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With Mother’s Day coming up, we would like to take a moment and highlight some phenomenal female architects. Women in the field of architecture are still considered a rare breed in a typically male dominated profession, but the tide seems to be changing a bit. One caveat to the title of our post, while these lovely ladies may be considered the “Mothers of Architecture”, the vast majority of them were not mothers at all. Many of these female architects have opted not to have family and/or children and, instead, chose to focus solely on their work. This may be because they never wanted a family, or it may be because they felt like they couldn’t break away long enough to do so while growing their careers. According to a 2016 Women in Architecture Survey, 90% of female architects believe that having children would hinder their careers. So, while they weren’t mothers to human children, these ladies have given birth to art and form all over the globe through their amazing architectural skills.
We will start with some of our International Pioneers:
Marion Mahony Griffin (February 14, 1871 – August 10, 1961) – Did you know that Frank Lloyd Wright’s first employee was a female? Well, she was, and her name was Marion Mahony Griffin. Even better than that, Griffin was the first woman to be officially licensed as an architect in the State of Illinois. Not only was she one of the very first female architects, Griffin was the second woman to ever graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) with an architecture degree. Like many other women who were architectural pioneers, many of Marion’s contributions to architecture were lost in the shadow of her male associates, namely Wright. Nevertheless, Marion contributed greatly to both Wright’s career as well as the career of her husband, Walter Burley Griffin, a well known architect and landscape architect in his own right. The couple had no children.
Julia Morgan (January 20, 1872 – February 2, 1957) – Not only was Julia Morgan the first woman to study architecture at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, she was also the first woman to work as a professional architect in the state of California. Morgan established her own architectural firm in 1904 and built up quite the clientele. During her 45-year career, Julia Morgan designed nearly 800 homes, churches, office buildings, hospitals, stores, and educational buildings, including the famous Hearst Castle. Morgan never married or had children and lived as a recluse for the last several years of her life.
Zaha Hadid – Zaha Hadid was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1950. In 2004 Hadid became the first woman ever to win a Pritzker Architecture Prize. Her work experimented with new spatial concepts and encompasses all types of design, ranging from urban spaces to products and furniture. When viewing Hadid’s work, it hardly seems to follow any rules – including gravity. Hadid was fiercely committed to her work and never paused even to marry or have children. Hadid’s passing at the young age of 65 was a tremendous loss to the world of art and architecture although she lives on in a big way in her designs.
Kazuyo Sejima – Kazuyo Sejima, born in Japan in 1956, is a leading exponent of contemporary architecture. In 1981, she earned a degree in architecture from the Japan Women’s University and began working in the studio of Toyo Ito. In 1987, she opened her own studio in Tokyo and in 1995. Sejima and her partner, former employee Ryue Nishizawa, joined their architectural forces and founded their Tokyo based architectural firm, SANAA in 1995. Together they share the 2010 Pritzker Architecture Prize. SANAA is known for some of the most innovative works of architecture built recently around the world. A list of notable projects include the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, the Serpentine Pavilion in London, and the Christian Dior Building in Omotesando. While Sejima has stated that she always thought she would be a grandmother living a quiet life, she has done anything but. In fact, there is no record of her ever marrying or having children. There is record, however, of her amazing architectural masterpieces that can be seen all over the world!
Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara – We actually mentioned these two phenomenal female architects in our blog post about Irish Influence back in March, but they are so good that they are worth mentioning again! The founders of Grafton Architects, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, both from Ireland, met while attending University College Dublin. They founded their firm in 1978 and have have practiced together for 40 years and have designed spaces in places such as Ireland, Italy, France, and Peru. In 2020 the partnership paid off as the duo won the highest honor in architecture, the Pritzger Architecture Prize. They are the first two women to share this prestigious award. Farrell lost her first husband, fellow architect Michael de Courcy after he suffered a traumatic brain injury during a soccer match just 18 months after their wedding in Cairo. De Courcy is the father of Farrell’s son Matthew.
Arizona also has a long history of pioneering women, including the following:
Mary Jane Colter – Colter designed some of the Southwest’s most famous landmarks including many of the Grand Canyon’s park buildings. Colter designed eleven buildings that are now on the National Register of Historic Places. Five of the eleven buildings have been designated National Historic Landmarks. Colter is known for creating structures in harmony with the environment. She developed a style now referred to as “national park service rustic,” which does not interfere with or interrupt natural processes. Like many of the female architects we have mentioned, Colter had no children. Click here to learn more about Colter.
Anne Graham Rockfellow – Rockfellow was chief designer for Henry Jaastad and designed many Tucson buildings in the early 1900s such as The El Conquistador Hotel, the Desert Sanatorium, The La Fonda Buena Provecho Inn, and the Saffford School. Rockfellow designs were inspired by the Spanish Colonial Revival and Mission Revival styles. Rockfellow was the first female architect registered in Arizona. There is no history of Rockfellow ever marrying or having children. Click here to learn more about Rockfellow.
Judith Chafee – Late-twentieth century architect Judith Chafee is known for blending modern design with desert traditions. Chafee’s architectural work is predominantly located in Arizona. The Ramada House in Tucson is a modern residential building listed on the National Register of Historic Places and one of the most famous homes in the entire Southwest. Click here for more information about the Ramada House. Like so many of the other pioneering women we have mentioned, Chafee did not have children of her own. Click here to learn more about Chafee.