Léonie Geisendorf

Part 13 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Born in Warsaw, Léonie Geisendorf (1914-2016) made her career in Stockholm after seeking her architectural education in Zurich in the years 1933-38. Her move to Sweden was prompted by a partnership with Swedish classmate Paul Hedqvist. After further education at the Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture, she opened another partnership, L. & CE Geisendorf, with her husband, Charles Edouard. Together they designed both private and public work, the latter encouraged and thwarted by Stockholm’s changing views of urban renewal. Geisendorf participated in vast urban schemes but also saw projets (like that for a new catholic church, St. Eugenia) scuttled after regulations were put in place to halt the vast demolitions happening in Stockholm. Undaunted, she continued producing radical schemes that stylistically clashed with the historic buildings of the inner city by channelling her one-time employer, Le Corbusier, including projects for a new parliament proposed nearby the Royal Palace. Realized works in her favored Brutalism include the Villa Delin (1966), and St. Görans Gymnasium, (1970, above).


Matilde Ucelay Maortúa 

Part 12 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Matilde Ucelay Maortúa (1912-2008) was born into an artistic family in Madrid. Starting her education in 1931, she was the only woman in her architectural class at the School of Architecture of the University of Madrid and graduated as the only woman practicing in the country at the time. In addition to the normal obstacles that women faced, her career was stymied due to political charges made against her in the aftermath of the civil war and that resulted in her being barred from practice for a number of years. Still she worked, having associates sign the work. In spite of lingering political challenges, she completed over 100 projects of varying typesin her four decades of practice; many were for large homes for wealthy clients (above). Her pioneering efforts were recognized in 1998 by the Asociación La Mujer Construye; six years later she received broader recognition through the award of the National Architecture Prize, Spain’s highest honor for architects, bestowed either for their portfolio of work or innovative contribution to the profession.

Jane Drew

Part 11 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

English architect Jane Drew (1911-1996) is best known for modernist works completed both in Britain and far afield that reveal forward-thinking and all-too rare (for the time) environmentalism. One of the first women at the Architectural Association, she was later the first woman elected to the Council of the RIBA. At the start of her practice, frustration with sexist hiring practices prompted her to establish a woman-only firm, although she relaxed this approach, in particular when establishing two (consecutive) firms with men, who happened to be her husbands.

Beginning her career with traditional work in a Georgian vein, by the late 1930s she embraced Modernism, eventually participating in the British subsidiary of the CIAM. During the war she worked on air-raid shelters and town planning in the West African colonies. In peacetime her practice included all manner of large civic buildings around the world, including Africa (Mfantsipim School in Ghana, 1947 [above] and the University of Ibadan in Nigeria), Sri Lanka (Lionel Wendt Art Memorial Centre, 1960), Singapore (Shell Headquarters, 1960), Iran (Housing at Masjid-i-Suleiman, 1955), and India (the capital at Chandigarh). The latter is particularly revealing of Drew’s position as one of the great social and environmental thinkers within the Modernist movement. In her under-acknowledged collaboration with Le Corbusier between 1951-53, she persuaded him to reconsider his functionalist zoning to preserve the tradition of workers living over their shops, and criticizing his designs for brise solei, which unfortunately added significant thermal mass to the buildings where they were used. Her insights came from studies of the particularities of each new place she encountered, taking pains to study the climate, ecology and social customs before beginning her design work; she gathered her insights into a series of publications from the 1940s through the 1970s. Drew received multiple honorary degrees from the US, Nigeria, South Africa, and England, was Festschrift-ed for her seventy-fifth birthday, and was named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1996.

Mary Turner Shaw


Part 10 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Before finding multiple niches as a polymath, Melbourne-born Mary Turner Shaw (1906-1990) drifted through a tony boarding school and Oxford. By 1932 she found her focus, cobbling together a five-year program in architecture at the Working Men’s College (where she was allowed to attend evening classes), the Melbourne Architectural Atelier, and the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects. During travels she studied the work of Alvar Aalto and Willem Dudok, which suggests her interest in a certain vein of modernism–one that emphasized the human and regional more so than the mechanistic and international. Back in Australia, Shaw worked as a project manager for an architectural practice and then was employed by the Commonwealth government, the first woman to hold such a position. A skilled administrator, she supervised hospitals and other complex projects. Starting in the 1930s, she collaborated with Frederick Romberg on a number of apartment projects, including the Glenunga Flats of 1941 (above), which conjoin moderne portholes and rendered walls with chunky stone planes in a regionalist vein. By the 1950s she had experience as a policy maker, conducted research into architectural practice, and joined Sydney’s Public Works Department to direct the construction of Commonwealth Migrant Hostels. She shifted from architectural work to historical studies in the 1960s, focusing on ecological and architectural issues. Her many accomplishments were recognized in 1965, when she was named a fellow of both the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects and the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky 

Part 9 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Born into a privileged life in Vienna, Margarete “Grete” Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000) turned connections made possible through her advantageous situation to work for the less fortunate. In 1918 she was the first woman to enroll at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) in Vienna, where she focused her studies on public housing. In her first professional positions she planned settlements for war veterans with Adolf Loos and designed social housing, student housing, schools and kindergartens in the Municipal Building Department in Frankfurt. It was in this context that she designed the renowned “Frankfurt Kitchen” of 1926, a mass-produced and prefabricated “housewife’s laboratory” that manifest her studies of the scientific management studies of Frederick Taylor with typical railroad dining car design. By increasing hygiene, efficiency, and living space in modest apartments, the kitchen also promoted the further effects of allowing women to seek careers and financial independence while spending more time on their personal development and the upbringing of their children. Schütte-Lihotzky’s political leanings became more pronounced as she traveled to Moscow in 1930 with other architects to design vast new settlements for steel workers under Stalin’s five-year plan. Political difficulties and danger prompted a series of moves through the 1930s, from England to France and finally to Turkey. During a return to Vienna in 1938 to participate with the Resistance, she was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned. After her release by US troops in 1945 she worked for Communist clients in China, Cuba, and the GDR. Only in much later life did she receive significant recognition from her home state, including an architecture award from the City Vienna in 1980, the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art in 1992, and the  Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold with Star for Services to the Republic of Austria in 1997.

Amaza Lee Meredith

Part 8 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Amaza Lee Meredith (1895-1984) had a first introduction to building through her father, a master stair builder in Virginia. Any design inclinations that might have been in her DNA were suppressed or ignored in favor of a teaching career. After studying in Virginia and New York, where she earned her master’s degree in fine arts from Columbia, she returned to Virginia in 1935 and founded the Art Department at Virginia State College. In the following decades she exhibited her work in galleries in New York, Virgina, and North Carolina. Without professional education or training, she designed houses for family and friends, a 120-home subdivision in Sag Harbor and, most famously, her own home. Azurest South of 1939 (above) is a striking example of Art Moderne architecture, with smoothly rendered walls, curving ribbons of glass block, roof terraces edged with steel pipes and accessed by a ship’s ladder. All of this would be groundbreaking for any woman, let alone a biracial, and probably gay, woman in the South: one of fewer than 100 African Americans practicing architecture in America in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Margaret Staal-Kropholler

Part 7 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Margaret Staal-Kropholler (1891-1966), like many of the first women in architecture, had no option to study in a formal setting.  But she did have the good luck of having a brother in practice. Staal-Kropholler worked at her brother’s firm, Kropholler en Staal, while attending classes where she could gain admittance as a women: an Arts and Crafts school in Haarlem and evening classes in at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture. She gained a bigger profile in the firm after what must have been tense personal dynamics that led to the departure of her brother, Kropholler, from the firm, and her subsequent marriage to Staal. Working as a partner in the firm, Staal-Kropholler revealed the influence of Arts and Crafts training and thinking through her focus on designs for furniture and other decorative arts, as well as the approach she took to improving the domestic interior both in form and function. In 1913 she created the exhibition Het Huis 1913 for a women’s exhibition in Amsterdam, in which modern domestic amenities made housekeeping more efficient while reserved writing areas served the husband’s and wife’s assumed volunteerism. Echoing in her work for decades, such concerns were not as revolutionary as they might first seem, since her interest in keeping women from “degenerating into overworked, irritable aprons” was as much to save the nerves of husband and children as much as the wife. (It is notable, of course, that the traditional family is assumed in her work). Staal-Kropholler continued to express her ideas on the domestic realm in lectures, articles, and her built work, right through to her final project. Completed independently (as she worked alone after the death of Staal in 1940), the large complex of 170 units serving professional single women was designed and built between 1959-1963 in the Netherlands. Its strict modernism shows the variance of style that characterize the arc of her career. An early project in 1917, three “boerderettes” (small houses emulating traditional farm buildings) bore a strong vernacular expression that develoeed into the roots of the Amsterdam School; she embraced this  local trend in the 1921 housing project in Holendrechtstraat, Amsterdam (above). Like much of her work in the many decades that she practiced, it shows the necessary dependence–if not, perhaps, preference–for group projects among early female practitioners clearing a professional path in a conservative country.



Lily Isabel Maude Addison


Part 6 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Lily Isabel Maude Addison (1885–1968) was working as a draftsperson in 1908, after which she sought educational experience in building construction and architectural history from the Brisbane Central Technical College. Daughter of George Henry Male Addison, founder of the office G.H.M. Addison & Son, she apparently made some contributions to the firm’s work that are difficult to parse from those of her brother and father. (It is possible that she contributed to the Ithaca Town Council Chambers in Enoggera Terrace dated 1920, above). Although her record is sparse, it includes a few significant developments including her admittance as the first woman to join the Queensland Institute of Architects in 1916. Her appearance here is significant as it shows a woman joining a significant professional body just as the national methods for professional recognition were coming into shape in Australia: the Australian Institute of Architects was founded only in 1929 and it was another decade before the Architects Registration Bill passed. Referring to herself as architect at least from 1922, Addison was among the first of about 100 women (other notables including Muriel Stott, Beatrice Hutton, and Elina Mottram) who practised professionally in Australia in the first half of the twentieth century.

Ella Briggs

0Part 5 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Ella Briggs (1880 – 20 June 1977) born in Vienna, then part of the German Empire. In spite of its progressive reputation, the art scene in Vienna was strictly traditional when it came to gender roles, as a reflection of broader social trends: women artists were not allowed to take part in the fin-de-siecle “Ver Sacrum,” nor the structure of the Secession, nor the Hagenbund, nor the older Künstlerhaus. In 1897 the Viennese Kunstschule für Frauen und Mädchen was established to provide education for women who were welcome in few other places. Briggs pursued training in painting at the Viennese Women’s Employment Association and the University of Applied Arts, and then looked far afield to actually begin a career. Moving to the United States between 1903-1916, she worked as an interior designer before returning to Europe to study structural engineering in Salzburg and architecture at the Technical University in Munich. By 1921 she was the first woman to join the Austrian Engineers and Architects Association and the first woman to work as an architect in Austria. In the next years she established herself as an architect of vast residential complexes, completing the Pestalozzihof (above) and Ledigenheim in Vienna, and later Berlin, until 1933. As a Jew, she returned to Vienna for three years before emigrating to England, where she again took up projects for housing cooperatives. Having successfully escaped the Nazis, she worked as a naturalised British citizen from her office in London to the end of her life.