Women in Architecture

Women play a key role in architecture, though their presence has been sparse in the male-dominated industry. Today, only 17 percent of registered architects in the United States are women. The reasoning behind such a stark gender difference is unknown, but many attribute it to the lack of female architect role models. 

At Urban Design Associates, we don’t believe that is true at all! While there haven’t been many women in this industry, plenty of them have made their marks, including at this firm! In this blog, we wanted to turn that idea around and highlight the careers of just a few of the most notable female architects in history. The women listed below helped pave the way for all modern female architects to succeed. These are their stories. 

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Sophia Hayden Bennett (1868-1953)

Sophia Hayden Bennett was the first woman to receive an architecture degree from MIT, which she earned in 1890. 

In 1891, Hayden came across an announcement calling on women architects to submit designs, which would form part of Daniel Burnham’s gargantuan World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago for The Women’s Building

Her proposal was based on her college thesis: a three-story building in the Italian Renaissance style. The 21-year-old won first place, thus earning $1,000 for her design (a tenth of what the male winner would receive). Her design was widely criticized by men in the industry, making it very difficult for her to complete the construction of the building. 

The Woman’s Building was the nation’s most prominent design competition for women at that time. Despite that, the industry was too male-oriented for Hayden, a young female, to thrive in. She left architecture behind and worked as an artist for years and lived a quiet life in Winthrop, Massachusetts.

The Women’s Building is still considered to be a historical breakthrough for females, despite the mixed reception when it was first built. 

Norma Merrick Sklarek (1926-2012)

A woman of firsts, Norma Merrick Sklarek was the first African American woman to hold an architecture license in the state of New York, the first woman to earn a license in California, and the first African-American woman to be elected a fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Despite being a woman of many firsts, it wasn’t easy for her to start out. She was an accomplished woman with a degree from Columbia University, but could not find work with New York firms. 

Eventually, she secured a job at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

In 1960, she moved to California to work for Gruen Associates, where she rose through the ranks and was named director of the firm in 1966. Throughout her career Sklarek gained a reputation as an excellent project architect, regularly completing huge projects, such as LAX Terminal 1 and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, on time and under budget.

She left Gruen and Associates in 1980 and shortly after co-founded Sklarek, Siegel, and Diamond, which became the biggest, female-only firm in the country

Dame Zaha Hadid (1951-2016)

We previously highlighted Dame Zaha Hadid’s career, but it would be wrong to not include her in this list as well. 

Hadid was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1950. By the time she turned 29, she had her own practice in London, England, Zaha Hadid Architects. She soon took the architecture industry by storm with her stunning theoretical works. A true visionary, her work captured the imaginations and the hearts of those all over the globe. 

She was also dedicated to shaping the minds of future architects. She taught at her alma mater, the Architectural Association School (AA) until 1987. 

She was the first woman to receive the Pritzker architecture prize in 2004 and was the first woman to receive the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) gold medal in 2016. 

Hadid died of a heart attack and left behind 36 unfinished projects, including the 2022 World Cup stadium, the Antwerp Port House (2016), and the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. 

Jessica Hutchison-Rough: Principal Architect of UDA

A modern-day female in the industry, Jessica Hutchinson-Rough is the Principal Architect of Urban Design Associates. She oversees the production of all phases of construction documents at UDA, and she has a wide range of experience in custom residential design, multi-family residential, hotel/mixed-use, commercial tenant improvements, and building restoration. 

Jessica has served as LEED project prime consultant on projects in Vancouver, British Columbia and Scottsdale, Arizona. She is a past member of the City of Scottsdale’s Development Review Board and the current ARA Competition Chair for Arizona State University and the University of Arizona.

Modern-day architecture is more than just design (though Jessica’s go-to is modern contemporary), it’s about guiding the client through the process in a way that’s enjoyable and interactive from the very first meeting. While Hayden, Sklarek, and Bardi each designed pieces that pleased the masses, Jessica is focused on creating the perfect custom homes for families. Her work proves that you don’t have to design skyscrapers to change lives — all you have to do is care about your client. 

Through Jessica’s guidance and her family-focused designs, UDA became a home away from home for their clients. Their foundation is built on their ability to listen to their clients, and fusing creativity and functionality to create the perfect place for celebration and renewal — the perfect home.