Norma Sklarek had many “firsts”. She was often credited at the start of her career as the first Black Women architect to be licensed in the United States. That distinction actually goes to Beverly Greene – Norma was the 3rd. But it didn’t matter. Young black girls read her name in the likes of Ebony Magazine – a staple publication in every black household at the time – when she was included in their 1958 article on “Successful Young Architects”. As more and more discovered her career, she became their role model. Like so many women, then and now, she chose a management path. Achievement was measurable, ambition was acceptable, and competence over pizazz was a vital and necessary counterpoint to charismatic male designers in firms with large scale complex projects. As a woman and as an African American, the design path was simply not open to her, and she needed to work, she had two boys to support, and without any shame, she needed to get paid. So her work often fell shadow to the lead designer. She was the project manager, the woman behind the scenes who made sure things got done…
And yet, despite the groundbreaking achievements of Norma, what is the current state of black women in the field of architecture? In the 2020 AIA Demographic survey, the association counted 94,000 members. 23,500 of these are women. There are 691 Black Women architects. As each Black woman achieves her license, it is a matter of pride to add consecutively to that very small number. It’s a matter of shame that it is still so small.
On today’s episode, Norma Sklarek: An Extreme Bold Hand.
Special thanks to Kate Diamond, Renee Kemp-Rotan, Roberta Washington, Gail Kennard, Michael Enomoto and Gruen Associates, Pat Morton, Jack Travis, Beth Gibb, Alexandra Lange, and Suzanne Mecs. The archival recording of Norma Sklarek is from the African American Architects of Los Angeles collection at the UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research.
This podcast is produced by Brandi Howell, with editorial advising from Alexandra Lange. New Angle Voice is brought to you by the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, with support from Knoll, a MillerKnoll company and SOM.