7 Talented Female Architects Behind Iconic Buildings

7 Talented Female Architects Behind Iconic Buildings

Architecture
By Contractors.com Team May 10, 2021

We don’t need to wait for international women’s month to appreciate all they’ve done for humanity since, well, forever. Unfortunately, some of the biggest talents and most skillful female artists have gone unnoticed throughout history and to some extent still do to this day. There is hope, however, as female artists are starting to finally get the attention they deserve. Those in the colossally interesting and impressive world of architecture are no exception.

There have been many talented female architects throughout history who have created marvelous and revolutionary designs. To this very day, many female architects are creating some of the most iconic pieces of architecture, challenging our ideas of what architecture is and can be. They have changed and marked the world with their impressive creations and artistry.

Elisabeth Scott

Elisabeth Scott was a British 20th-century architect. She became the nation’s first female architect to receive an international architecture award for her work on the Shakespeare Memorial Theater in Stratford-upon-Avon, the writer’s birthplace. This changed the world of architecture, since at the time, in 1927, there were very few women working as architects. Scott’s award-winning design for the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre inspired many other women in her time to pursue architecture and find their own success

The Architect Behind Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon

The Architect Behind Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon

Her take on the gothic architecture design of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was met with both praise and criticism. The musical director Sir Edward Elgar, who was working in the theatre at the time, had reportedly hated the new building design, called Scott an “awful woman”, and refused to work in it. The legendary playwright George Bernard Shaw, on the other hand, sent Scott a telegram to congratulate her on the successful redesign. Most criticisms of the design focused on the building’s size and bulk, which at the time seemed far too cumbersome for the small surrounding town of Stratford-upon-Avon. However, this criticism of the building's bulk has long since passed and the UK government has recognized the building as one of its most important national icons. 

Norma Merrick Sklarek

“The Rosa Parks of Architecture”, Norma Merrick Sklarek

“The Rosa Parks of Architecture”, Norma Merrick Sklarek

Nicknamed “the Rosa Parks of architecture”, Norma Merrick Sklarek was a major figure in 20th-century architecture. She earned the nickname for being the first African American woman to receive an official license in architecture in the states of New York and California.

The Architect Behind Theme Building at Terminal 1, LAX

The Architect Behind Theme Building at Terminal 1, LAX

But she did not make a name for herself simply because she was among the first female African American architects. Sklarek has designed some very iconic buildings throughout the country and beyond, among which are the Pacific Design Center, the flying-saucer-like Theme Building of Terminal One at the Los Angeles International Airport (image above), and the US Embassy in Tokyo. 

The Architect Behind the Pacific Design Center, West Hollywood

The Architect Behind the Pacific Design Center, West Hollywood

Her most celebrated piece of architectural design is the Pacific Design Center (PDC) in West Hollywood, LA. Working with the Argentinean architect César Pelli, Sklarek helped design a beautiful 1.6 million square foot facility, sometimes referred to as “the Blue Whale”. The PDC is divided into three separate sections: Center Blue, Center Red, and Center Green. Its glass exterior glistens in the sun, while the stylistic interior hosts 100 showrooms. These showrooms are used to display countless product lines by famous interior designers, architects, furniture designers, carpenters, decorators, and art dealers.

Dame Zaha Hadid

Who Is Dame Zaha Hadid?

Who Is Dame Zaha Hadid?

Dame Zaha Hadid is one of the most eminent figures in modern architecture. An Iraqi-born British architect, she has completed groundbreaking projects in all corners of the world. Born to a wealthy industrialist family in Iraq, Dame Hadid began her studies in the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. In 1972, she went to study at London’s Architectural Association School of Architecture, after which one of her first steps in architecture was as a lecturer at Oxford and Cambridge. 

The Architect Behind the Galaxy Soho Building

The Architect Behind the Galaxy Soho Building

Her style has been described as “exploding into tiny little pieces'' and she was referred to as the “inventor of the 89 degrees”, as her designs never have any 90-degree angles. It was through these organic and formless designs that her architectural influence spread around the world. Two of her most renowned works are located in China: the Galaxy Soho Building and the Guangzhou Opera House. She was also one of the architects who worked on the Beijing Daxing International Airport, the largest in the world.

The Architect Behind the Guangzhou Opera House

The Architect Behind the Guangzhou Opera House

Her designs are famous for avoiding the traditional shapes and forms of classical architecture and utilize more freeform, which gives them their iconic organic appearance. When you see a building designed by Hadid, you immediately recognize her signature architectural style. This style can very much be applicable to interior design as well, for those looking to have a more organic or biophilic design. While her work didn’t necessarily have a biophilic inclination, the pairing of nature and Hadid’s organic shapes and forms is a match made in heaven for interior design. 

Kazuyo Sejima

The Revolutionary Talent that Is Kazuyo Sejima

The Revolutionary Talent that Is Kazuyo Sejima

The designs of this famous artist have reached all parts of the globe, with a big concentration of her work being located in Japan, her homeland. Kazuyo Sejima is one of Japan’s most preeminent architects. Having won numerous Japanese and international architecture awards, Sejima’s work is undoubtedly very influential. 

The Architect Behind the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York

The Architect Behind the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York

Her designs focus on smooth, sleek surfaces, usually incorporating materials like glass or marble. This is very noticeable in her work on the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. Another very important feature of her architectural approach is how she is able to blend the building with its surroundings to create some breathtaking landscapes. One great example of this is the Rolex Learning Center, a campus hub and library of the École Polytechnique Fédérale polytechnic university in Lausanne, Switzerland. While the hub itself is quite large with a floor area of 37,000 square meters, it is also only 9 meters high which successfully accentuates the building's surroundings. 

The Architect Behind the Rolex Learning Center in Switzerland

The Architect Behind the Rolex Learning Center in Switzerland

Sejima has also made strides to break typical residential housing models by promoting imagination over tradition. Perhaps she can take some amount of credit for the rise in residential interior design careers that we’re seeing and the increasing number of homeowners looking to turn their homes into something revolutionary as opposed to something traditional. Sejima’s work is a good example of how unique architecture styles can play a major role in residential design as well.

Elizabeth Diller

Contemporary Architect Genius, Elizabeth Diller

Contemporary Architect Genius, Elizabeth Diller

Elizabeth Diller is the genius architect who designed The Broad, one of LA’s most beloved contemporary art museums. While she did not work on it alone, as the museum was designed by a design firm she co-founded called “Diller Scofidio + Renfro”, both her firm as well as Diller herself have worked on architectural projects across the country and overseas. Some of their most famous works include The Shed in New York and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. 

The Genius Behind the Broad Art Museum In Los Angeles

The Genius Behind the Broad Art Museum In Los Angeles

Elizabeth Diller and her firm have countless buildings, designs, and installations in their catalog, many of which are college campuses, museums, and theatres. Speaking of installations, Elizabeth Diller is one of the architects behind “The Blur Building” which, as the name implies, is a building that appears blurred thanks to her skilled visual manipulations of matter and its surroundings. It was designed as a temporary pavilion set up for the Swiss Expo 2002. Visitors could venture into the middle of the lake and go into the pavilion which was constantly shrouded in waves of mist rising from the lake below. 

The Genius Behind the Blur Building, Elizabeth Diller

The Genius Behind the Blur Building, Elizabeth Diller

Special nozzles placed all around the pavilion would regularly spurt water, which would cloud the setting and create white noise thanks to the sound of rushing water. The design of this pavilion was aimed at creating a low definition experience, in which guests would have to deal with low visibility and auditory senses. It was a fascinating installation, though, unfortunately, temporary, as it was only there for the expo.

Jeanne Gang

Highlighting Female Architects Behind Iconic Architecture

Highlighting Female Architects Behind Iconic Architecture

Looking at the Aqua Tower from the angle in the image below, it can look as if there are huge puddles of water stuck to the surface of the building. This was the effect that architect Jeanne Gang was going for when she designed this skyscraper in Chicago. This 82-story residential skyscraper is one of the most notorious buildings she has designed. Other famous designs by her are the Vista Tower, the Bengt Sjostrom Theatre, and the University of Chicago Campus North Residential Commons. This goes to show how even the most extravagant designs and architectural styles can make their way into residential buildings.

The Unique Vision Behind the Aqua Tower

The Unique Vision Behind the Aqua Tower

Gang herself is a pioneer in the world of architecture. According to an article by Dezeen, an architecture and design magazine, Jeanne Gang closed the gender gap in her architecture firm back in 2018. In an interview with Studio Gang, she was asked the question of why there were fewer women in architecture and her answer was direct and obvious: smaller wages. It’s safe to say that Jeanne Gang will inspire many women across the world to pursue architecture and other fields of science or art. We just know they will bring their own unique touches to the world as Jeanne Gang is said to have done to the Chicago skyline with her Aqua Tower.

Maya Lin

The Acclaimed Maya Lin, American Architect of Chinese Descent

The Acclaimed Maya Lin, American Architect of Chinese Descent

Last, but most certainly not least, we have Maya Lin, an American architect of Chinese descent with plenty of gorgeous designs in her portfolio. Her most notable piece of design is not a building, but a memorial to one of the darkest wars in American history: the Vietnam War. Lin’s design was submitted for a nationwide design contest for the memorial in 1982. She was only 21 years old when her design won the competition, making her the first female architect and sculptor whose memorial is featured on the National Mall.

The Architect Behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.

The Architect Behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Outside of memorials, the last of which she created in 2010, we also have a little glimpse into Maya Lin’s interior design repertoire through an apartment she designed. This 4,500 square foot Manhattan Upper East Side apartment features a modern, minimalist take on Japanese architecture and features many ornate features. It was sold for a whopping $8.1 million. One of the most notable features in this apartment is the shower that folds away, an example of how Lin’s designs draw inspiration from Japanese origami. Although she is still most recognized for her beautiful memorials, it’s always interesting to discover any architect’s or sculptor’s other hidden talents.

And Many More

There are always more hidden talents and artists for you to discover. While equal representation and recognition of talent in the arts is on the rise, we still have a long way to go before all the talented women of our world gain the recognition they deserve. But we can always start discovering now.

If you want to discover more design talent, check out these black-owned businesses in interior design and home decor that you can appreciate in your own homes today.

Written by
Contractors.com Team

Written by Contractors.com Team