Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu

Part 25 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Having enjoyed a privileged upbringing in an artistic Ottoman family in Istanbul (including growing up in a waterfront yali designed by Garabet Balyan), Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu (b. 1955) first studied computer science before turning to art history and interior design. After graduating from the Inchbald School of Design, London, she founded the firm ZF Design to arrange collaborations among designers working in luxury restaurants, homes and hotels in Qatar, northern Europe, India and Turkey.

Her most notable work came from an opportunity to step in for architect Hüsrev Tayla to complete the design of the Şakirin Mosque in Istanbul (2009, above). A striking design for a project that requires significant adherence to convention, the mosque is a notable example of her commitment to fusing modern understanding with traditional values. It is highly significant as the first mosque in Turkey to be designed by a woman.

Clara de Buen Richkarday

Part 24 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

After graduating from the Universidad Iberoamericana, Clara de Buen Richkarday (b. 1954) worked in the offices of architects Francisco Serrano and Carlos Mijares before joining the firm Despacho Nuño, Mac Gregor y de Buen Arquitectos S. C. in 1984. She and her partners address the holistic urban experience, considering their work as “city weavers.” Rejecting the idea of experts dictating to the public, Richkarday emphasizes listening to clients to achieve culturally relevant, sustainable projects from museums and theatres to senior housing and metro stations. Her work has been recognized with a gold medal from the International Academy of Architecture and a prize from the city of Frankfurt am Main.

Zaha Hadid

Part 23 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Zaha Hadid (1950-2016) was the most famous and sought-after woman architect ever. Like the vast majority of women included in this month’s study, she was born into a privileged family (hers in Iraq) with liberal and artistic leaning. Their support allowed her primary education in England, Switzerland, and Beirut, followed by professional studies at the Architectural Association in London. There, she distinguished herself as a superstar in need of her own firmament. After work with OMA in Rotterdam, she opened her own firm in 1980 and, again like many women here, conjoined teaching and practice (much of it unbuilt work that existed only in publication–like the Peak of 1983, above). She gained even wider renown when she appeared in the name-making Deconstructivism show at MOMA in 1988. Her career quickly took off in the following decade through competitions and commissions in the US, Europe, and the UAE; in the new millennium her reach expanded through Asia (China, Azerbaijan, South Kora, Hong Kong) and into diverse design fields, from shoes to yachts.

The first woman to receive the Prizker Prize (in 2004, having only completed four buildings of relatively small size) and RIBA’s Gold Medal (2015), she also won the Stirling Prize (twice: 2010 & 2011), was knighted (2012), and picked up other significant honors along the way (like the Republic of France’s Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and Japan’s Praemium Imperiale).

Hadid’s impact was global; her legacy profound. And yet her identity always included the asterisk, always the modifier, always the adjective (as succinctly stated by Gloria Steinem: Whoever has power takes over the noun – and the norm – while the less powerful get an adjective.) Her explosive creativity was heralded but constantly gendered, even by the press that fawned over her: “queen of the curve,” reminding readers both of the female body and its secondary position to a true ruler (if one associates the phrase with medieval lore, rather than the potential power of the chess piece). Even stupid Wikipedia does her the disservice of including her in a gendered subheading within their entry on “Iraqi Architects” (below). Hadid died knowing that in spite of having achieved everything a male peer might have aspired to (not only as the most prominent woman in practice but also the most famous Arab architect in the world), she remained on the outskirts of a world dominated by fraternities in which she–and so many others–remain unwelcome.

Yasmeen Lari

Part 22 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Yasmeen Lari (b. 1941) is a groundbreaking architect making a great impact through a second act focused on social justice. Born near Lahore, Lari studied architecture in England, graduating from Oxford Brookes University. Returning to Pakistan in 1964, she became the first woman to found an architectural practice there. She worked on housing and commercial projects like this giant, modernist hotel in Karachi and other big developments in Pakistan’s biggest city as she built a successful business.

After her retirement from conventional practice in 2000, Lari turned her talents to serving a significantly different sector. Founding an NGO (the Heritage Foundation Pakistan), she went to work in disaster relief and cultural conservation throughout her home country. In this role she has built over 36,000 houses for residents left homeless from floods and earthquakes. Her projects make use of traditional techniques and indigenous materials to be both economically feasible and psychologically comforting. This work has been the basis of her books on squatter settlements, Muslim heritage, traditional architecture, and also guides to architecture in major cities.

Lar’s work has been recognized by the United Nations, the Sitara-e-Imtiaz from the Government of Pakistan, the Fukuoka Prize for Arts and Culture, and a television program (“Rebel Architecture”) produced by Al Jazeera and focusing on architecture as activism.

Ruth Rivera Marín


Part 21 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Ruth Rivera Marín (1927-1969) was born in Mexico City to famous parents, novelist María Guadalupe Marín Preciado and muralist Diego Rivera. As the first woman to enroll in the College of Engineering and Architecture at the National Polytechnic Institute, Marín graduated in 1950 as an engineer-architect. By that time she had already begun teaching painting, beginning a life’s work engaged broadly in the arts and arts education. After studying urban planning in Rome, in 1952 she returned to her alma mater as a teacher of architectural theory and urban planning. Through 1964 she led planning for the Mexican Secretariat of Public Education for rural schools and continued penning a significant body of scholarship with writings focused on architecture, urbanism, planning and heritage.

She also collaborated on the design of significant cultural institutions, including the Museo Nacional de Arte (MUNAL), El Museo Experimental El Eco, and the Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli, all in Mexico City. The Anahuacalli Museum (above) was founded to house her father’s extensive collection of pre-Hispanic art and material culture. Built of black volcanic stone, its form follows traditional indigenous architecture, especially that of the Teotihuacan culture. Between 1959 and 1967, Marín exercised her interest in the maintenance of cultural heritage through a series of adaptive reuse projects including the Regional Artesan’s Museum and Cultural Center (formerly a prison), the Cultural Center Ignacio Ramírez (formerly a convent), the Museo de la Revolución (formerly a house) and the San Carlos Museum of European Painting (formerly a palace). Her interest in cultural institutions led to her association with many organizations, including the International Union of Women Architects (which she served as president). After her death, the Architecture Center at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes was named in her honor.

Norma Merrick Sklarek

Part 20 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

In a trailblazing list of firsts, Norma Merrick Sklarek (1926-2012) was the first black woman to be licensed to practice architecture in the US–specifically, in the states of New York and California (1954 and 1962, respectively)–and the first to be elected a fellow fo the AIA (1980). Born in Harlem, New York, Sklarek credited her father, a physician born in the Caribbean, for teaching her carpentry skills and inspiring her interest in architecture during the Great Depression. After high school, Sklarek attended Barnard College before completing her architecture degree at Columbia in 1950 with only one other woman as a classmate in the program. Yet her credential was not enough to overcome her race, and she failed to find work in an architecture office, even after applying to nineteen of them.

Instead, she went to work for the New York Department of Public Works until 1954, when she earned her architecture license. Soon thereafter she started her rise through the administrative structure of many of the country’s biggest firms. Her roles tended to be managerial, since design leadership required client presentations, which was still seen as an unacceptable role for a black woman, as her obituary attests. In 1955, Sklarek was hired at SOM and stayed there until her move in 1960 to Los Angeles to work at Gruen and Associates. During her two decades there, she earned high rank as director, working closely with César Pelli, who was partner there 1968–1976. At Gruen, Sklarek oversaw staff, coordinated major projects including the Pacific Design Center (1975, above), San Bernardino City Hall (1972), and Embassy of the US in Tokyo (1972), each of which is credited to Pelli. Between 1980 and 1985 she worked for Welton Becket Associates, directing the construction for Terminal One at LAX, for which she was given credit as project director. In 1985 Sklarek founded a female-led firm (Siegel, Sklarek, and Diamond) that found quick success. Four years later she joined Jon Jerde Partnership as principal. She specialized in commercial developments and shopping malls (like the Mall of America, 1989) until her retirement in 1992.

Xiu Zelan

Part 19 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Born in Hunan Province, China, Xiu Zelan (1925-2016) studied engineering and architecture at the National Central University in nearby Chongqing. After her graduation in 1947, she first found work as an engineer in the local railway bureau. After moving to Taiwan three years later she designed her first independent architecture project, a new railway station at Pan-ch’iao. Its success allowed her to found her firm, Tse-ch’un Architecture, under whose banner she designed such public projects as teachers’ clubs, libraries, and schools.

Blending modern conveniences with traditional motifs, her work caught the attention of Chiang Kai-shek, then leader of the Republic of China, who had established his New Life Movement almost thirty years before commissioning a project of her in 1965. The Chung-shan building on Yang-ming-shan was designed to house official state ceremonies for the National Assembly of the Republic of China. As a symbol of modern China, the sprawling hall of over 190,000 square feet, adorned with traditional hand-crafted lighting and furniture, manifest Chiang’s nationalism in the face of domestic, Western and Japanese threats; its design was recorded on the 100 New Taiwan dollar bill (above).

In later decades and with a rising profile as one of the first women to practice architecture in Taiwan, Xiu designed internationally, including extensive work in Saudi Arabia, as well as garden cities in the Taipei suburbs (the latter with her husband, Fu Chi-k’uan).

Nina Alexandrovna Aleshina

Part 18 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Nina Alexandrovna Aleshina (1924-2012) studied music and architecture before graduating in 1950 with her degree from the Moscow Institute of Architecture. After working for a time with an architect who was involved with big government projects in the capital like the metro and the Seven Sisters, she also engaged large civic projects, including the metro system, for which she was the chief architect from 1981-1991.

Also author of a book on the metro system, Aleshina is listed as the lead architect of nineteen specific stations, for which she provided designs and oversaw construction, beginning with the  Vorobyovy Gory station in 1959 and beyond the Chkalovskaya station of 1983 (above). While certain functional commonalities exist among them all, each remains a highly individualized design. As a group, the stations reveal a broad material palette: concrete, brick, tile, granite, aluminum, bronze, and marble of every imaginable color. Lighting systems vary from large and showy custom-made hanging lamps to sleek hidden fixtures. As a significant part of travelers’ experience, ceilings of the platform areas received special attention. Each station revealed a specific and unique aesthetic, many drawn from recognizable Soviet themes: patterns drawn from Ryazan embroidery and other folk motifs, nature scenes featuring bears and reindeer, and homages to famous Russians like the chemist whose work prefiguring the periodic table is portrayed in cast panels and a famous aviator whose namesake station features stylized welded elements, arches and pylons like wings and fuselages. In a more abstract vein, the 1979 Marksistskaya station–one of her personal favorites–was designed to convey the purity and simplicity of Marxist ideology (see it here, here, and here).

Recipient of the state medal For Labor Valor, Aleshina received prestigious awards throughout her career, including designation as Honored Architect of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, Knight of the Order of the Badge of Honour.

Urmila Eulie Chowdhury

Part 17 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

One of the first women to qualify to practice architecture in Asia, Urmila Eulie Chowdhury (1923-95) was educated broadly as a diplomat’s daughter. After to travels and studies in Japan, the United States, and Australia–where she earned a degree in architecture from the University of Sydney in 1947–she went to work as an architect for the Government of Punjab. Just four years after India’s independence, in 1951 she was swept into the vast team of local architects, headed by Drew and Fry and Le Corbusier, working on the new capital at Chandigarh. In particular, she designed the Home Science College, the Women’s Polytechnic (above), and housing for ministers. She also provided translation services for Le Corbusier, who could not understand English. Later she would complete formal translations of Corbusier’s writings into English, and write for significant professional journals like Progressive Architecture and Casabella.

Finding a niche in administration, between 1963-65 Chowdhury directed the School of Architecture in Delhi and filled increasingly significant government positions as Chief State Architect of Haryana (1970-76) and Punjab (1976-81) provinces. Member of both the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Indian Institute of Architects, she founded the French Alliance Le Corbusier of Chandigarh. Chowdhury is at the center of a very recent turn in India to reconsider its architectural history from a feminist point of view, and to seek contributions from women that have been otherwise overlooked.