Norma Merrick Sklarek – Great African-American Architects

Norma Merrick Sklarek  (April 15, 1928 – February 6, 2012) was the first African-American woman to be licensed as an architect in the United States — the first to be licensed in the state of New York in 1954 and in the state of California in 1962 —  as well as the first woman to be elected Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.  Shlarek accomplished many firsts for black women in architecture, including establishing the first architectural firm to be formed and managed by an African-American woman in 1985, Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond, which was the largest woman-owned and mostly woman-staffed architectural firm in the United States.  

Born in Harlem, New York, to Trinidadian parents, Sklarek attended Hunter College High School, then Barnard College, and received her architecture degree from Columbia University School of Architecture in 1950.  After receiving her degree, Sklarek was unable to find work at an architecture firm, so she worked at the New York Department of Public Works, and she would later spend four years at architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Sklarek would later become the first African-American director of architecture at Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles, CA, in 1966, and also worked with the Jon Jerde Partnership. In 1980, Sklarek became the first black woman to be elected Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980. In 1985, Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond was formed, and was the largest woman-owned and mostly woman-staffed architectural firm in the US.

Fox Plaza

Some of Sklarek’s projects included the San Bernardino City Hall in San Bernardino, California, the Fox Plaza in San Francisco, Terminal One at the Los Angeles International Airport and the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo, Japan.  After retiring from the profession, she served on the California Architects Board and served for several years as Chair of the AIA National Ethics Council. Howard University offers the Norma Merrick Sklarek Architectural Scholarship Award in her honor, and she was designated an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

Embassy of the United States in Tokyo
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