele presented his design for the Free Library of Philadelphia to the Philadelphia Arts Commission. 

“It’s inspiring that someone with talent, with artistic gifts, is able to find a way to find a fulfilling career where he’s able to work at the top of the profession and do really good work,” Whitaker said. “He was a quiet man. He was not someone out there seeking accolades.” 

Abele's great-grandnephew, Peter Cook, currently works as the design principal at the firm Hammel, Green and Abrahamson. In an interview with the DP, Cook shared a quote that Abele is believed to have said of his work: "The lines are Mr. Trumbauer’s, but the shadows are all mine." 

“[Abele] seemed to be … very comfortable without the limelight being shined on him,” Cook said.

Gardner, reflecting on his recent donation, said that he hopes that the fellowship will ease the financial burden of a Penn education and connect students to a network of design practitioners. He said that the fund might encourage students to learn about Abele’s influence on signature buildings across university campuses.

“You get to understand the trajectory of a career, especially in what was probably a more difficult time to practice for Black architects,” Gardner said. “And so I hope that's inspirational, in a way, to the people who get the fellowship.”