According to a Dezeen article from March 2022, “most of the top 100 global firms in architecture and design still have no women in senior leadership at all. An incredible 52 per cent of the practices in the global top 100 boast exactly zero women at the top table.”
Women in architectural history – like in most of history – have been underrepresented and under-celebrated. The number of us who could name 5 female architects is probably pretty shameful. So here are some must-know names of female architects who paved the way, born between 1600 and 1950. There are far too many wonderful architects to fit into this article.
Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham (1632-1705)
It’s no wonder that some of the earliest accredited female architects are ‘Ladies’ – because they would have had the money and luxurious lifestyle to pursue the craft. Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham was born into the English aristocracy and learned about architecture during her foreign travels. Lady Wilbraham created the architectural drawings for around 400 buildings including her own house – Weston Hall – and was thought to work on eight projects per year. Wilbraham also helped to tutor Sir Christopher Wren in his youth, assisting him with the designs of more than a third of the 52 churches he designed following the Great Fire of London in 1666. In her early career it wasn’t seen as appropriate for a female to be at the building site, so she would send men pretending to be the architect in her place.
Marion Mahony Griffin (1871-1961)
Image via optima.inc
Marion Mahony Griffin was one of the very first officially licensed female architects in the world. She graduated with a degree in architecture at MIT (the second woman ever to do so) and was the first employee of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright (though she was notorious for standing up for herself and her ideas under his employ). She worked on houses around the US and was also a designer and artist to boot. Griffin eventually set up her own practice with her husband and took on huge commissions in Australia and India before returning to the States.
Elisabeth Scott (1898-1972)
Elisabeth Scott was the first British female architect to win an international architecture competition when she designed a rebuild of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. It became the foremost public building in the country to be designed by a woman. Scott teamed up with the Fawcett Society to help fight the discrimination women faced in “typically-male” fields, hired as many women as possible during her Stratford build, and took on mostly female clients. She is one of two women immortalised in the design of the British passport.
Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992)
Image via casatigallery.com
Lina Bo (later Bo Bardi) was an Italian architect who was a key player in the architectural scene in Brazil during the middle of the 20th Century. She created the São Paolo Museum of Art and the SESC Pompéia, co-founded and edited the architectural magazine Habitat in 1950, and founded Brazil’s first industrial design course at the Institute of Contemporary Art.
Norma Merrick Sklarek (1926-2012)
Image via the-modernist-magazine.org
Norma Merrick Skalrek was the first black woman to be a member of the American Institute of Architects as well as the first black female licensed architect in New York and California. She studied at Columbia University, one of only two women and the only African American person to graduate in the class. Skalrek went on to co-found the largest female-only architecture firm in the United States – Sklarek Siegel Diamond. She served as the chair of the American Institute of Architects’ National Ethics Council and was awarded the Whitney Young award in 2008.
Dame Zaha Hadid (1950-2016)
Zaha Hadid was born in Iraq and studied at the American University of Beirut before moving to the UK. She was the first woman to win the international architecture award the Pritzker Prize, won Britain’s premier architectural prize the RIBA Gold Medal, and was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2010. Hadid created incredible buildings from opera houses and sporting centres to sky scrapers and museums.
Author: Verity Babbs