20 Women Architects To Know

Important Women in Architecture and Design

men watching a woman speak to an audience
Neri Oxman Speaks at Milan Design Week 2017. Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images for Lexus

The role that women have played in architecture and building has been historically overlooked. Many organizations have supported women to overcome obstacles, establish highly successful architecture careers, and design landmark buildings and urban settings. Check out the lives and works of these trailblazers from the past and present day.

01
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architect Zaha Hadid, long dark hair, arms folded, stanind in front of grey building and shiny sculpture
Zaha Hadid in 2013. Photo by Felix Kunze/WireImage/Getty Images (cropped)

Born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1950, London-based architect Zaha Hadid won the 2004 Pritzker Architecture Prize — the first woman ever to receive architecture's highest honor. Even a selected portfolio of her work shows an eagerness to experiment with new spatial concepts. Her parametric designs encompass all fields, ranging from architecture and urban spaces to products and furniture. While in the hospital being treated for bronchitis, she died of a heart attack in 2016 at the young age of 65. More »

white-haired white woman with glasses
Architect Denise Scott Brown in 2013. Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Lilly Awards/Getty Images Entertainment Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

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 intelligence to design. However, born in 1931, Denise Scott Brown had already made important contributions to the field of urban design before she met and married Robert Venturi. Although Venturi won the Pritzker Architecture Prize and appears more frequently in the spotlight, Scott Brown's research and teachings have shaped modern understanding of the relationship between design and society. More »

03
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Neri Oxman

young, white, dark-haired woman, gesturing while speaking
Dr. Neri Oxman. Photo by Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit (cropped)

Israeli-born visionary Neri Oxman (b. 1976) 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, a true living building. “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.” As an Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oxman is in great demand with speaking engagements, graduate students, and experimentations that she'll come up with next.

aerial view of Hearst Castle complex, with pools and outbuildings along a California hillside
Julia Morgan-Designed Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California. Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images (cropped)

Julia Morgan (1872-1957) 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 Architect's highest honor. More »

05
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modern home on rocky hillside near water
Villa E-1027 Designed by Eileen Gray in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France. Photo by Tangopaso, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons, (CC BY-SA 3.0) Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (cropped)

The contributions of Irish-born Eileen Gray (1878-1976) 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 Eileen 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. More »

06
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Amanda Levete

blonde women dressed in white and black sitting on a wooden sculptural bench
Amanda Levete, Architect and Designer, in 2008. Photo by Dave M. Benett/Getty Images

"Eileen Gray was firstly a designer and then practised architecture," notes Amanda Levete at the Victoria and Albert Museum. "For me it's the reverse."

Welsh-born architect Amanda Levete (b. 1955), Czech-born architect Jan Kaplický, and their architectural firm, Future Systems, completed an iconic blobitecture structure in 2003. Most of us 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 continuing 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." Connections across thresholds are what defines Levete's life, because the "rich field" of architecture "embodies everything it is to be human."

07
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Elizabeth Diller

white, middle-aged woman with short dark hair and glasses at a podium with microphone
Architect Elizabeth Diller in 2017. Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for New York Times

American architect Liz Diller (b. 1954 Poland) is always sketching, according to The Wall Street Journal. She uses colored pencils, black Sharpies, and rolls of tracing paper to capture her ideas. Some of her ideas have been outrageous and never built — like the 2013 proposal for an inflatable bubble to be seasonally applied to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.

Some of Diller's dreams 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 being 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, this "architecture of atmosphere" erased the occupant's visual and acoustic cues — "stepping into a medium that's formless, featureless, depthless, scaleless, massless, surfaceless, and dimensionless." A weather station was built to regulate the water flow. A smart, electronic Braincoat that was to be worn while experiencing the installation remained a theoretical idea and was not built.

Liz Diller is a founding partner of Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Along with husband Ricardo Scofidio, Elizabeth Diller 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

white woman speaking into a microphone
Architect Annabelle Selldorf in 2014. Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage/Getty Images (cropped)

She's been called a modernist of "interesting plainness" and "a kind of anti-Daniel Libeskind." German-born New York architect Annabelle Selldorf (b. 1960) began her architecture 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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Asian woman receives a medal on a blue ribbon by a tall African-American man near a U.S. flag
U.S. President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Artist and Architect Maya Lin in 2016. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images (cropped)

Trained as an artist and an architect, Maya Lin (b. 1959) 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. More »

Norma Sklarek's long career marked 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, Norma Sklarek (1926-2012) became a model for rising young architects. More »

11
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white woman, heavy eye makeup, red lipstick, frizzy hair, smiling
Architect Odile Decq in 2012. Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

Born in 1955 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 now has started her own school in Lyon, France called Confluence Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture. More »

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 took over much of Wright's work as the more famous architect was in personal turmoil. By completing projects such as the Adolph Mueller House in Decatur, Illinois, Mahony and her future husband contributed greatly to Wright's career. Shortly later, she also contributed to the success of the career of her husband, Walter Burley Griffin. MIT-trained architect Marion Mahony Griffin (1871-1961) was born and died in Chicago, Illinois, although most of her professional married life was spent in Australia. More »

13
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Kazuyo Sejima

Japanese woman, glasses, thin, in front of a microphone, wearing earphone headset
Archhitect Kazuyo Sejima in 2010. Photo by Barbara Zanon/Getty Images

Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima (b. 1956) 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 Pritzker Jury called them "cerebral architects" and their work "deceptively simple."

Anne Griswold Tyng (1920-2011), scholar of geometric design, began her architectural career collaborating with Louis I. Kahn in mid-twentieth century Philadelphia. Like many other architectural partnership, the team of Kahn and Tyng yielded more success for Kahn than the partner who enhanced his ideas. More »

As Director of the Planning Unit at Knoll Furniture, architect Florence Knoll designed interiors as she might design exteriors — by planning spaces. From 1945 to 1960, professional interior design was born, and Knoll was its guardian. Florence Knoll Bassett (b. 1917) influenced the corporate board room in many ways. More »

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Anna Keichline

Anna Keichline (1889-1943) was the first woman to become a registered architect of Pennsylvania, but she is best known for inventing the hollow, fireproof "K Brick," which was a precursor to the modern concrete block.

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Susana Torre

Argentine-born Susana Torre (b. 1944) describes herself as a feminist. Through her teaching, writing, and architectural practice, she works to improve the status of women in architecture.

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Louise Blanchard Bethune

Many women designed plans for houses, but Louise Blanchard Bethune (1856-1913) is thought to be the first woman in the United States to work professionally as an architect. She apprenticed in Buffalo, New York, and then opened her own practice and ran a flourishing business with her husband. She has been credited with designing the Hotel Lafayette in Buffalo, New York.

19
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Carme Pigem

white woman, glasses, smiling
Spanish Architect Carme Pigem. Photo © Javier Lorenzo Domíngu, courtesy of the Pritzker Architecture Prize (cropped)

Spanish architect Carme Pigem (b. 1962) became a Pritzker Laureate in 2017 when she and her partners at RCR Arquitectes won architecture's highest honor. “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 Pritzker 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," wrote the Jury. "Their creative approach is a constant intermingling of ideas and continuous dialogue." The Pritzker Prize is often a stepping stone to greater exposure and success, so Pigem's future is just beginning.

20
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Jeanne Gang

white woman, arms crossed, smiling, standing in front a skyscraper she designed
Architect Jeanne Gang and Aqua Tower in Chicago. Photo courtesy of owner John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation licensed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY 4.0) (cropped)

MacArhutr Foundation Fellow Jeanne Gang (b. 1964) may be best known for her 2010 Chicago skyscraper called Aqua Tower. The 82-story mixed use building looks like a wavy sculpture from a distance; close-up 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" when she became a member of the Class of 2011.

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