Undeterred by persistent gender-based obstacles in their chosen profession (as detailed in the results of the 2016 “Women in Architecture” survey by The Architectural Review), many female architects have conquered the odds and left indelible marks on the built environment. In honour of International Women’s Day, we celebrate the achievements of three who have risen to the top of their field.
Denise Scott Brown
Denise Lakofski, born in 1931, knew she would become an architect from the time she was five years old. The American architect, urban planner, (prolific) writer, educator, and principal of the firm Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates in Philadelphia eventually became among the most influential architects of the twentieth century.
Along with her husband, Robert Venturi, Scott Brown (she was first married to Robert Scott Brown for four years until his death) endeavored to understand cities in terms of social, economic, and cultural perspectives. She viewed them as complex systems—Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates always, prior to executing the actual design, studied the trends of an area, taking into consideration future expansions or congestions, population movement, and daily life patterns.
In 1989, Denise Scott Brown published her famous essay, "Room at the top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture," which detailed her struggles to be recognized as an equal partner of the firm in an architecture industry that was predominantly male. The essay foreshadowed the 1991 Pritzker Architecture Prize controversy, wherein Robert Venturi was named the winner and Scott Brown did not attend the award ceremony in protest.
Born in Baghdad in 1950, the Iraqi-British architect is easily the most recognisable woman in contemporary architecture. After majoring in mathematics at the American University of Beirut, Hadid studied at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, where she met luminaries of the field such as Rem Koolhaas, Elia Zenghelis, and Bernard Tschumi.
In 2004, Hadid became the first female recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. She also received the Stirling Prize in 2010 and 2011; in 2012 was made a dame. Her Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre won the 2014 Design Museum Design of the Year Award, making Hadid the first woman to win the top prize in that competition. In 2015, she became the first woman to be awarded the RIBA Gold Medal.
Her distinctively neofuturistic buildings include the London Aquatics Centre, the Guangzhou Opera House, and the Vilnius Guggenheim Hermitage Museum (Hadid won the international design competition for the museum). Her architectural design firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, which is headquartered in a Victorian school building in London, employs more than 350 people.
London-based architect Farshid Moussavi, 51, is the founder of Farshid Moussavi Architecture (FMA) and Professor in Practice of Architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. At Foreign Office Architects (FOA), which she co-founded and was a principal until June 2011, Moussavi co-authored the design for the award-winning Yokohama International Ferry Terminal in Japan and was also part of the team that was a finalist in the Ground Zero competition.
She is just as well known for her research as she is for her practice. Moussavi’s research eschews the adoption of external theoretical models from other fields and instead focuses on the distinctly architectural—and the potential of information technology, landscape, iconography, new construction technologies, and tessellation (decoration with mosaics) to make architecture a critical cultural practice. In her book The Function of Form, Moussavi argues that due to the speed at which technology, the environment, and culture are changing, architecture must also evolve by constantly producing, enriching, and reinventing its environment. The Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, which rises from a hexagonal base on a triangular site to a square top and is clad in mirror-finished black stainless steel, is a tangible testament to her thesis.