If we look back in time, there is enough evidence to conclude that history has not been the kindest to women and particularly in nations where a male-dominated society formed just a tier of the oppressive social and cultural hierarchy. Even statistics from the last five years paint an image that makes you question if we have made any progress at all towards a just and safe community.

We have.

It may fall short in comparison, but there has been a major shift globally in how women stand today in the building industry. They paved their way into the workforce, into the heart of the industry- and look back, they did not. Take the case of architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, the principles of the Dublin-based Grafton Architects, who were named the 47th and 48th Laureates of the Pritzker Prize this year- To bestow such an honor on these women for their contribution to a historically patriarchal industry only shows that there is a vast difference in how women in architecture are beginning to be perceived, and it is imperative that we not take off this lens, rose-tinted as they may be.

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara

For decades, women have been at the forefront of development, constituting almost half of the global workforce (Global Volunteers, UN); Yet, it is rare to find their due credit for their contributions. The following list briefly draws an account of 16 female architects from developing nations who dared to look beyond the gender bias and cultural conflicts to emerge as pioneers of radical evolution in their nations:

1. Assumpta Nnaggenda-Musana, TECO, Uganda

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -1
Assumpta Nnaggenda-Musana

Following her Ph.D. research at KTH, Stockholm on the housing formations in Kampala, which garnered her the title of the first Ugandan woman to receive a Ph.D. in Architecture in 2008, Assumpta Nnaggenda-Musana started working towards sustainable built settlements and low-cost housing schemes in developing nations such as her own, by leading her design studio and teaching at Makerere University Department of Architecture and Physical Planning.

Such a crossover helps her shape an approach to her building projects where she finds herself able to explore informal settlements beyond urban policies and address the traditional African lifestyle and architecture, with the gender issues that prevail in domestic lives.

In order to manage her research, teaching and practice, Nnaggenda-Musana joined TECO which allows academic staff to work alongside while allowing students to assist in their projects. Realizing the challenges that she had to face throughout her career, she mentors her students to be resilient and assertive against the present gender landscape in the construction industry.

Currently, TECO is working on the re-development plan for Mengo Hospital, which is the oldest hospital in Uganda and the establishment of a “Free Trade Zone ” around Entebbe Airport.

2. Brinda Somaya, Somaya and Kalappa Consultants (SNK), India

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -2
Brinda Somaya

A celebrated Indian architect and urban conservationist, Brinda Somaya began her practice, Somaya and Kalappa Consultants (SNK), in 1978 and has since built a body of work that advocates the philosophy that “the Architect’s role is that of a guardian; his is the conscience of the built and unbuilt environment”. Starting a career amidst an emergent post-independent India, she took it upon herself to preserve the rich reservoir of India’s cultural heritage and mould the wave of contemporary influences that were taking shape in the country. She understood the Indian social landscape and sought to inculcate local values in all her projects, such as the restoration of her alma mater, The Cathedral and John Connon School, the Nalanda International School, the Goa Institute of Management, the Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences, to name a few.

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -2
Vasant Vidyalaya, Kutch, Gujarat

One of her most notable contributions was her involvement in rebuilding the earthquake-torn village of Bhadli in Gujarat. She understood the value of a building as a single source to affect change in a neighborhood and propagated the principle into rehabilitation by reusing materials from the collapsed structures and engaging the community in the process.

Somaya has been the recipient of various honors for her legacy of work, from being the first woman to have won the Wienerberger Golden Architect Award for lifetime achievement – a peer award, in 2007 to the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Indian Institute of Architects in 2014. Her steadfast ambition to facilitate growth beyond the boundaries of a building is still recurrent in her growing portfolio of work.

3. Dana Al-Amri, WATAD Studio, Jeddah

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -3
Dana Al-Amri

Dana Al-Amri is a Saudi architect and the co-founder of Jeddah-based WATAD Studio which aims at creating contextual designs and architectural solutions that respond to local needs. She believes that each project is an opportunity to interrogate and investigate the built environment, with sustainability leading the dialogue.

Al-Amri has also actively employed her expertise beyond her clientele to serve the community at large with projects such as the Solar Ovens Project, which aimed to educate those devastated by the Jeddah floods on the use of solar power, and Malik Road Redevelopment, which devised alternative solutions to the layout of the area’s streets to reduce vehicular accidents. She was notably the recipient of ‘The Rising Star’- Tamayouz Excellence Award in 2019.

The mission of Vision 2030 to diversify the economy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by developing infrastructure and other sectors has added fuel to Al-Amri’s ambition of supporting the needs of local communities and the developing urban fabric of her home city and country. She realizes that she stands as a representative of an emerging generation of female architects from the Kingdom and attempts to create ripples globally, through her work.

The residential design in Jeddah’s Al Khalidiyyah district, Travertine House, is one of WATAD’s most celebrated projects and is scheduled to be completed by 2020.

4. Emma Miloyo, Design Source, Kenya

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -4
Emma Miloyo

Emma Miloyo is a Kenyan architect who studied architecture at Jomo Kenyata University of Agriculture and Technology outside Nairobi and has since, started her practice called Design Source with her husband, specializing in hospitality, commercial and energy projects across East Africa.

She is also the first female president of the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK), spearheading several initiatives to change urban policies and manage heritage conservation in Kenya. Since she has often found herself in leadership positions throughout her career, she actively seeks to mentor and connect young female professionals in the industry through various networks such as WIRE (Women in Real Estate) and Exbomarian Education Trust Fund. She believes in the importance of mentorship to bridge the gender inequalities in the industry and firmly propagates the importance of emotional intelligence to better interact with stakeholders, as she understands that architecture is as much about building as it is about people.

At present, Miloyo and her team at Design Source, in conjunction with Architecture and interior architecture practice Paragon, are designing Habitat Apartments in Kilimani, a 24-storey, 160-unit mixed-use apartment tower, which is lauded to be Nairobi’s first Vertical Village. Miloyo maintains her principles of employing local materials and traditional African construction techniques to maximize sustainability in the design.

5. Lina Ghotmeh, Lina Ghotmeh Architecture, Paris

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -5
Lina Ghotmeh

Lina Ghotmeh is recognized as one of the world’s leading architects, most well-known for co-designing the Estonian National Museum which won the Grand Prix AFEX in 2016 and nominated for the Mies Van Der Rohe Award in 2017. Born and raised in Beirut, she witnessed the city scarred by the Lebanese civil war grow into the ancient metropolitan city it stands as today. This moulded her methodology, called ‘Archeology of the future’ which explores the notions of memory, space and landscape, and informs the lyrical designs that guide her creative process. It is through intensive historical research and material understanding, that she produces exquisite spaces that tap into the viewer’s memory and senses while being sustainably enriching.

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -5
Stone Garden

She was awarded the European 40/40 Award in 2018, the AJAP Award granted by the French Ministry of culture, and the 2A Awards 2018 in Barcelona. She was also selected by Dezeen as one of the ‘5 Biggest Talents of 2018”’ and has been nominated recently in London for the Women in Architecture Mira Gemmill Award 2019.

Among her upcoming projects are a 14-storey wooden tower in Paris named ‘Realimenter Massena,’ which won the ‘Reinventer Paris’ call for innovative projects, Beirut’s Stone Gardens, an art foundation and housing tower, and the interior renovation of Palais de Tokyo’s restaurant in Paris.

6. Zeynep Çelik, Turkey

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -6
Dr. Zeynep Celik

Dr. Zeynep Celik is a distinguished Turkish professor of Architecture and History at New Jersey Institute of Technology and an adjunct professor of history at Columbia University. A proud recipient of the ‘Outstanding Achievement Award’- Tamayouz Excellence Award in 2019, she has greatly contributed to the study of architectural history, late Ottoman architecture and the analysis of architecture archaeology and the built expressions of colonial powers through her numerous publications.

She developed an appreciation for cultural understanding through architecture during her undergraduate studies at Istanbul Technical University, Istanbul, which reflects in the way she establishes the relationship of historical analysis of architecture with the community in her work. Such an outward investigation makes her studies accessible and well-known in and beyond the field of architecture. For this reason, she is regarded not only as a celebrated academic and but also a mentor who has influenced generations of architects and historians through her work.

In addition to her publications and professorship, she has curated various exhibitions around the world, including ‘Walls of Algiers’ at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and ‘Scramble for the Past: A Story of Archaeology in Ottoman Empire’ at SALT, Istanbul. She is currently collaborating with an international team on an exhibition and conference, titled, ‘Palestine from the Sky’, to open in Ramallah in 2020.

7. Mabel O. Wilson, Studio&

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -7
Mabel O. Wilson

Mabel O. Wilson is most well-known as a professor of Architecture, a co-director of the Global Africa Lab and the Associate Director at the Institute for Research in African American Studies. She has dedicated herself to contributing to academia through education, theory and curatorial practices that focus on cross-disciplinary narratives on topics such as race in architecture, political spaces and the cultural memory of black America. She recently published Begin With the Past, documenting the making and development of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. A celebrated academic, her publishings have enriched architecture’s scholarly narratives to realize how architecture and design can be a part of the struggle for a just world.

She is also a founding member of Who Builds Your Architecture? (WBYA?), an advocacy group that informs the architectural community about the issues of globalization and problematic construction labor practices through exhibitions, workshops, and writings. WBYA’s work was featured in the Istanbul Design Biennial in 2014, exhibiting the global reach the group garnered in a short span of time.

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -07
Poster- Who Builds Your Architecture?

Additionally, her transdisciplinary practice Studio& has been a competition finalist for several important cultural institutions including lower Manhattan’s African Burial Ground Memorial and the Smithsonian’s National Museum for African American History and Culture (with Diller Scofidio + Renfro). Wilson has been monumental in bringing the cultural implications of race under the limelight and exploring the African diaspora through her work. She was recently named a winner of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters architecture award, among several other honors.

8. Marina Tabassum, Marina Tabassum Architects, Dhaka

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -8
Marina Tabassum

Marina Tabassum is a Bangladeshi architect who co-founded and co-operated URBANA from 1995-2005 before establishing her eponymous practice and is best known for her sun-dappled Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, which won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2016. Distinguished by her elemental yet profound take on architecture, Tabassum strayed from the familiar domed mosques to design the Bait Ur Rouf Mosque with spaces that were informed by light and materials. She consciously sculpted it to function beyond a place of worship- as a meeting room, school, and playground for the underserved community on Dhaka’s periphery, blurring the lines between spirituality, humanity and ‘religionality’.

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -08
Bait Ur Rouf Mosque

She was also instrumental in the realization of the Independence Monument of Bangladesh and the Museum of Independence, creating central voids in the design that she believed housed the soul that constantly accepts and resists, to demonstrate the national unrest since its Independence. Her contribution to the Arsenale at the Venice Architecture Biennale with her stage set, Wisdom of the Land, representing the courtyard of a Bengali village, showed how public space can function in Bengali society, setting a pretense for the $2000 homes and the Panigram Resort she designed in collaboration with the local villages in Jessore district to create a self-sustaining community.

The passion and purpose to stand for the society she belongs to, allow Tabassum to transcend the boundaries of her occupation and step into the role of a facilitator, a mentor and an educator- reimagining the microfinance model in the Panigram Resort to empower women, for example. She strives to communicate with a built language derived not from revolutionizing the world of architecture, but evolving architecture through time and knowledge.

9. Nadia Habash, Habash Consulting Engineers, Ramallah

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -9
Nadia Habash

The first woman to head a regional branch of the Engineers Association of Jordan and Palestine, and to serve the city of Ramallah as a city councilor, Nadia Habash is a Palestinian architect and academic lauded for her contribution to the preservation of the cultural heritage of her city.

She has worked with architects such as Peter Zumthor and Rasem Badran to realize countless renovation projects across Palestine, some of which include the archaeological park of Hisham’s Palace in Jericho; the rehabilitation of Arraba Palaces and the Old Road; the rehabilitation and addition to St. Nicolas Elderly Bait Jala; and the revitalization of Bethlehem Old Market.

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -09
Renovation of Hosh Al Aqeeli

She has also authored many papers that advocate the use of architecture as a social, political and cultural tool to oppose Israeli occupation. Her outright rebellion against the Israeli government brought her the unfortunate consequence of a 29-year long travel ban outside of the country which stripped her off of regional and international opportunities. However, she persevered through the limitations and emerged as a well-celebrated local influencer with her ambitions to protect the city from international franchising.

Recently, Habash was highly commended for a Tamayouz Excellence Award for Women in Architecture and Construction for nearing the completion of yet another rehabilitation project — the Vernacular Heritage Pilot Enhancement Project in As-Samou’, located in the southernmost part of the West Bank, which intends to support the training and capacity building of young craftsmen in the town and surrounding areas. Habash’s work extends beyond architecture into a realm where architecture breeds community and resistance.

10. Revathi Kamath, Kamath Design Studio, New Delhi

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -10
Revathi Kamath

To be credited for the JSPL Gateway in Raigarh, Chattisgarh, which stands today as the tallest stainless-steel structure in South Asia, alongside the success of pioneering mud architecture as a female architect in India, is an accomplishment beyond bridging the gender bias in the industry, and Revathi Kamath is a testimony to it.

She started her practice, Kamath Design Studio, in 1981 with her husband, Vasant Kamath, and worked on projects ranging from humanitarian efforts to luxury housing- all within the structural capacity and local branding of Mud Architecture. Their first and famed Anandgram Project which rehabilitated slums near the Shadipur Depot in New Delhi, later evolved into a legally recognized community housing development under their supervision, and with the contribution of the resident artists and craftsmen. The Akshay Pratishthan school in New Delhi for differently-abled children and students from impoverished backgrounds was nominated the Studio for the Aga Khan Award in 1995 for its innovation and thoughtful design.

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -10She and her team are also credited for creating a prototype for mobile creches, a programmatic amalgamation of a nursery and an educational center, for working women in the slum resettlement colony of Seemapuri in East Delhi. Such projects, in addition to Kamath’s humble portfolio, underline her conscious and relentless efforts towards integrating indigenous crafts and programs into contemporary ensembles to make a valuable difference in the community. Her passion throughout her 40-year-long career has not only carved mud as a prominent building material in the industry but also left an indelible mark in the gender footprint of the Pioneering Architects of India.

11. Shahira Fahmy, Shahira Fahmy Architects, Cairo

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -11
Shahira Fahmy

Hailed by Phaidon Press (2011) as one of the “Architects building the Arab Future” and being the recipient of ‘Woman of Outstanding Achievement- Highly Commended’- Tamayouz Excellence Award in 2019, Shahira Fahmy is an Egyptian architect, urbanist and creative researcher who founded her practice, Shahira Fahmy Architects in Cairo, Egypt, in 2005 and has since worked on a range of collaborative architecture and master planning projects in the Middle East and Europe.

Some of her projects include the new campus for American University Cairo (2005) with Legorreta+Legorreta, Abdel Halim Ibrahim and Sasaki; the Ahmed Bahaa El-Din Cultural Center (2010) with Dar el Handasah, and the exhibition Home in the Arab World at the 2012 London Architectural Festival in collaboration with Bas Princen.

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -11
Ahmed Bahaa Eldin Center in Assyuit, Egypt

Alongside her practice, Fahmy has extensively researched on rapid urbanization and mapping, which has awarded her Harvard University’s post-doc fellowship twice for her explorations of the relationships between urbanism, governance and cyberspace. She holds an MA in Architecture from Cairo University (2004), where she taught from 1997 to 2007, along with a guest speaker at prestigious institutions around the world.

Amongst other honors, she was awarded the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Young Architect Award in 2005 which boosted the international presence of the firm and was the first Egyptian practice to take part in Salone Satellite, Milan Design Week (2007).

12. Sheila Sri Prakash, Shilpa Architects, and Planners, Chennai

An account of Female Architects from Developing Countries -12
Sheila Sri Prakash

Besides bagging the title of the ‘First Indian woman architect to have started and operated her own practice’- Shilpa Architects and Planners in 1979, Sheila Sri Prakash was a pioneer of her time, internationally acclaimed in a male-dominated industry for her trendsetting traditional designs, thought-provoking contributions to sustainable practices and socio-economical sensitive planning. She is regarded to have coined the term ‘Spaciology’ to theorize on the spatial impacts on society. She believes that human behavior is undeniably correlated to the environment, architecture and urban planning, an understanding she derives and learns through the emotive and spatial relationships of Bharatnatyam- as a classically trained dancer herself- and has sought to inculcate this in all her projects.

sheet -11She was on the Architectural Digest’s list of 50 most influential architects in 2015 and the only Indian in Archute’s 40 Famous Architects of the 21st Century. In 2017, she was awarded the ‘Bene Merenti’ Medallion by The University of Architecture and Urbanism, Bucharest, Romania and the Ministry of National Education and Scientific Research, for fronting the cause of Sustainability in international forums like the World Economic Forum, Global Environment Fund, and The UN Habitat III. She was recently honored with the ‘Lifetime Achievement in the field of Architecture Award 2019’ for her outstanding achievements and contribution to sustainable design thinking and the growth of the Indian real estate sector.

13. Suad Amiry, Ramallah

sheet - 12
Suad AmirySuad Amiry

Suad Amiry is a Palestinian writer, conservation architect and a social and political activist, well-known for her humanitarian efforts in the protection and preservation of the architectural heritage of Palestine. She was a member of a Palestinian peace delegation in Washington D.C. and was involved in many peace initiatives for Israeli women before she founded the Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation in 1991. Amiry has since served as the Director and succeeded in informing the process of rehabilitation and gentrification of historic centers and buildings into a vehicle of poverty alleviation, job creation and a tool for social and economic development for marginalized groups in rural Palestine- or what she refers to as “Public Spaces and buildings for Social Change”. In 2013, Riwaq received the Aga Khan Award for Architecture for the Revitalization of Birzeit Historic Centre.

sheet -13
Sharon and My Mother-in-Law

Amiry has also authored several books recounting the Israeli occupation in Palestine. Her recent book, Sharon and My Mother-in-Law, was translated into 19 languages and was awarded the prestigious Viareggio Prize in Italy in 2004.

14. Tatiana Bilbao, Tatiana Bilbao Architects/MX.DF, Mexico City

Tatiana Bilbao

One of the front-runners inspiring a generation of female architects in Mexico, Tatiana Bilbao was raised within a family of architects. She was initially, an advisor to Mexico City’s Department of Urban Housing and Development before she went on to start her eponymous studio practice as well as a collaborative research center called MX.DF in 2004. Her portfolio ranges from institutes to luxury homes and is well-renowned for her nature-inspired geometric architecture. She quickly struck a chord in the industry and was able to garner international success through projects such as a pavilion at China’s Jinhua Architecture Park, the Botanical Garden in Culiacán, Mexico to name a few.

She evolved her expertise to branch into socially-conscious architecture, when she presented her modular, build-as-you-go schema for affordable housing in the Chicago Architecture Biennial in 2015. She designed the prototype with insights from hundreds of interviews with low-income residents in rural Mexico such that it could adapt to local materials and different layouts for growing family needs for as little as $7,000. The project was later commissioned by the Mexican government to cater to the country’s housing shortage with low-cost solutions. Among many honors, she was awarded the title of ‘Emerging Voice’ by the Architectural League of New York in 2010.

sheet -14
Tatiana Bilbao’s ‘Renders’

As a professor in her alma mater, she strongly advocates for designing for the people and with the people and believes in the integration of ideas and values from different professions and backgrounds to create spaces that matter. She sees conflicts as questions that design can help answer.

She recently gave a talk at the 2020 Engadin Art Talks in Switzerland on “how silence and sound shape the domestic space: the Cistercian monastery as a form of living” after having spent time in a monastery in Sothern Australia to understand how to design for the monks living there.

15. Yasmeen Lari, Lari Associates, Karachi

Yasmeen Lari

The first female Pakistani Architect, Yasmeen Lari started her firm, Lari Associates in Karachi, after graduating from Oxford School of Architecture and contributed in shaping the modern heritage of the country with notable buildings such as the Finance and Trade Centre and the Pakistan State Oil House in Karachi, to her name. She co-founded Heritage Foundation of Pakistan in 1980 with her husband, well-known historian Suhail Zaheer Lari, for undertaking research and safeguarding Pakistan’s cultural heritage, and has contributed extensively to the conservation of several historic monuments in important heritage sites of Pakistan. In 1978, Lari was elected president of the Institute of Architects Pakistan and was the first chairperson of the Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners (PCATP) in 1983.

sheet -15
Women’s Centre in Darya Khan, Pakistan

Lari closed down her practice in 2000 to focus on serving disaster-hit communities with her expertise and experience. Since the earthquake in 2005, she has devised various programs based on women-centered zero carbon footprint structures, and sustainable building techniques, resulting in 40,000 green shelters, using bamboo, lime and mud, placing Pakistan in the lead as World’s largest zero carbon shelter program.

Additionally, she won the World Habitat award in 2018 for her design of a fuel-efficient chulah that does not emit the toxic smoke that was affecting Pakistani women’s health. Her humanitarian efforts have not only sustained communities through disasters but also addressed long-standing gender roles in rural Pakistan and attempted to ease the differences by integrating architecture with social justice.

16. Zeynep Fadillioglu, Zeynep Fadillioglu Architects, Turkey

sheet -16
Zeynep Fadillioglu

A Turkish Architect, Zeynep Fadillioglu is regarded as the first woman to have designed a mosque, a celebrated addition to her already rich and bountiful portfolio of hospitality, residential and retail projects and products. The Sakirin Mosque in Turkey was nominated for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and received international acclaim for its reinterpretation of the Ottoman heritage and its sensitivity to local and social textures and principles. Fadillioglu reimagined the role of a woman within a religious premise by designing both men’s and women’s galleries in the mosque in equal size and beauty, a feat well appreciated by worshipers of the country and tourists all around the world. She designed two more mosques thereafter and stands to protect and amalgamate local cultural influences with a contemporary outlook to bring about a sense of familiarity and timelessness, a concept that inspired many of her hospitality projects as well.

Sakirin Mosque

Apart from the Aga Khan Award for Architecture nomination, Fadillioglu has been awarded several honors throughout her career, including the Andrew Martin International Designer of the Year Award (2002), the House & Garden International Interior Designer of the Year (2002), Modern Designer of the Year Award (2005), and The Wifts Foundation International Visionary Award (2011).

Women have struggled throughout time to carve their rightful place as a contributing citizen of the nation, let alone take the profession of architecture by the storm. While the aforementioned list presents pioneers of the industry, it is imperative to understand that it forms just a chunk of the global share of female architects and facilitators who are building our collective future.

“Women did not want to be great female architects, they just wanted to be great architects”

Representation is key to further revelation and transformation in the industry, as put forth by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB). We can redefine society and imagine a utopian tomorrow where gender does not characterize our work, by recognizing the talents and achievements of women in architecture as respectable contributions to the social and architectural advancements, and help ensure their voices are heard just as loudly as that of men.


Shivani Pinapotu is almost an architect. She started writing to make sense of architecture and in it, she found her joy. She believes that architecture is as much a creative process as it is an expression, a celebration, a million stories untold and she aspires to unfold them all through her words.