Valve Pormeister

Part 16 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

One of the first women to practice architecture in Estonia, Valve Pormeister (1922-2002) gained wide recognition for her ecological approach to Nordic Modernism. After first studying landscape architecture at Tartu University and the Estonian State Art Museum, and briefly working in landscape design, she heeded the state’s need for greater numbers of architects in the post-Stalinist era and started designing buildings. Her earliest significant work was completed for the Estonian Agricultural Project (Eesti Põllumajandusprojekt), a state design institute, in rural areas. Pormeister’s first project was a segue way between her professions: an exhibition building in Tallinn called the Flower Pavilion (1960). Modernist in spirit, it was amenable to the rolling landscape in its tiered form stepping up the hill and use of natural materials like local stone. Potentially inspired by Finnish modernism, it led to similar garden pavilions, and then to bigger projects still tied to the earth in functional, as well as formal, ways, each of which tended toward accommodating both modernist and regionalist tendencies: a Botanic Garden (Talinn, 1963), the Kurtna Poultry Farm (1966, above), Estonian Research and Land Reclamation Research Institute pavilion (Saku, 1969), Plant Protection Center (Saku, 1975), a State Farm Technical School (Jäneda, 1975), breeding and veterinary buildings for livestock (Saku, 1977), a state farm canteen (Audru, 1978), the Institute of Cattle Breeding and Veterinary Science (near Tartu, 1984) and an addition for the Estonian Academy of Agriculture (Tartu, 1984).

Pormeister’s talents in architectural and landscape design were recognized through several state awards presented by Estonia and the Soviet SSR. On the occasion of her 50th birthday in 1972, she became the first architect in Soviet Estonia to hold a personal exhibition that, housed in the Flower Pavilion, which was complimented by a flower exhibition of her own design. Her work has been the object of great interest in the preservation movement of modernist architecture; two of her works have been listed as national monuments (the Flower Pavilion in 1997 and the Poultry Farm building and landscape in 2001).

Natalie Griffin de Blois


Part 15 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

Natalie Griffin De Blois (1921-2013) was one of the most successful women in American architectural practice at mid-century, although her contributions to Modernism in America have been eclipsed by the men with whom she collaborated. Born in New Jersey to a family of engineers, De Blois determined from an early age to go into architecture. After education in Oxford, Ohio, she completed her architecture studies at Columbia. The fact that her class of 18 included six women was more about the wartime population than any contemporary increase in gender equity in architectural practice.

De Blois worked primarily at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (first in the New York office and in Chicago after 1961), frequently listed as senior designer or design coordinator for vast headquarters projects including those for Lever (1952), Pepsi (1960, above), and Union Carbide (1960) all New York, the Equitable Life Assurance Company in Chicago (1965), Ford in Dearborn (1956), and the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company in Bloomfield (1957). However, it is the better-known men of SOM, like Gordon Bunshaft, who have historically received all of the credit for their joint work and, in this case, a Pritzker as a result of it (in 1988).

In the same year that De Blois was inducted into the AIA’s College of Fellows–the only woman among the 60 new fellows in 1974–she co-founded Chicago Women in Architecture with Carol Ross Barney, Cynthia Weese, and others. Soon thereafter she removed to Houston, joining Neuhaus & Taylor and six years later starting to teach architecture at the University of Texas. De Blois also led an American Institute of Architects initiative to interview female students in architecture programs around the country to better understand gender disparity in education. In an oral history archived by the Art institute of Chicago, De Blois named being a mentor to other women as one of her greatest contributions to the field.

Mualla Eyüboğlu Anhegger

Part 14 of a month-long celebration of Women’s History Month 

One of the first female architecture students in Turkey, Mualla Eyüboğlu Anhegger (1919-2009) distinguished herself through a career dedicated to the heritage of her country. Born at the close of World War 1, Eyüboğlu grew up during Atatürk’s modernization of Turkey as a new Republic and secular nation-state. After completing her education at the Academy of Fine Arts, University of Istanbul, between 1936-42, she was appointed head of the Construction Department near the capital of Ankara. There, she developed projects for government-sponsored teaching institutes and later taught architecture, drawing, and art history at one of them. Overall, these “village institutes” were part of the modernizing campaign for rural populations.

After teaching urban development for a time at the Academy of Fine Arts in Istanbul, Eyüboğlu found herself politically sidelined with the rise to power of the Democrats. Starting in 1949, she engaged in a new field, taking part in archaeological excavations at the Hittite capital of Yazılıkaya and at Ephesus. These formative experiences, working with people who still lived highly traditional lives with highly traditional buildings, soon led to work with the High Council of Antiquities and Monuments (Gayrimenkul Eski Eserler ve Anıtlar Yüksek Kurulu), completing restorations throughout Turkey on centuries-old buildings including baths (like the Gazi-Mihal-Hamam above), bazaars (Edirne), schools (Buruciye Medrese, Sivas; Zinciriye Medrese, Mardin), mosques (Üç-Şerefeli Mosque, Edirne; Hunat Hatun Mosque, Sivas; Süleymaniye Külliyesi, Istanbul), fortresses (Rumelihisarı, Istanbul), and an extensive, ten-year project on the harem of Topkapı Palace, Istanbul. Except for a brief stint in Amsterdam after her marriage, Eyüboğlu remained committed to the architectural heritage of her country, working on the restoration of Ottoman and Hittite architecture until her retirement in 1981.

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 “Grete” 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.