Architecture is somehow being considered as the profession favoring masculinity. This misogynist attitude needs to be eliminated. The need is to make Architecture look like the world it serves i.e., inclusive for everyone. Every profession should embody the diversity brought up by globalization itself. The differences between men and women as per the attributes like intellect, character, courage, leadership, and creativity, etc needs to be respected and celebrated.

Women are not just to take the notes.

Women in Architecture The life and works of Norma Merrick Sklarek -1
Gender binaries; Source: Wheat and Tares

The researches have shown that women, by now, have learned to assimilate into the masculinity favoring atmosphere by developing their attitude. The take is to write about them, amplify them, and support them.

So, the idea is to project the life of Norma Merrick Sklarek, the successful woman architect of America, who in her life had overpowered all the differences and subjectivity over the masculine favoring atmospheric attributes of the profession and had justified the fact the gender binaries remain as an excuse in any profession unless you have a desire to persist and be the change in itself. With her life being associated with many firsts, she says,” In architecture, I had absolutely no role model. I’m happy to be the role model for others that follows.”

Norma Merrick Sklarek(April 15,1926-Feb 6, 2012) was the most pioneered African women Architect of America. By overcoming the racism and sexism in her recent years, with her intelligence, talent, tenacity, and positive attitude she was being entitled as the” Rosa Perks of Architecture”.

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Norma Merrick Sklarek; Source: Archinect

Born to Walter Ernest Merrick and Amy Merrick, Norma grew up in Harlen and Brooklyn. She completed her primary education from Barnard college in 1945. By giving tough competition to the fellow-mates and having a stick-to-it attitude in spite of being the only African American in her class, she graduated from Columbia University with a B.arch in 1950. After graduating, she faced rejection by more than 15 firms for being first, “a woman” and second “a black one.” She once told a local newspaper, “They weren’t hiring women or African Americans, and I didn’t know which it was”(Patricia Morgon). With strong determination in her mind, Norma struggled through all the insignificant parameters of differences at the starting of her Architecture career.

Before becoming the first licensed African American Women Architect in the city of New York, she also worked as a draftsperson in the Public Works Department for a brief span of time. Being licensed also couldn’t put an end to the discrimination waiting on in her way. Being a single mother of two children and divorced twice, adds on more responsibility increasingly on a large scale to her architectural career. She went through all the socio-cultural and the unforeseen burden, breaks, and differences that, women do face in her professional career.

In 1959, after grabbing the position of being the first African American woman to be a member of the American Institute of Architects, she associated herself with Gruen Associated, Los Angeles in the 1960s.

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Norma Merrick Sklarek at Gruen Associates; Source: Pin-up Magazine

There also she did receive extra scrutiny for being the African American on a part. “It took only one week before the boss came and spoke to me about being late. Yet he had not noticed that the young white men had been late for two years(Patricia Morgon).” Without making sexism and racism as the excuse and with her realism, more than survive, she thrived and rose to the position of Gruen’s director of Architects.

She also got credited with Cesar Pelli, as design architect on the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. Her collaborations resulted in several modern icons like the Pacific Design Centre and San Bernardino City Hall, etc. Her formidable skills and work ethics propelled her ascension to a top position. She believed that.” Architecture should be working on improving the environment of people. It should be functional and pleasant(Patricia Mortan).” Architect Roberta Washington has called Sklarek “the reigning mother hen to us all. (Jackie Craven.2019)”

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The U.S. Embassy, Tokyo; Source: Pioneering Women
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Pacific Design Centre, Los Angeles; Source: Pioneering Women

In 1980, Sklarek got awarded with the honor of being the first African American woman to get elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects for her professional affiliations. In 1985, she established Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond, an all-woman partnership with Margot Siegel and Katherine Diamond. Sklarek said to have missed working on the large, complicated projects of previous positions, and so she finished her professional career as Principal at the Jerde Partnership in Venice, California from 1989 until her retirement in 1992(Jackie Craven,2019). From lecturing at Howard University to being appointed to the California Architects Board, she served on various platforms. For embodying the responsibilities to address the social cause, in 2008 AIA honored her with Whitney M. Young Jr. Award.

Raised during America’s Great Depression, Norma Merrick developed intelligence and tenacity of spirit that became an influence to many others in her field. As a Black American architect, her life has been filled with many barriers from the very day she entered her college till the day she proved herself up. She proved that Architecture as a profession has a place for anyone willing to persist at doing good work(Jackie Craven,2019).


NOOREEN AFZA is a student of Bachelors in architecture who aspires to be privileged enough to influence the millions of minds out there, positively. She loves architecture as much as she respects the words winding-up its whole essence together. Her character is defined by being bold and influential through her writings. 

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