10 Trailblazing Female Architects

For over 150 years women have shown their passion for architecture through countless contributions to the male-dominated profession. Even in 2018, architecture can be a challenging career path for women and gender imbalances at architectural firms remains a glaring issue. In honor of International Woman's Day, this list celebrates 10 highly influential female architects who left their mark on the industry. While not an exhaustive list of all talented female architects, these are some names you should definitely know. 

 

1) Zaha Hadid

No list of female architects would be complete without Hadid. Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid immersed herself in architecture from a young age. The Guardian described her as the 'Queen of the curve', who "liberated architectural geometry, giving it a whole new expressive identity." In 2004, Hadid became the first woman awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the highest honor an architect can receive.

Photos left to right: Photo of Zaha Hadid via Brigitte Lacombe/Zaha Hadid Architects; Bergisel Ski Jump, Innsbruck, Austria via Richard Wasenegger; Sheikh Zayed Bridge, Abu-Dhabi via Flickr

 

2) Neri Oxman

This Israeli-born visionary invented her own area of architecture, which she termed “material ecology” to describe her interest in building with biological forms. Examples of her work include the Silk Pavilion, spun by silkworms released onto a nylon frame, and G3DP, the first 3D printer for optically transparent glass and a set of glasswork produced by it. Oxman is currently an Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is in great demand as a speaker and publisher.  

Photos left to right: Neri Oxman by Noah Kalina; The Silk Pavilion via ArchDaily; Mediated Matter glassworks

 

3) Julia Morgan (1872-1957)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julia Morgan was a true trailblazer for female architects. She was the first woman admitted to the architectural program at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France and the first woman licensed as an architect in California. She designed over 700 buildings in California during her prolific career, including the stunning Hearst Castle. In 2014, Morgan posthumously became the first woman to receive the AIA Gold Medal.

Photos left to right: Hearst Castle via Smith Collection/Gad/Getty Images (cropped); Julia Morgan. 

 

4) Eileen Gray (1878-1976)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gray’s contributions to architecture were largely overlooked for many years, but she’s now considered one of the pioneers of the Modern Movement. Gray worked as an architect and furniture designer at the turn of the 20th century. Her work influenced many of her contemporaries including Le Corbusier, who famously attempted to sabotage her modern masterpiece E-1027 (above, restored) by painting a series of colorful, highly sexual murals on the pure white panes of the house.  

Photos left to right: E-1027 via ArchDaily; Eileen Gray

 

5) Liz Diller

American architect Liz Diller blurs the lines between art and architecture. Some of her fabulous ideas were too outrageous to be built – such as a 2013 proposal to build an inflatable bubble to be seasonally applied to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC.  Diller is a founding partner of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the firm that famously transformed an abandoned Manhattan railway line into the High Line Park which attracts eight million visitors a year. Diller’s work in public spaces range from the theoretical to the practical, and she continues to push boundaries and further blur the lines between media, medium, and structure. 

Photos left to right: Liz Diller by Unagno & Agriodimas LLC./Ugano Agriodimas: The Broad Museum in Los Angeles via Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Rockwell Group; High Line in New York City via Iwan Baan

 

6) Maya Lin

Known for her large, minimalist sculptures and monuments, Lin received national recognition at the age of 21 when her design was chosen for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington DC. It is considered one of the most influential memorials of the post-World War II period. Lin graduated from Yale University and currently owns and operates Maya Lin Studio in New York City. She has worked on a number of high-profile installations including the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama (1989) and the Wave Field outdoor installation at the University of Michigan (1995).

Photos left to right: Maya Lin via Time; Vietnam Veterans Memorial via 506thcurrahee; Civil Rights Memorial

 

7) Beverly Loraine Greene (1915-1967)

Chicago-born architect Beverly Greene became the first African-American woman licensed to practice architecture in Illinois, and likely the country, in 1942. Throughout her impressive career Greene worked with the Chicago Housing Authority, designed the massive Stuyvesant Housing Project, and collaborated with Marcel Breuer to design the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.

Photos left to right: Beverly Loraine Greene's Senior Portrait c. 1935, Courtesy of the University of Illinois Archives; Stuyvesant Housing Project via Getty Images; UNESCO Headquarters via Flickr

 

8) Norma Sklarek (1926-2012)

Dubbed the “Rosa Parks of architecture,” Sklarek became an architectural trailblazer in New York and California, and was the first female architect licensed in both states. She was one of only two women in her 1950 graduating class at Columbia University. Sklarek worked for a number of high-profile firms including Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Gruen and Associates, and Welton Becket Associates. While at Welton Becket she oversaw the $50 million renovation of Terminal One at LAX in advance of the 1984 Olympics and went on to co-found the largest woman-owned architecture firm of its day.

Due to her race and gender, much of Sklarek's work went unrecognized and credit was given mainly to her male collaborators. Only the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo has acknowledged her contributions. 

Photos left to right: Sklarek at at the Los Angeles office of Gruen Associates, photo Courtesy Gruen Associates; Embassy of the United States in Tokyo, Japan.

 

9) Kazuyo Sejima

Born in Japan, Sejima is known for her modernist designs with slick, clean lines and shiny surfaces. Her work features various square and cubic designs with large windows and natural light. She has worked on projects all over the world including The River Building at Grace Farm in New Canaan, Connecticut and the New Museum in New York City. In 2010 Sejima became the second woman to receive the Pritzker Prize.

Photos left to right: Kazuyo Sejima; Police box outside Chofu Station in Tokyo; The River Building at Grace Farm in New Canaan, Connecticut

 

10) Gae Aulenti (1927-2012)

Born in Italy in 1927, Aulenti was a prolific architect whose work included industrial and exhibition design, furniture, graphics, stage design, lighting and interior design. She’s known for several large-scale projects including the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Contemporary Art Gallery at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the restoration of Palazzo Grassi in Venice, and the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. She was one of the only women designing in post-war Italy, and her work has received numerous awards around the world.

Photos left to right: Gae Aulenti in 1986; restored of Palazzo Grassi; Centre Pompidou