Architecture has always been more of a male-dominated industry. Becoming an architect was once seen as a man’s thing, so much so, a 2017 survey of the world's 100 biggest architecture practices showed only three headed by women.
Today, women have started to make major inroads as successful architects. But a certain few individuals will always be remembered as trailblazers – with the five highlighted below being worthy of a mention.
The late Zaha Hadid has been hailed as one of the greatest architects of the modern age. She is also recognised by many in the industry for being futuristic, daring and absolutely unconventional.
Zaha was the first woman to receive the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, which honours individuals of the field for their stellar achievements. She was even conferred the title of Dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 2012.
The Iraqi-born British architect was schooled in both England and Beirut – after which, she studied architecture at London’s Architectural Association. She died of a heart attack in 2016 at the age of 65.
One of her first shots at fame came from winning a competition to design The Peak, a leisure and recreational centre in Hong Kong. This design, a “horizontal skyscraper” that moved at a dynamic diagonal down the hillside site, established her aesthetic.
Zaha has never adhered to just one style though. Rather, she is known for her highly expressive vision – sweeping, fluid and fragmented. She famously once said: “There are 360 degrees, so why stick to one?”
Slick, clean, and shiny – that would best describe the works of Kazuyo Sejima. Known for her designs with modernist elements, the Japanese architect has a penchant for blending outdoor spaces with their accompanying interior.
As it is, Sejima’s buildings are best known (and easily identified) for having shiny surfaces. Glass, marble and metal are considered the pet materials used by her for almost all of her projects.
She is the second woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize. This honour was bestowed to her jointly with business partner Ryue Nishizawa. Together, the two have gained international recognition with their architecture firm SANAA.
Sejima has been described as “driven and focused” – above everything else. Work, it seems, is her number priority. She has also demonstrated a passion for architecture that knows no boundaries.
“I have a dream that architecture can bring something to contemporary society. Architecture is how people meet in space,” the 62-year-old creative genius was once quoted as saying in a 2010 interview.
As both an artist and architect, Maya Lin’s work has long reflected a strong interest in the environment. She often honours nature through projects that raise awareness on the subject for audiences in urban spaces.
These include buildings, as well as memorials, landscape design and sculpture. Some of her outdoor works straddle both architecture and art. For example, “Input” – a park that resembles an old-fashioned computer punch card when seen from the air.
American-born Lin, 59, is also lauded for interpreting the world through a 21 century lens. She is reportedly the niece of Lin Huiyin, who is an American-educated artist and poet, and said to be the first female architect in modern China.
Lin first achieved recognition at the age of 21 while still an undergraduate at Yale University, when her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. was chosen in a competition.
In 2009, his first year in office, President Barack Obama awarded Maya Lin the National Medal of Arts. In his last year in office, 2016, he recognised Lin’s achievements with the nation’s highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Jane Drew is regarded as one of Britain’s most distinguished and best-loved architects. Although she has been gone for more than 20 years, her legacy is still remembered to this very day.
She was the first woman to serve on the Council of the Royal Institute of British Architects and was a lifelong fellow. In 1996 (a few months before her death at 85), she was named Dame of the British Empire.
Drew’s most memorable works include hospitals, universities, housing estates and government offices – especially in countries like Africa, India and Sri Lanka, plus the Middle East region.
She is widely celebrated for being a post-modernist. All her career, Drew defended the modernism of her generation and spoke out against others who believe in the return to pre-modern architecture.
The Jane Drew Prize, an award given annually by the Architects’ Journal published in London to a person showing innovation, diversity and inclusiveness in architecture, is in her namesake.
Known as a visionary and theorist, Anne Tyng (1920-2011) introduced the world to the magic of geometric design. Her focus was on space frame architecture, which involves the use of interlocking patterns.
“Many women have been scared away from the profession because of the strong emphasis on mathematics....All you really need to know are basic geometric principles, like the cube and the Pythagorean theorem,” she has stated in the past.
Tyng was born in China. Her parents were missionaries and as a child, she was said to have spent hours on end carving cities out of the soft stone that surrounded her family’s holiday home.
After completing her education in the US, she was amongst the first women admitted to the Harvard Graduate School Of Design. She was among the institution’s first female graduates too.
Tyng gained early recognition for inventing a toy, a kit of wooden puzzle-like pieces from which children could build furniture and other things. She also drafted the first design of a high rise, space frame tower, using the triangle as a basic structural unit.
Cover Image: zaha-hadid.com
Writer | PY Cheong
PY Cheong has plied the trade of words long enough to recognise the difference between writing and storytelling. Believes in always dressing up his prose. Living and breathing the work he does.