By: Melody Richardson
This week we wanted to honor the work of the late, great Norma Sklarek. Hailed as the Rosa Parks of architecture, her vision and passion are an inspiration to us all. Not only was she an incredible influence on the world of architecture, she has been a pioneer for women and people of color in the design industry. Despite going unrecognized for many her works, Sklarek still persevered.
Sklarek gained her education from Columbia University and was still turned down 19 times before getting a job. She overcame many obstacles while working due to her gender and ethnicity, and still was known as one of the nicest and most hardworking people in the business. Her career spanned through 5 companies and 38 years. Most notably were her contributions to Gruen Associates in Los Angeles, where she collaborated with César Pelli. Together they built the United States Embassy in Tokyo, the Pacific Design Center, San Bernardino City Hall, Terminal 1 at LAX, and Fox Plaza in San Fransisco. Of those notable works, only the United States Embassy in Tokyo recognizes her for her contributions.
Norma Sklarek is truly an inspiration because despite the push back she received throughout her career on countless occasions she never allowed it to break her spirit. She always mentored young people in similar positions, and gave them ways to cope with the discrimination they would face. She was the first black woman to become a licensed architect and the first black woman to be elected into the Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), and in 1985 she started an all female architecture firm with Margot Siegel and Katherine Diamond.
Sklarek is a personal inspiration because, as a woman of color, I myself have faced discrimination in my life in one form or another. To be able to witness the accomplishments and admire someone who overcame so much, I know I can achieve my goals in the design world. She strived to make things better, whether it was through her designs or in her relationships with others in her industry. She didn’t mind paving the way and being a role model for others, even though she had none of her own.
Norma Merrick Sklarek was not only a great architect but she truly opened the doors for all women and people of color in the design industry.