Although the majority of household names in design and architecture belong to men, female architects have played integral roles in the evolution of design. These four women pushed the boundaries of what architecture truly is – and redefined what it means to be an architect.
Denise Scott Brown
Many husband-and-wife teams have jointly impacted the design world after coming to prominence together. However, in the male-dominated field, credit often went more towards the husband. Denise Scott Brown was already a highly regarded urban designer before marrying Robert Venturi. Since 1960, Scott Brown and Venturi have collaborated as founding partners of Philadelphia-based Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates. Yet, Venturi alone was awarded to Pritzker Prize in 1991 and many have questioned the decision to not also award Scott Brown. Scott Brown is well known for her contributions to the modern understanding of the relationship between design and society as well as smart urban designs.
More than a decade after Denise Scott Brown was denied the Pritzker Prize, Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid was the first woman to ever win the award. Her projects are far ranging and include parking garages, ski-jumps and urban landscapes. Hadid’s works have been called bold and theatrical and she often brought deconstructivist approaches to her designs. Patrik Schumacher, Hadid’s closet design partner, coined the term parametricism to describe the curved, computer-aided designs of Hadid. While being treated for bronchitis in 2016, Hadid died from a heart attack at the age of 65. Since, Schumacher has taken over Hadid’s work and is set to fully realize parametric design in the 21st century.
In 1981, at the age of 21, Maya Lin designed a memorial for Vietnam Veterans as a Yale University project. After entering the school project at the last minute, many – including Lin herself – were surprised when she won. Marked by what is now considered her signature style, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC is stark, simple and revolutionized how memorials were designed and perceived. Lin has headed a design studio in New York since 1986, yet some critics maintain Lin is an artist – not an architect, regardless of the fact she holds her Masters in Architecture. Regardless of what critics say, Lin continues to produce award-winning works and remains dedicated to social causes.
Neri Oxman is an American-Israeli architect, designer and professor known for projects that combine biology, computing and materials engineering. Oxman coined the term material ecology to describe the integration of biological forms into construction – creating a true living building. Trademarks of her designs include brightly coloured and textured surfaces, often meant to be worn or touched. She also utilizes 3D printing and fabrication techniques. One well-known work by Oxman is the Silk Pavilion, a large dome woven out of a robotic arm and covered with silk spun in place by 6,500 free-range silkworms. A recent publication of Oxman’s entitled, “What if our buildings were grown, not built?” further describes her philosophy that design should be moving away from the Industrial Revolution’s “World-as-Machine” philosophy and instead embrace a “World-as-Organism” approach.