20 Famous Women Architects

Neri Oxman
Neri Oxman Speaks at Milan Design Week 2017.

Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images for Lexus

Because of gender discrimination, the role that women have played in architecture and design has often been overlooked. Fortunately, many organizations have supported women in overcoming professional barriers, allowing them to establish successful careers and design landmark buildings and urban settings. Trailblazers in the field include Marion Mahony Griffin, the first woman to be officially licensed as an architect, and Zaha Hadid, the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

01
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Zaha Hadid

architect Zaha Hadid, long dark hair, arms folded, stanind in front of grey building and shiny sculpture
Photo by Felix Kunze/WireImage/Getty Images (cropped)

Born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1950, Zaha Hadid was the recipient of the 2004 Pritzker Architecture Prize—the first woman ever to receive architecture's highest honor. Even a selected portfolio of her work showed an eagerness to experiment with new spatial concepts. Her parametric designs encompassed all fields, from architecture and urban planning to product and furniture design.

02
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Denise Scott Brown

Architect Denise Scott Brown in 2013

Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Lilly Awards/Getty Images 

Over the past century, many husband-and-wife teams have led successful architectural lives. Typically the husbands attract the fame and glory while the women work quietly and diligently in the background, often bringing a fresh perspective to design. Denise Scott Brown had already made important contributions to the field of urban design before she met and married architect Robert Venturi. Although Venturi won the Pritzker Architecture Prize and appears more frequently in the spotlight, Scott Brown's research and teachings have shaped the modern understanding of the relationship between design and society.

03
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Neri Oxman

Architect Denise Scott Brown in 2013

Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit (cropped)

Israeli-born visionary Neri Oxman invented the term "material ecology" to describe her interest in building with biological forms—not just in design mimicry, but actually using elements of biology as part of the construction, resulting in buildings that are truly alive. “Since the Industrial Revolution, design has been dominated by the rigors of manufacturing and mass-production,” she told architect and writer Noam Dvir. “We’re now moving from a world of parts, of separate systems, to architecture that combines and integrates between structure and skin.” Oxman is currently a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

04
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Julia Morgan

Aerial view of Hearst Castle complex, with pools and outbuildings along a California hillside
Julia Morgan-Designed Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California.

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Julia Morgan was the first woman to study architecture at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France, and the first woman to work as a professional architect in California. During her 45-year career, Morgan designed more than 700 homes, churches, office buildings, hospitals, stores, and educational buildings, including the famous Hearst Castle. In 2014, 57 years after her death, Morgan became the first woman to receive the AIA Gold Medal, the American Institute of Architects' highest honor.

05
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Eileen Gray

Villa E-1027

Tangopaso, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-SA 3.0) 

The contributions of Irish-born architect Eileen Gray were overlooked for many years, but she is now considered one of the most influential designers of modern times. Many Art Deco and Bauhaus architects and designers found inspiration in Gray's furniture, but it was Le Corbusier's attempt to undermine her 1929 house design at E-1027 that has made Gray an important model for women in architecture.

06
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Amanda Levete

Amanda Levete, Architect and Designer, in 2008

Dave M. Benett/Getty Images

"Eileen Gray was firstly a designer and then practiced architecture," says Amanda Levete. "For me it's the reverse."

Welsh-born architect Levete, Czech-born architect Jan Kaplický, and their architectural firm, Future Systems, completed an iconic blobitecture structure in 2003. Many people know the work from an older version of Microsoft Windows—one of the most startling images included as a computer desktop background is the shiny-disc façade of Selfridges department store in Birmingham, England. Kaplický seems to have gotten all of the credit for the work.

Levete split from Kaplický and started her own firm in 2009 called AL_A. Since then she has designed with a new team, building upon her past successes, and continues to dream across the threshold. "Most fundamentally, architecture is the enclosure of space, the distinction between what is inside and outside," Levete writes. "The threshold is the moment at which that changes; the edge of what is building and what is something else."

07
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Elizabeth Diller

Architect Elizabeth Diller in 2017

Thos Robinson/Getty Images for New York Times

American architect Elizabeth Diller is always sketching. She uses colored pencils, black Sharpies, and rolls of tracing paper to capture her ideas. Some of them have been so outrageous they were never built—like her 2013 proposal for an inflatable bubble to be seasonally applied to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.

Many of Diller's dreams, though, have been created. In 2002, she built the Blur Building in Lake Neuchatel, Switzerland, for the Swiss Expo 2002. The six-month installation was a fog-like structure created by jets of water blown into the sky above the Swiss lake. Diller described it as a cross between "a building and weather front." As a person walked into the Blur, it was like "stepping into a medium that's formless, featureless, depthless, scaleless, massless, surfaceless, and dimensionless."

Diller is a founding partner of Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Along with husband Ricardo Scofidio, she continues to transform architecture into art. From the Blur Building to the iconic elevated parkland known as New York City's High Line, Diller's ideas for public spaces range from the theoretical to the practical, combining art and architecture, and blurring any definitive lines that may separate media, medium, and structure.

08
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Annabelle Selldorf

Architect Annabelle Selldorf in 2014

John Lamparski/WireImage/Getty Images (cropped)

German-born architect Annabelle Selldorf began her career designing and recalibrating galleries and art museums. Today she is one of the most sought-after residential architects in New York City. Many locals watched her design at 10 Bond Street take shape, and all they can say is that it's a shame we all can't afford to live there.

09
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Maya Lin

U.S. President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Artist and Architect Maya Lin in 2016

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Trained as an artist and an architect, Maya Lin is best known for her large, minimalist sculptures and monuments. When she was only 21 and still a student, Lin created the winning design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

10
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Norma Merrick Sklarek

Norma Sklarek's long career included many firsts. In both New York State and California, she was the first African-American woman to become a registered architect. She was also the first woman of color honored by a Fellowship in AIA. Through her life's work and her many important projects, Sklarek became a model for rising young architects.

11
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Odile Decq

Architect Odile Decq in 2012

Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

Born in 1955 in France, Odile Decq grew up believing that all architects were men. After leaving home to study art history, Decq discovered that she had the drive and stamina to go her own way in the male-dominated profession of architecture. She eventually started her own school in Lyon, France, called the Confluence Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture.

12
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Marion Mahony Griffin

Marion Mahony (profile) with Catherine Tobin Wright (facing camera), Oak Park, Illinois, c. 1895-1897

Photo by Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images 

Frank Lloyd Wright's first employee was a woman, and she became the world's first woman to be officially licensed as an architect. Like many other women who design buildings, Wright's employee was lost in the shadow of her male associates. Nevertheless, Marion Mahony Griffin took over much of Wright's work when the famous architect was in personal turmoil. By completing projects such as the Adolph Mueller House in Decatur, Illinois, Mahony contributed greatly to Wright's career.

13
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Kazuyo Sejima

Archhitect Kazuyo Sejima in 2010

Barbara Zanon/Getty Images

Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima launched a Tokyo-based firm that designed award-winning buildings around the world. She and her partner, Ryue Nishizawa, have created an interesting portfolio of work together as SANAA. Together, they shared the honor of being 2010 Pritzker laureates. The jury called them "cerebral architects" whose work is "deceptively simple."

14
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Anne Griswold Tyng

Anne Griswold Tyng, a scholar of geometric design, began her architectural career by collaborating with Louis I. Kahn in mid-20th century Philadelphia. Like many other architectural partnerships, the team of Kahn and Tyng yielded more success for Kahn than for the partner who enhanced his ideas.

15
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Florence Knoll

Black and white photo of architect designer Florence Knoll, circa 1955, President of Knoll Designs

Hulton Archive/Getty Images, ©2009 Getty Images cropped

As director of the planning unit at Knoll Furniture, architect Florence Knoll designed interiors as she might design exteriors—by planning spaces. During the period from 1945 to 1960, professional interior design was born, and Knoll was its guardian. Her legacy can be seen in corporate boardrooms across the country.

16
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Anna Keichline

Anna Keichline was the first woman to become a registered architect in Pennsylvania, but she is best known for inventing the hollow, fireproof "K Brick," which was a precursor to the modern concrete block.

17
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Susana Torre

Susana Torre

 Imoisset/WIkimedia Commons

Argentine-born Susana Torre describes herself as a feminist. Through her teaching, writing, and architectural practice, she works to improve the status of women in architecture.

18
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Louise Blanchard Bethune

Although women before her designed plans for houses, Louise Blanchard Bethune is thought to be the first woman in the United States to work professionally as an architect. She apprenticed in Buffalo, New York, then opened her own practice and ran a flourishing business with her husband. Bethune has been credited with designing the Hotel Lafayette in Buffalo, New York.

19
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Carme Pigem

Spanish Architect Carme Pigem

Javier Lorenzo Domíngu, courtesy of the Pritzker Architecture Prize

Spanish architect Carme Pigem made headlines in 2017 when she and her partners at RCR Arquitectes won the Pritzker Architecture Prize. “It is a great joy and a great responsibility," Pigem said. "We are thrilled that this year three professionals, who work closely together in everything we do, are recognized.” The jury cited the role of collaboration in honoring the firm's trio. "The process they have developed is a true collaboration in which neither a part nor whole of a project can be attributed to one partner," they wrote. "Their creative approach is a constant intermingling of ideas and continuous dialogue."

20
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Jeanne Gang

Architect Jeanne Gang and Aqua Tower in Chicago

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation licensed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 4.0) 

MacArthur Foundation Fellow Jeanne Gang may be best known for her 2010 Chicago skyscraper known as Aqua Tower. The 82-story mixed-use building looks like a wavy sculpture from a distance; up close, one sees the windows and porches provided for the residents. To live there is to live in art and architecture. The MacArthur Foundation called the design "optical poetry."