Just how even is the architectural playing field?
The contributions of many women (and men) to architecture too often remain anonymous, says Architectural Record editor-in-chief Cathleen McGuigan
Later this month, the Pritzker Architecture Prize will be awarded to the Chinese architect Wang Shu at a ceremony in Beijing. It’s an exciting choice – though it’s worth noting that the prize did not include Lu Wenyu, his wife and architectural partner in the firm they founded together, Amateur Architecture Studio, in Hangzhou.
I’ve been thinking about women architects. A few months ago, Anne Tyng died at age 91. As you probably know, Tyng worked closely with Louis Kahn, on the Trenton Bath House (1959) in New Jersey, among other projects. She was also a mistress of Kahn’s and the mother of one of his two out of wedlock children. The other child, Nathaniel Kahn, told the story of Kahn’s complicated personal life in his moving 2003 film, My Architect.
Though Tyng’s history has been overshadowed by her connection to Kahn, it was extraordinary for her time. The daughter of American missionaries to China, where she was born, Tyng was one of the first women students at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design under Walter Gropius, and the only woman to receive a license to practice in Pennsylvania the year she became an architect (1949); one of the men on the licensing board famously refused to administer her test.
Five years later, Norma Merrick Sklarek, FAIA, was the first African American woman in the country to become an architect. Sklarek, who died in February at 85, directed major projects for Gruen Associates and Welton Beckett Associates in California over the course of a long career.
Such groundbreakers surely helped open doors for succeeding generations, but architecture is still a tough profession for women.