Designing for Discovery

Lead architect aims to 'uplift people,' carries trailblazing legacy

A photo of architect Peter Cook at workPhoto: Kate WichlinskiPeter Cook

Peter Cook, lead architect on Case Western Reserve's Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building (ISEB), liked the opportunities he saw while walking the Case Quad and studying its architecture, textures, patterns and rhythms.

"The diversity of styles gives us a lot of liberty to think more creatively than other campuses might allow," said Cook, design principal at Hammel, Green and Abrahamson (HGA), which has a dozen offices around the country. "We want to create a timeless building that fits in now—and has flexibility to accommodate changes of time."

A nationally recognized architect, Cook co-designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Even before its 2016 opening, the museum drew considerable praise for its signature design, which incorporated elements from Africa and the Americas and earned numerous architecture awards. It is iconic even in a city known for national landmarks.

"There was a lot of pressure to design a building that fit in nicely and didn't ruffle feathers," Cook said. "But the nature of the project didn't really call for that. So we pushed the envelope with a look and feel that challenges people to think differently."

He brings that sensibility and expertise to a campus development that holds transformative promise.

"I feel that architects should try to bring a creative vision that might not otherwise have been realized," Cook said. "Architecture, when done exceptionally, has the ability to create emotional responses."

His work also includes the Embassy of South Africa and Saint Elizabeths East Gateway Pavilion in Washington, several libraries and two projects at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello home in Virginia—the upgrade and renovation of the Burial Ground for Enslaved People and an adjoining contemplative site.

As a renowned architect, Cook follows in the footsteps of his great-granduncle, Julian Francis Abele.

The first Black alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania to earn an architecture degree, Abele designed most of what's now Duke University's East and West Campuses in North Carolina in the 1920's and '30's—a time when the school did not admit Black students or faculty, and discriminatory Jim Crow laws imposed severe limits throughout the South. Now, Duke's main quad is named for Abele.

Abele's other designs included Harvard University's Widener Library and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

"He's certainly one of the greatest African American architects in history," Cook said, "but he was long overlooked.

"Abele focused on artistic, cultural and educational projects—and so does Cook.

"Much like Julian Abele," Cook said, "I try to make sure my work is contributing to the betterment of our fellow citizens."