These Are the Women Who Changed Modern Architecture

The authors of a new volume take a permanent marker to architecture’s male-dominated history books, boldly underscoring the profound achievements of more than 100 women.

Even before editor and historian Jan Cigliano Hartman began studying the history of architecture in the 1970s, she was well aware of the stark imbalance in printed knowledge between women and men architects. Forty years later and things still hadn’t changed.

"I was Googling general architectural subjects—architects under 40; architects at 80; architecture’s top award winners—and I found that 95 percent or more of the names that came up were men," explains Hartman. "Yet, I knew of plenty of influential work by women. I also knew that many of their stories were buried under the weight of their dominant and more prominent male peers."

The Women Who Changed Architecture documents the triumphs and challenges of female architects, and their impact on the built environment. It features essays and biographies by Jan Cigliano Hartman, Beverly Willis, and Amale Andraos, and is published by Princeton Architectural Press.

It became clear the issue wasn’t going to disappear on its own, so she  decided to do something about it. Hartman and Amale Andraos, a New York designer and former dean at the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, are the authors of new book The Women Who Changed Architecture, a collective biography highlighting 122 architects from 28 countries whose works have significantly influenced the trajectory of the built environment. Some names herein will be familiar—Eileen Gray, Charlotte Perriand, Florence Knoll, and Zaha Hadid. But many more had gone largely unrecognized despite their impressive achievements and contributions.

"This book will bring female architects into the central narrative," Hartman says. "Students will now hear about Lilly Reich’s pivotal role in the design of Mies van der Rohe’s world-renowned chairs and Barcelona Pavilion, and Anne Tyng’s hand in the interior design of Louis Kahn’s Yale University Art Gallery and Design Center. And what about the many female associates of Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio? They are unsung heroes."

Read on for a sampling of the many works Hartman brings to light, or grab your own copy of the new volume that sets the record straight on the history of modern architecture.

Julie Snow

Julie Snow was born in Minnesota in 1948 and realized her passion for architecture while attending the University of Colorado. In 1989, she founded James Snow Architects with Vincent James, and, in 1995, opened her own firm, Julie Snow Architects. "I would pursue projects that had some visionary leader at the helm," she says. "If you had a vision, if you had an idea of what architecture needed to do, then I would make it happen." In 2014, Snow named firm-veteran Matthew Kreilich as coprincipal, and the firm became Snow Kreilich Architects. Today, about half of Snow Kreilich’s employees are women or minorities.

Judith Chafee

Judith Chafee’s family home—an adobe house in Tucson—became the inspiration for her career. Most of Chafee’s designs were residential, although she won an award for a hospital design in 1959 while studying at Yale University where she was the only woman in her class. Because the award ceremony was held in a men’s club, she had to enter through the kitchen. After completing her education, Chafee practiced for a decade in the Northeastern U.S. with such preeminent modernists as Walter Gropius, Sarah Harkness, Eero Saarinen, and Paul Rudolph. She started her own private practice in Arizona in 1970, and her work combined an interest in Sonoran desert landscapes and endemic materials with a strong sense of place and the use of light. Chafee never secured major public commissions during her career, which scholars speculate was due to a perception of her as obstinate. In other words, some gender bias was likely at play.

Toshiko Mori

As a teenager in Japan, Toshiko Mori was passionate about science, engineering, art, and philosophy, but she chose to study architecture because it combined those subjects in a fascinating way. She studied at Cooper Union during the 1970s and, upon graduation, worked for modernist Edward Larrabee Barnes, a student of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. In 1995, Mori became the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s first tenured female professor. She speculates that because she was fortunate enough to be mentored by "men who shared similar values," she only recently became fully conscious of herself as a "woman architect." Mori says she is excited to see how women will continue to bring "fresh and creative" viewpoints to the profession.

Meg Graham

Meg Graham, born in 1971, traces her commitment to sustainable design back to her time at the University of Waterloo. While working on her thesis, she was awarded the AIA Award for Excellence for the design of a therapeutic bath complex. Later, in 2003, Graham graduated with distinction from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, she worked as project designer for the firm KPMB, where she met her husband and future collaborator, Andre D’Elia. In 2005, she joined D’Elia as coprincipal of Superkül, a Toronto architecture practice founded on the criteria of ease of construction, durability, and sustainability. More recently, however, Graham and D’Elia have been concerned with questions of affordability. Graham recognizes that advocacy is a critical component of transforming the built environment and insists on incorporating design at the level of city policy. Between 2005 and 2006, Graham acted as a special advisor to the mayor’s Beautiful City initiative to improve Toronto’s green standards. Currently, she’s working with the city to improve its built environment.

Jeanne Gang

"When I began practicing, not much attention had been paid to tall buildings for quite a while beyond the realm of corporate architecture," explains Jeanne Gang, founder of her Chicago-based firm Studio Gang. "I thought they deserved to be considered in a new way, and there seemed to be a lot of fertile territory not yet explored." Since designing the eighty-two-story Aqua Tower in 2010, Studio Gang has continued to create sculptural skyscrapers that reject the traditionally hermetic environments of their predecessors by, for instance, extending the indoor/outdoor threshold of each unit with terraces that stand in for traditional porches. Over the past 20 years, the firm has grown to more than 130 people working from offices in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Paris. At her firm, Gang discovered and fixed a small but unexpected pay gap between men and women, and called on other leaders to do the same. "Equal pay puts you at the same level," she says. "It’s the key to being respected by your peers."

Deborah Berke

Deborah Berke is widely considered a minimalist. Yet that label belies the extraordinary care she has taken in choosing materials and creating details for every building she’s designed over the last 40 years. "I worry that minimalism may be shorthand for things being spare," she says. "My idea behind the understated nature of the work is that you can find something new each time you visit." In 2016, Berke became dean of the Yale University School of Architecture, where she had been teaching since 1987. She’s familiar with the challenges women face, but sees a much larger issue: architecture’s lack of representation when it comes to race, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and the narrow profile that architect-designed buildings serve.

Carol Ross Barney

Born in Chicago in 1949, Carol Ross Barney distinctly remembers as a child hearing John F. Kennedy talk about the importance of helping one’s country—and she felt that architecture was a way to do that. After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1971, she decided to enter the Peace Corps with her husband. They were assigned to Costa Rica, which she says was "the first place I was thrust into sustainability." Upon returning to Chicago, Ross Barney joined architecture firm Holabird and Root. Later, in 1973, she cofounded Chicago Women in Architecture and served as the group’s first president. She then started a solo practice in 1981 before partnering with college classmate James Jankowski in 1982, when they formed Ross Barney and Jankowski. "This is a really hard profession," says Ross Barney, "and I eventually did learn that being a woman in architecture is part of the hill you have to climb. But I never regretted my choices."

Lisa Iwamoto

From the time she was a teenager, Lisa Iwamoto saw architecture as a career that would allow her to be both creative and analytical. While practicing ballet, she earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Colorado, and later worked for several years as a structural engineer at Bechtel Corporation in San Francisco. Yet she still knew she wanted to pursue a degree in architecture. In the late 1980s, she met her future husband and business partner, Craig Scott, in San Francisco. In 1989, they both matriculated at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and, in 2002, they founded IwamotoScott Architecture. Iwamoto also teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. She is known as a pioneer in the field of digital fabrication, which involves the transfer of design from a computer to the machinery that creates building components. She constructed the first digital fabrication lab at UC Berkeley in the early 2000s. Her book Digital Fabrications: Architectural and Material Techniques was published in 2009. Not surprisingly, her and her husband’s firm has won several awards.

Lene Tranberg

Lene Tranberg, born in Copenhagen in 1956, studied under the renowned Danish architect Erik Christian Srensen at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. A year before graduating in 1977, she founded Lundgaard and Tranberg Architects with fellow architect Boje Lundgaard, and the two eventually married. Sustainable and energy-efficient solutions have been a recurring theme throughout Tranberg’s career. Throughout the 1990s, her and her husband’s firm focused on developing an innovative design approach by collaborating with Danish Building Research and other organizations that promoted sustainable construction. One project, Charlottehaven, combines single-family houses with shared communal facilities in an energy-efficient design, making it the first of its kind in Denmark. The firm has been instrumental in shaping the development of modern Copenhagen. Although Tranberg and Lundgaard divorced in 1994, they remained partners in the firm until Lundgaard’s death in 2004. Tranberg then extended partnership to six longtime employees, reforming the company as it exists today.

Mónica Ponce de León

Mónica Ponce de León was born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1965, and, after high school, immigrated to Miami with her family. She completed her architecture degree at the University of Miami in 1989, and then earned a master’s in architecture and urban design from Harvard in 1991. While practicing architecture, Ponce de León took a job teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. In 1991, she cofounded Office dA with Nader Tehrani, and, in 2011, founded her own firm, MPdL Studio. A major focus of her career has been the application of robotic technology to building fabrication. At Harvard, she directed the school’s first robotic fabrication lab and served as the graduate program coordinator. From 2008 to 2016, she was the dean of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. Here, she developed the largest robotic fabrication facility in any school of architecture in the United States. Since then, this model has become the standard for the country’s architecture schools. In 2016, she became the first woman dean of the Princeton University School of Architecture while also continuing to practice at MPdL Studio.

The Women Who Changed Architecture
Marion Mahony Griffin passed the architectural licensure exam in 1898 and created exquisite drawings that buoyed the reputation of Frank Lloyd Wright.


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