21 Famous Women Architects

Meet architecture's pioneering female influencers past and present

Neri Oxman
Neri Oxman Speaks at Milan Design Week 2017.

Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images for Lexus

The roles of women in the fields of architecture and design have long been largely overlooked due to gender discrimination. Fortunately, there are professional organizations that support women in overcoming these traditional barriers. Read on to learn more about the women who broke the glass ceiling in the field of architecture, establishing successful careers and designing some of the world's most admired landmark buildings and urban settings.

01
of 21

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 first woman to take home architecture's highest honor, the Pritzker Architecture Prize (2004). Even a selected portfolio of her work displays Hadid's eagerness to experiment with new spatial concepts. Her parametric designs encompass all fields, from architecture and urban planning to product and furniture design.

02
of 21

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 careers. Typically it's the husbands who 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 in the field of urban design prior to meeting 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
of 21

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. She does not simply mimic these elements in her design, but actually incorporates biological components as part of the construction. The resulting buildings are "truly alive."

Oxman, currently a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explains that “since the Industrial Revolution, design has been dominated by the rigors of manufacturing and mass-production... We’re now moving from a world of parts, of separate systems, to architecture that combines and integrates between structure and skin.”

04
of 21

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
of 21

Eileen Gray

Villa E-1027

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

While the contributions of Irish-born architect Eileen Gray were overlooked for many years, 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 ironically, it may have been Le Corbusier's attempt to undermine her 1929 house design at E-1027 that elevated Gray to the status of a true role model for women in architecture.

06
of 21

Amanda Levete

Amanda Levete, Architect and Designer, in 2008

Dave M. Benett/Getty Images

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

Welsh-born architect Levete, Czech-born architect Jan Kaplický, and their architectural firm, Future Systems, completed their blobitecture (blob architecture) chef d'oeuvre, the shiny-disc façade of Selfridges department store in Birmingham, England in 2003. Many people are familiar with the work from an older version of Microsoft Windows in which it's featured as one of the most iconic images in the library of desktop backgrounds—and for which Kaplický seems to have gotten all of the credit.

Levete split from Kaplický and established her own firm, AL_A, in 2009. She and her new design team have continued to "dream across the threshold," building on her past success.

"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
of 21

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—like her 2013 proposal for an inflatable bubble to be seasonally applied to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.—have been so outrageous they've never been built.

However, many of Diller's dreams have been realized. 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 visitors 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 her husband, Ricardo Scofidio, she continues to transform architecture into art. Diller's ideas for public spaces range from the theoretical to the practical, combining art and architecture, and blurring definitive lines that often separate media, medium, and structure.

08
of 21

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. Her design for the structure at 10 Bond Street is one of her best-known creations.

09
of 21

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
of 21

Norma Merrick Sklarek

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

11
of 21

Odile Decq

Architect Odile Decq in 2012

Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

Born in 1955 in France, Odile Decq grew up believing you had to be a man to be an architect. After leaving home to study art history, Decq discovered she had the drive and stamina to take on the male-dominated profession of architecture, and eventually started her own school, the Confluence Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture, in Lyon, France.

12
of 21

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, Marion Mahony Griffin, went on to become the world's first officially licensed female architect. Like many other women in the profession at the time, Griffin's work was often overshadowed by that of her male contemporaries. Nevertheless, it was Griffin who took on much of Wright's work during a period when the famous architect was in personal turmoil. By completing projects such as the Adolph Mueller House in Decatur, Illinois, Griffin contributed greatly to both Wright's career and his legacy.

13
of 21

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 2010 honor as Pritzker Laureates. The jury cited them as "cerebral architects" whose work is "deceptively simple."

14
of 21

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 notoriety for Kahn than for the partner who enhanced his ideas.

15
of 21

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 in which professional interior design was born, Knoll was regarded as its guardian. Her legacy can be seen in corporate boardrooms across the country.

16
of 21

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," a precursor to the modern concrete cinderblock.

17
of 21

Susana Torre

Susana Torre

 Imoisset/WIkimedia Commons

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

18
of 21

Louise Blanchard Bethune

Although she was not the first woman to design plans for houses, Louise Blanchard Bethune is thought to be the first woman in the United States to work professionally as an architect. Bethune apprenticed in Buffalo, New York, then opened her own practice and ran a flourishing business with her husband. She is credited with designing Buffalo's landmark Hotel Lafayette.

19
of 21

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 process they have developed is a true collaboration in which neither a part nor whole of a project can be attributed to one partner," the selection jury wrote. "Their creative approach is a constant intermingling of ideas and continuous dialogue."

20
of 21

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." From a distance, the 82-story mixed-use building looks resembles a wavy sculpture, but up close, the residential windows and porches are revealed. The MacArthur Foundation dubbed Gang's design "optical poetry."

21
of 21

Charlotte Perriand

"The extension of the art of dwelling is the art of living—living in harmony with man's deepest drives and with his adopted or fabricated environment."—Charlotte Perriand

With the encouragement of her mother and one of her high school teachers, Paris-born designer and architect Charlotte Perriand enrolled at the School of the Central Union of Decorative Arts (Ecole de L'Union Centrale de Arts Decoratifs) in 1920, where she studied furniture design. Five years later, several of her school projects were selected for inclusion in the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decortifs et Industriels Modernes.

After completing her studies, Perriand moved into an apartment that she redesigned to include a built-in bar constructed of aluminum, glass, and chrome, as well as a card table with billiard-pocket-style drink holders. Perriand recreated her machine-age designs for an exhibit at the 1927 Salon d’Automne titled “Bar sous le toit” (“Bar under the roof” or "Bin the attic") to great acclaim.

After viewing “Bar sous le toit,” Le Corbusier invited Perriand to work for him. Perriand was tasked with interior designs and promoting the studio via a series of exhibitions. Several of Perriand’s tubular steel chair designs from this time went on to become signature pieces for the studio. In the early 1930s, her work shifted to a more populist perspective. Her designs from this period embraced traditional techniques and materials including wood and cane.

By the mid-1930s, Perriand left Le Corbusier to launch her own career. During World War II, her work turned to military housing and the temporary furnishings they required. Perriand left France just prior to the German occupation of Paris in 1940, traveling to Japan as an official advisor for the Ministry for Trade and Industry. Unable to return to Paris, Perriand spent the rest of the war exiled in Vietnam where she used her time to study woodwork and weaving techniques and was greatly influenced by the Eastern design motifs that would become the hallmark of her later work.

Like famed American Frank Lloyd Wright, Perriand’s incorporated an organic sense of place with design. "I like being alone when I visit a country or historic site,” she said. “I like being bathed in its atmosphere, feeling in direct contact with the place without the intrusion of a third party."

Some of Perriand's best-known designs include the League of Nations building in Geneva, the remodeled offices of Air France in London, Paris, and Tokyo, and the ski resorts at Les Arcs in Savoie.

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