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Female Architects Celebrate the Women Who Inspired Their Careers

For Women’s History Month, 10 architects on Houzz describe the designers, mentors and trailblazers who influenced them

Annie Thornton

In the projects we highlight, designers we profile and events we cover, Houzz regularly celebrates creative and inspiring women in design. For Women’s History Month, which commemorates the valuable contributions that women — often unsung — have made throughout history, we wanted to let the inspiring female pros on Houzz tell us about the women who’ve inspired them.

We asked women in architecture, a field still dealing with gender inequities, to describe the designers in their lives who have mentored, guided or otherwise positively influenced them in their careers. The answers we got include everyone from world-renowned design pioneers to a generous mentor who helped secure a designer’s first architectural internship. Here are 10 of our favorite answers, from the architects in their own words.

1. Emily Paprocki of Rock Paper Hammer on architect and bestselling author Sarah Susanka

“Her Not So Big House ideology is something that I agree with, as I have always valued quality over quantity when it comes to space. As a residential architect in the United States, where bigger is always better, I admired her for putting the idea out there that this is not always the case. This was long before the tiny-house trend, and I thought it was both surprising and inspiring that her first book about not needing such a big house was so popular,” Emily Paprocki says.

“I love that she is an architect and that she writes and shares her ideas and makes her design philosophy approachable by all. Her foray into lifestyle advice with the bookThe Not So Big Life acknowledges that living with less in a not-so-big house is indeed a lifestyle choice, and I like that she is providing the tools to get there for those who are interested,” she says.

2. Arielle C. Schechter on Spanish architect and product designerPatricia Urquiola

Patricia Urquiola “is a true world-class design star. I am a huge fan of her work and her furniture. I’ve been following her work for years. What I especially love is her ability to always surprise. Her work never repeats — there is always something new in her newest collection that is unlike anything she’s done before or that one has ever seen,” Arielle Schecter says.

3. Anjie Cho on architect Diane Naiztat of Naiztat + Ham Architects

“She was one of the first architects I worked for in New York City. I learned so much from her about how to work with clients, contractors and people in general. She was soft yet tough, and I think a lot of my best skills came from her mentorship,” Anjie Cho says. “It was the first time I worked for a woman who owned her own firm. I’ve worked for a few other architects since, and she still stands out as the most upstanding, kind and influential person from when I started on my architecture path.”

4. Laurie JB Stubb of place architecture:design on designer and artist Ray Eames

“Ray Eames worked in a variety of media, including architecture, furniture, graphics, textiles, film and toys. I am inspired by her contribution to modern design and her ability to work in all disciplines as an advocate for social change,” Laurie JB Stubb says.

Eames “is an inspiration, not only for her accomplishments in modern design but for her advancement of women in business at a time when men dominated the corporate world. It was difficult for women to have a voice. Her work was her voice,” she says.

5. Aimee Conrardy of AXIS Productions on architect Jane Loefgren

Aimee Conrardy met Loefgren, an associate university architect at the University of Denver, when she was a high school student interested in architecture. “Jane made the time to meet with me and review my drawings and make suggestions. Over the years, she ended up helping me apply to colleges, get jobs and even attended my wedding,” Conrardy says.

“During college, she got me a summer internship at the University of Denver, where we both worked for an acclaimed architect, Cab Childress, who I learned important life lessons from. While we have fallen out of touch, both busy with kids and work, I think about Jane all the time and how important she was in my formative years. I could only wish every girl could have this opportunity,” she says.

6. Annie Mennes of Garrison Foundry Architecture + Decor on architect and furniture designer Eileen Gray

“She was a pioneer in her field at a time when it was unheard of for a woman to be designing furniture at this scale.She was incredibly inventive, and her designs are timeless — in fact, they are still seen today,” Annie Mennes says.“She is a pioneer and a pure talent!”

7. Lauren Shadid on architect Zaha Hadid

“She was such a pioneer for women in architecture on many fronts. She was the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize for architecture, among many other distinguished honors,” Lauren Shadid says. “A few years ago [my family and I] were on a trip to Venice, Italy, and the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti just happened to be featuring an amazing exhibition of her drawings, paintings, models and other works. I was so happy to get to share her inspirational work with my young girls.

“I first learned about her in architecture school. She was on the rise in her career, and she was a guest critic at our school. As a young woman in design, I was intrigued by her purposeful confidence,” she says. “Even after her death in 2016, Zaha Hadid has continued to be recognized around the world for her work and her contributions to the profession.”

8. Lauren Rubin on architect Zaha Hadid

“Zaha Hadid’s designs were beyond the imagination, beyond logic. She had the most unique and exciting vision of the world. She never held back, and pushed her designs beyond the usual ideas of space and architecture,” Lauren Rubin says. “She inspired me to look beyond the ordinary and seek a greater design, to imagine and create in architecture and never accept the conventional. Zaha sculpted with building forms and inspired the public that were lucky enough to walk through her buildings and sit in her landscapes.

“What I take from the amazing career of Zaha Hadid is to push all designs to their limits. Whatever I’m working on, whether it is a house in New Jersey, an apartment in New York City or even just a simple built-in bookcase, I always pursue exciting and original ideas. Zaha Hadid taught me that architecture and interior design should always be an opportunity to celebrate,” she says.

9. Andrea Swan on arts benefactor Penny Winton

“She and her husband were huge benefactors to the arts,” Andrea Swan says of Penny Winton, who commissioned Frank Gehry to design and build a guest house on Lake Minnetonka in the 1980s, which helped launch the Pritzker Prize-winning architect’s international career. Swan’s father was the project’s mason. “If it wasn’t for her taking a chance on the then rising star of Frank Gehry, then my dad wouldn’t have had the opportunity to build it, win awards and inspire me to become an architect. I had my poster for that home at my drafting desk while in architecture school at Notre Dame,” Swan says.

10. Risa Boyer Leritz on architect Julia Morgan (and all women in architecture)

“I have to start by saying that all female architects inspire me. This profession is still such a male-dominated profession that any successful female architect who is making it on her own is an inspiration,” Risa Boyer says.

“But if I were to choose [a female designer who] stands out, it would have to be Julia Morgan. She lived in a time when women did not go to architecture school, and yet she managed to have a prolific career and work on so many significant projects. Her work is gorgeous and rich in detail, and she pushed the boundaries of design for her time,” Boyer says.

Boyer first learned about Morgan while visiting Hearst Castle on a high school trip. “I was blown away to see this huge, ornate, detailed historic compound designed by a woman. In school she was the only female architect mentioned in the architecture history books, which I hope has changed, because she certainly wasn’t the only one of her time. Julia Morgan was a pioneer for female architects; she proved to the world around her that a woman can do what a man can do — and maybe even a little better,” she says.

Your turn: Which female designer or designers have inspired you most? Share your answers in the Comments.

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