5 Influential Women in Architecture

In this post, we celebrate some of the most influential women in architecture, from Elizabeth Wilbraham to Zaha Hadid.

Article By: Francesca Burke
Last Update: September 2019

Elizabeth Wilbraham (1632–1705)

Elizabeth Lady Wilbraham by Sir Peter Lely portrait

Elizabeth Wilbraham. From Wikipedia

Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham is possibly Britain’s first female architect. She tutored Christopher Wren and may have influenced several of his church designs. Furthermore, recently it has been suggested that around 400 designs previously attributed to men were actually by Wilbraham, including Wotton House and Weston Park stately homes.

Lady Wilbraham was known for her interest in architecture, using her honeymoon in Europe as an opportunity to take an architectural study tour. Women could not pursue careers during the 17th century so it was impossible for Wilbraham to take credit for her work. It’s likely that she used her social position to appoint male architects to carry out the construction of her designs. Consequently, it’s only through recent research that we have an idea of the extent of her influence.

Weston Park today, from http://www.weston-park.com

Dame Zaha Hadid (1950-2016)

British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid was the first female winner the Pritzker Architecture Prize, and the first woman awarded the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. Born in Baghdad in 1950, Hadid studied in Beruit and then London, becoming a naturalised British citizen. Hadid’s architecture is famous for its curves, although her designs attract as much criticism as they do admiration. She described her style by explaining ‘the idea is not to have any 90-degree angles.’ We think she succeeded!

Hadid was made a Dame in 2012 for her work, which includes the London Olympic Aquatic Centre, Michigan State University’s Broad Art Museum, and China’s Guangzhou Opera House. She died in 2016, but her company, Zaha Hadid Architects, continues her work.

Fay Kellogg (1871–1918)

During her lifetime, Fay Kellogg was described as ‘the foremost woman architect in the United States’. She studied architecture at the Pratt Institute in the 1890s, working for an architectural firm in New York before moving to Paris to continue her education. Women were not admitted to her school of choice, Ecole des Beaux Arts, at the time. In fact, Kellogg spent her two years in Paris fighting for women to study there. The school did change its policy, in part to her efforts, but too late for Kellogg to attend herself.

Upon Kellogg’s return to New York in 1900, she designed or worked on several important projects including Park Place in Manhattan, the Woman’s Memorial Hospital in Brooklyn and several railway stations, buildings and cottages.

Fay Kellogg was known for directly supervising all work within 200 miles of New York City and once held an interview in one of her buildings during its construction while she was swaying on a beam nine stories high! Kellogg supported women’s suffrage throughout her life and contributed significantly to the opening of the architecture industry to women.

Fay Kellogg architect portrait

From Wikipedia

Norma Merrick Sklarek (1926-2012)

One of the first African-American women to gain an architecture license in the USA, Norma Merrick Sklarek has been called ‘the Rosa Parks of architecture’ for literally changing the face of the industry.

After obtaining her Bachelor’s Degree in 1950, Sklarek had difficulty finding a job. She later told press, ‘they weren’t hiring women or African Americans, and I didn’t know which it was [working against me].’ She persevered, however, working first in New York and then in California. One of her projects was as director of construction for Terminal One at the Los Angeles International Airport, a $50-million project. Unfortunately, Sklarek could not design most of the buildings she supervised, because African-American architects were unheard of at the time and she was not given the opportunity to fulfil her potential.

Sklarek made history as the first black woman to be elected a fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1980. In 1985 she co-founded Siegel, Sklarek, and Diamond with Margot Siegel and Katherine Diamond, one of the largest all-women architectural firms in America. Active even after she retired, Sklarek served on the California Architects Board and as chair of the AIA’s National Ethics Council.

Marion Mahony Griffin (1871-1961)

Marion Mahony Griffin is arguably one of America’s most influential architects. She was instrumental in spreading the Prairie School style of architecture across continents and in designing the Australian capital Canberra. Mahony graduated MIT in 1894, one of the first women to receive an architecture degree. She was Frank Lloyd Wright’s first employee, working with him closely for 15 years, designing buildings, stained glass windows and furnishings. Mahony’s delicate watercolour renderings of landscapes and buildings became a staple of Wright’s ‘signature’ style, but he did not credit her at the time. It is therefore only now that her impact on the Prairie School style is fully appreciated.

Mahony collaborated with and later married fellow Prairie architect Walter Burley Griffin. In 1914 the Griffins moved to the new Australian capital city Canberra, as they had won an international competition to design the city from scratch. Mahony Griffin’s watercolour perspectives were especially important to their winning the contest. Furthermore, she was responsible for the running of their Sydney office during construction. Later the couple moved to India, where Mahony Griffin oversaw around 100 Prarie School-influenced projects. Walter Griffin died in India in 1937, and Mahony finished their work in India and Australia before returning to America and effectively retiring.

Did we miss any influential women in architecture out of this list? If you have any suggestions, let us know in a comment or on social media!

Related Articles

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.