Afrodescendientes: Blending art and design with architecture


This article by Carmen Robles appeared in

James Garrett, Jr. is a visual artist, published writer, and award winning architect with offices located in downtown St. Paul.

He is co-founder of 4RM+ULA, (FORM + Urban Landscape Articulation), a full-service architecture firm focused on transit design, transit-oriented-development, and urban infill redevelopment projects.
At the time of this interview 4RM+ULA ( was celebrating its 13-year anniversary.

“The road to this milestone was not an easy one to travel,” said Garrett, Jr. “I knew I wanted to be an architect, start a business and design important buildings for people.” Although his first venture failed it did not deter him from pursuing his dream.

With a small inheritance left by the sudden death of his father, Garrett, Jr. joined forces with his wife, Paola Sanchez-Garrett and lifelong friend, Erick Goodlow. The doors to 4RM+ULA opened in 2002 and the rest, as they say, is history.

“We’ve gotten stronger over this thirteen year period” said Garrett, Jr. “We have a quality staff of five and an internship program that’s in its third year.”

Garrett Jr.’s groundbreaking work utilizes diverse media (aerosol, ink, critical text, digital collage, physical sketching and material modeling) to explore complex conceptual topics derived from the study and research of urban cultures. Through the application of unique practical perspectives, Garrett, Jr. and his colleagues merge art and design into the architectural work.

At an early age Garrett, Jr. knew he wanted to be an architect. He developed an early interest in the buildings, people and the space between the buildings or objects that compose them. He was intrigued with the shapes and dimensions of structures and followed his desire to blend architecture with his artistic side.

But it wasn’t until he was at University of California, Berkley that he recognized who his (extended) family members were. Cap Wigington, a close family friend, was a constant figure in the Garrett household as was Paul Williams. Both men were trailblazers and outstanding contributors as architects and active members of the African-American community. Wigington was the nation’s first Black municipal architect. Williams designed the homes of numerous celebrities, including Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

The realization that the inspiration in his field of choice was actually ‘familia’ ordained continues to fuel Garrett, Jr.’s passion of using architecture as a tool to impact positive change.

Born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, Garrett, Jr. credits a strong family structure as his foundation. Father of two, grandfather of one, Garrett, Jr. epitomizes the entrepreneurial spirit of this country’s immigrants.

Family issues brought them to the United States, changing his life’s course. Following a family member’s untimely violent death in New York, his parents relocated to his mother’s hometown of St. Paul.

St. Thomas is one of the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Sea and, together with St. John. St. Croix, and Water Island, forms a county and constituent district of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), an unincorporated territory of the United States. While the population is largely Black West Indian, making up more than 78 percent, its residents are considered an ensemble of different groups.

In his flawless, fluent Spanish, Garrett, Jr. articulates with great enthusiasm his dismay over the racial lines that continue to divide Haiti and the Dominican Republic (where his wife is from.) Recently, the Dominican government ruled to take citizenship away from all children of Haitian immigrants born after 1929, a move that is causing him to rethink his visits to the Dominican Republic.

Among Garrett, Jr.’s many awards is the AIA (American Institute of Architects) 2015 Minnesota Young Architect Award. This award is given to architects who are AIA Minnesota members, have been licensed for less than 10 years and have shown exceptional leadership in service to the profession, the community, design, planning, and education.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) New York named him recipient of the 2014 AIA New York State Citation for Design, Target Field Station.
Garrett Jr. is a registered architect in Minnesota and New York. He holds an A.B. degree in Architecture from the College of Environmental Design at University of California (Berkeley, Calif.) and a master of architecture from Parsons School of Design (New York). He is currently the president of the University of California Alumni Association (Minnesota Chapter) and serves on the Metropolitan Council Livable Communities and Transit Oriented Development Advisory Committees.

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