From Aulenti to Wigglesworth: 26 More Women Who Changed Architecture

Pat Finn Pat Finn

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We recently published an article entitled From A to Zaha: 26 Women Who Changed Architecture designed to spotlight some of the very best talent to have been recognized by Architizer’s A+Awards. We were truly blown away by the feedback we received. Readers, we learned, were excited by the opportunity to celebrate the many women who have had a major impact on architecture — women whose contributions have too often been overlooked.

As we pointed out at the time, our original list was just a starting point. There were many, many qualified women who didn’t make the cut solely due to limited space. Indeed, when the time came to create a follow-up piece, it wasn’t hard to come up with a list of 26 equally impressive names. We’d like to extend a big thanks to everyone who contributed suggestions in the comments of the original article.

Left: Aulenti posing at the Musée D’Orsay via; right: One of the Aulenti’s iconic coffee tables, featuring vintage bicycle wheels via Vogue Italia

Gae Aulenti

In 2017, industrial design is in vogue. Nearly every coffee shop and bar in Brooklyn features exposed beams and Edison light bulbs. Somehow, over the course of time, these once-functional details became elegant appendages.

The rebranding of industrial details was helped along by the establishment of the Musée D’Orsay, a Parisian art museum located in a former rail station that holds the distinction of being the first industrial building to ever be converted into a major museum. Even when it was a train station, the Orsay was an elegant building, its studded beams supporting a vaulted glazed ceiling complete with Beaux Arts detailing. However, it still took the visionary gifts of Italian architect and furniture designer Gae Aulenti (1927 – 2012) to transform this utilitarian space into one of the world’s most stunning cultural centers.

Finding beauty in utility was what Aulenti’s career was all about. From her furniture designs to her buildings, hers was a minimalism that resisted standardization. Her designs, while understated, never lacked personality. “I aim to create furniture that appears in a room as buildings on a skyline and reminds the viewer of the interaction between objects of design and architectural space,” she once said.

Left: Phoenix Heights Housing Complex; images via ArchiTeam and Twitter

Angela Brady

Angela Brady is an Irish-born British architect who served as the chairperson for the U.K.’s Royal Institute of British Architects from 2011 to 2013. In this capacity, she tried to spark a nationwide conversation about whether the profession was meeting the needs of the public or not. Her view was that the mass-produced houses dotting the British landscape — structures she nicknamed “Noddy Boxes” — were cramped and poorly designed. These issues were not addressed, she believed, because architects did not play a prominent-enough role in the public discourse.

“We need to really re-examine the way we live and play, and we need to seek better models for the next 20 years,” she told the Guardian. “We’ve got huge constraints, if you look at the pressure on the environment, and I believe we are the custodians of [that]. People are relying on architects, planners, to come up with the right answers — how to make the green deal, make homes more zero carbon. As architects, we’ve got so much to offer. Governments ignore that at their peril.”

Right: Ramada House in Arizona; images via the University of Arizona and Pinterest

Judith Chafee

Ah, the desert. For Americans — even lifelong East Coasters like myself — there is something about the unique texture of the Southwest that sparks a sense of national pride. From movies set in the Old West to the dreamy paintings of Georgia O’Keefe, the desert landscape exists in the American imagination as a symbol of the still-uncharted possibilities embodied in the frontier.

The architect most associated with the American desert is Judith Chafee (1932 – 1998), a professor of architecture at the University of Arizona who is best known for the residential buildings she designed in the state. Of these, the most celebrated is the Ramada House, a gorgeous oasis dwelling named after the ramada, or slotted roof, that both shades the house and generates a breeze. In the book Architecture Since 1900, William J.R. Curtis praises the designer of the Ramada House for realizing that a building needed “a big hat” in the desert.

Left: urban oasis in a renovated Mexico City townhouse; images via Dezeen and World Architecture Community

Gabriela Etchegaray

Gabriela Etchegaray, partner of the Mexican firm Ambrosi Etchegaray, is a problem-solver. When Mexico City heritage regulators prevented Etchegary’s firm from demolishing a historic townhouse to make way for their planned residential project, they got to work renovating the original structure in a way that preserved the historic façade while partitioning the building into four separate dwellings, each featuring a secure, private courtyard. The firm integrated pink-hued granite blocks into their design, connecting their rigorously contemporary design with the structure’s history.

The layout of this project was truly ingenious, creating a sense of capaciousness and privacy within limited space. This reporter would move in tomorrow if he had the chance.

Right: University of Limerick; images via Dezeen and Elle Decor

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara (Grafton Architects)

Nearly 40 years ago, two Irish architects named Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara got together to found a firm, which they named Grafton Architects. Since that time, the team has worked on numerous, celebrated projects and played a major role in rejuvenating the Temple Bar neighborhood of Dublin.

In 2008, Grafton Architects won the coveted World Building of the Year Award for the stunning Economics center they designed for Boccocini University in Milan. “We saw this brief as an opportunity for the Luigi Bocconi University to make a space at the scale of the city,” the pair explained on their website. “Inside, our building is thought of as a large market hall or place of exchange. The Building’s hall acts as a filter between the city and the university.” Four decades on, Grafton Architects continues to innovate, reimagining the potentialities of educational buildings.

Just this week, the two architects have been named artistic directors for the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale.

Left: interior of “Soft and Hairy House,” Tokyo; images via For’evs You Only Live Once and Archinect

Kathryn Findlay

When Kathryn Findlay passed away in 2014, the world lost one of its most imaginative architects. A native of Scotland who spent most of her career in Japan, Findlay was a modern architect in the purest sense of the term: someone who dared to imagine buildings that suggested radically different ways of living.

Soft and Hairy House,” which she built with her husband in Tokyo in 1992, is a good example of her surrealist vision. With its dark stucco and “edible” garden roof, this house looks like an artifact from a very agreeable future, one in which human beings have learned to embrace both organic forms and sustainable living.

Right: the Origami building in Paris; images via e-architect and ArchDaily

Manuelle Gautrand

Manuelle Gautrand’s poetics are characterized by a combination of color with formal invention aimed at arousing empathy and marvel.” So says in their profile of the great French architect, and far be it from us to try to top a sentence like that, which perfectly captures the kinds of buildings Gautrand creates. Each plays with scale, shape and colors in ways that stop visitors in their tracks.

Take the Origami office building in Paris. The geometric façade of this building is at once totally modern, yet totally in keeping with the tenor of the luxurious setting, just blocks from the Arc d’Triomphe. The intersecting diagonal lines refer to Art Deco motifs as well as to stained glass paneling, while the opaque, ivory glaze blends in perfectly with the façades of the surrounding buildings.

Left: Beach House designed by Hariri + Hariri; images via Pinterest and the Daily News

Gisue Hariri and Mojgan Hariri

The Hariri sisters moved to the United States from Iran in the 1970s to study architecture at Cornell University and founded their own firm in 1986. Since that time, Gisue and Mojgan Hariri have crafted a unique aesthetic that combines the glamor of mid-century, International design with a flair that is all their own. Their bold designs are not contained by any formula.

“Growing up in the desert, the environment tends to strip everything down to the essential without diminishing its extraordinary presence and beauty,” said Gisue Hariri on the influence of the Iranian landscape on her work. “While outwardly harsh, one intimate with its nature finds sensual lines and magnificent vistas that embolden the senses and a void that is constantly being tested and carved by the fierce winds.”

Right: Vocational School, Rudrapur, Bangladesh; images via #LivingCircular and Blogspot

Anna Heringer

Many of the architects who get written up in Architizerare praised for their originality and willingness to challenge convention. Anna Heringer is a different kind of architect: For the past decade, she has made strides in countries like Bangladesh by encouraging local builders and craftsmen to make use of their traditional building practices and materials.

Heringer’s most celebrated project, METI Handmade School in Bangladesh, is a primary school in Bangladesh built using local, sustainable materials, including bamboo and loam. Heringer drew on local craftsmen building practices but improved them when needed, such as in the construction of a brick foundation and damp-proof walls. “Rammed earth and bamboo are not materials of the past,” as she succinctly put it in a recent interview.

Left: Library of Birmingham; images via Mecanoo and Dezeen

Francine Houben

As the creative director of Mecanoo, Francine Houben has overseen extraordinary projects, such as the Library of Birmingham in England and the Fifty-Two Degrees tower in Nijmegen, Netherlands. Today, her practice is known for large public buildings, especially libraries, but Houben says the firm has “not forgotten [their] origins” as designers of residences.

Given the diversity of Mecanoo’s projects, it is hard to find a single, stylistic trademark. The firm’s identity, rather, is rooted to its collaborative, pragmatic approach. “Mecanoo has evolved an approach to architecture that’s not in any way modernist,” Houben explained. “We take an independent position. We do not work dogmatically because we enjoy the fun in finding the best solution to a given problem.”

Right: “Bauhaus by Night” photographed by Lucia Moholy; images via Bauhaus100 and Artnet

Lucia Moholy

Lucia Moholy (1894 – 1989) was an architectural photographer, whose work brought the products of the legendary Bauhaus School to a mass audience. However, as was common for women at the time, Moholy was often denied credit for her work, which was instead attributed to her husband, the artist László Moholy-Nagy, or Walter Gropius.

Moholy came to photography after a career as a lecturer and editor in Prague, where she was known as an expert in philosophy and art history. This broad knowledge base served her well when she emigrated to London in 1929 and took on multiple projects documenting the history of photography. These included writing a comprehensive book, A Hundred Years of Photography, 1838-1938,and managing a microfilm archive at the London Science Museum Library.

Left: Hearst Castle; images via MKSD and UC Regents

Julia Morgan

Julia Morgan (1871 – 1957) was an American original, an architect who designed over 700 buildings in California and helped define that state’s visual style. An exponent of the Arts and Crafts movement, Morgan adorned her buildings with California pottery and often turned to Mediterranean design motifs such as tiled roofs. While she is best known for the opulent Hearst Castle, she was equally adept at designing works of public utility, such as the charming Oakland YWCA building.

Not much is known of Julia Morgan’s personal life. She is said to have had a single-minded devotion to her work and, like Michelangelo, would get by on a minimal amount of food and sleep. In 2012, the playwright Belinda Taylor wrote a speculative play about Morgan’s life entitled Becoming Julia Morgan.

Right: Center for Excellence, Syracuse University; images via Harvard University and Azure Magazine

Toshiko Mori

As an architect, Toshiko Mori has created stunning houses and commercial and public buildings noted for their efficiency and elegance. As an academic at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Mori has concerned herself with questions of sustainability. She looks at the architecture of both the developed and developing world and tries to find ways architects could create more livable towns and cities.

Everything about her career has followed this solutions-oriented mind-set. “The intention is to make something very simple, which is very difficult to achieve,” explained Mori. “I like to tackle complex issues by coming up with simple solutions.”

Left: London School of Economics Saw Swee Hock Student Centre; images via and Arnolfini

Sheila O’Donnell

Sheila O’Donnell is among those architects to have made a distinctive mark on their home city. The warm, brick façades of the buildings she has designed with her firm O’Donnell + Toumey have had a major impact on the visual identity of Dublin, mixing a touch of nostalgia in designs that are otherwise rigorously modern.

“At some point before we started working abroad we began to realise that it wasn’t just about ‘Irishness,’ but more about believing that you need to absorb all of the ‘contextual imperatives’ of a place,” explained O’Donnell in an interview. “We now transport that method of working — we start each project by immersing ourselves in understanding the physical material (and immaterial) culture of a place. I think that this is something that has driven our practice from the very beginning, and it’s liberating to know that you can apply that all over the world.”

Right: Linear House; images via ArchiTravel and ArchDaily

Patricia Patkau

Patricia Patkau is a founding partner of Patkau Architects, which has operated out of Vancouver for over 30 years. The firm’s style combines a modern sensibility with a sensitivity to the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. The architectural historian Kenneth Frampton described their work as “very close to what I attempted to define in 1983 as Critical Regionalism.”

Take a project like Tula House, a cantilevered structure in British Columbia that fits so seamlessly into its site, it almost becomes invisible. To live here would be to truly live with the landscape, even if one never ventured out on a hike.

Left: Bibliotheque; images via Pinterest and NEMO

Charlotte Perriand

When Charlotte Perriand (1903 – 1999) applied to work in Le Corbusier’s studio in 1927, she was rudely rebuffed, with Corbusier commenting “we don’t make cushions here.” Not to be discouraged, Perriand got to work renovating her apartment, creating a large bar made of aluminum, glass and steel. When Corbusier’s partner, Pierre Jeanneret, saw this piece of furniture at the Salon d’Automne, he convinced Corbusier to give her a job in their furniture design department. Lucky for him, too: The chaise lounge design closely associated with Corbusier’s studio would never have existed in the same way were it not for Perriand and her intricate handling of steel tubes.

In the 1930s, as Perriand became more involved with Leftist politics, her attention turned away from chrome-plated steel toward less expensive materials. “The extension of the art of dwelling is the art of living — living in harmony with man’s deepest drives and with his adopted or fabricated environment,” she wrote in her 1981 article “L’Art de Vivre.”

Right: Seaside, Fla.; images via Pinterest and Starr Sanford Design

Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk

Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk is a founding partner of DPZ, a firm associated with the New Urbanism movement known for retro-fitting sprawling suburbs into livable downtowns. If America has been plagued by poor urban planning, Plater-Zyberk is devoted to repairing the damage. One of her best-known projects is the planned community Seaside, Florida, a picturesque town made famous as the main filming location for the film “The Truman Show”(1998).

Left: Casa Larrain; images via Nevada Museum of Art and Flickr

Cecilia Puga

One could spend hours thumbing through photographs of Cecilia Puga’s buildings, many of which are located in her native Chile. Set in wild landscapes and featuring raw surfaces, Puga’s houses speak to the integrity of good design, which needs no adornment.

Right: Courtyard in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.; images via Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society and Houzz

Lilian Rice

Lilian Jeannette Rice (1889 – 1938) was a pioneer among pioneers, a woman architect who found success in California at a time when that state was still part of the frontier. Projects like Rancho Santa Fe, California — a planned village in San Diego County — set the template for the modern take on Spanish colonial–style architecture that predominates in California to this day.

Left: OSU South Campus Chiller; images via Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation and Creative Mornings

Carol Ross Barney

Carol Ross Barney is a founding partner and principal designer at Ross Barney Architects, one of the premier firms in America’s first city of architecture, Chicago. A recent project, the OSU South Campus Chiller Plant, embodies Barney’s firm’s commitment to designing beautiful structures that meet pressing needs. The rectangular building, bejeweled with glass plates that reflect colored sunlight onto the building’s façade, provides a “long-term, sustainable solution” for the local medical community’s need for chilled water, according to a statement by the firm. The structure includes glazed openings, allowing passersby opportunities to look into the chilling mechanisms.

Right: Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia; images via Yale School of Architecture and ANTIQUES

Billie Tsien

The husband and wife duo behind Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects is one of the most prolific pairs around. Since the 1970s, the pair has been behind numerous museum projects. This reporter is especially taken with the space they created to house the historic Barnes collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art in Philadelphia. The museum is spare yet warm and highly conducive to contemplation. It is a careful balance that the firm seems to strike time and again. Architizerlooks forward to their forthcoming plans for the Obama Library.

Images via Visir and Pinterest

Hogna Sigurdardottir

For people who don’t live in Iceland, the Scandinavian island nation can sometimes seem a bit mystical or otherworldly, an impression some Icelanders are eager to seize upon. Hogna Sigurdardottir reminds us that, in the end, Iceland is a nation like any other: a place where people need architects to design spaces that allow them to live and work in an efficient, dignified manner. Her aesthetic, with its penchant for raw surfaces and low profiles in keeping with the nation’s rolling hills, is one attuned to the hard-nosed reality of life.

Left: Alison Smithson with her husband and collaborator Peter; right: Robin Hood Gardens Housing Complex, London; images via Wikipedia

Alison Smithson

Alison Smithson (1928 – 1993) and her husband Peter Smithson were pioneers of New Brutalism, a movement the general public distrusts but architects can hardly get enough of. Nothing screams “the ’70s” quite like the fortress-like Robin Hood Gardens Housing Complex in London. The Smithsons weren’t captive to a single style, however: Their design for the still-used Economist headquarters is a sleeker take on the New Brutalist aesthetic, showcasing the beauty of concrete in a way that fits in with its Westminster surroundings.

Left: Straw Bale House; images via The Architectural Review and Building Design

Sarah Wigglesworth

Browsing through the projects showcased on the website of Sarah Wigglesworth, it’s hard not to smile. Her practice is devoted to designing buildings on a human scale, with an eye toward sustainability.

Wigglesworth’s 2002 project, Straw Bale House, showcases her sensibility perfectly. This modern residence — which serves as the architect’s home and office — is “swaddled in straw bales” for sustainable insulation. Sandbags constitute one of the building’s walls, which faces a a railway yard, one of the building’s many witty details. Hattie Hartman, in an article that asks whether Straw Bale House was “the most influential house in a generation,” writes that she is continually “struck by the sheer number of ideas in this house,” which she claims “spawned a new green aesthetic.”

Wigglesworth, for her part, continues to tinker with the design of her home, which had no real precedent. “We missed a trick on the thermal mass in the house,” she says, “and we were building when breathing walls were the rage. It’s quite leaky.” Her commitment to a praxis that involves both innovation and improvisation reminds us what architecture is all about.

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Pat Finn Author: Pat Finn
Pat Finn is a high school English teacher and a freelance writer on art, architecture, and film. He believes, with Orwell, that "good prose is like a windowpane," but his study of architecture has shown him that a window is only as good as the landscape it looks out on. Pat is based in the New York metro area.
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