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International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA): Scholarly Highlights

The IAWA was established in 1985 as a joint program of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and the University Libraries at Virginia Tech. The purpose of the Archive is to document the history of women's contributions to the built environment.

International Archive of Women in Architecture

Areas of Scholarly Interest

The IAWA collections represent the legacies and lived experiences of more than 435 individual women, firms, organizations, and exhibitions. Over the past three decades, the IAWA has grown to become one of the richest and most comprehensive resources in the world for the history of women in architecture. Our materials are frequently used by artists, architects, designers, realtors and homeowners, historic preservation specialists, documentary television and filmmakers, authors, and scholars from the fields of architectural, labor, and women's history (among many others).

With nearly 2000 cubic feet of physical materials to peruse, the scholarly possibilities for a researcher in the IAWA collections is almost without limit. Examples of past scholarship supported by the collections can be found in the list of Milka Bliznakov Research Prize winners. The following sub-topics suggest broad themes represented across the IAWA.

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Pioneering women architects

The original purpose of the IAWA was to document the disappearing legacies of pioneering women who studied and practiced architecture in a time when the field was almost exclusively male. Examples of women represented in the IAWA include:

  • Florence Kenyon Hayden (1882-1973), first licensed female architect in Ohio, professor of architecture at Ohio State (1905-1907).
  • Anna Keichline(1889-1943), suffragette, graduate of Cornell University (1911), first registered woman architect in Pennsylvania, and inventor (with at least 7 patents).
  • Liane Zimbler (1892-1987), first licensed woman architect in Austria.
  • Alberta Pfeiffer (1899-1994), graduate of the University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign (1923), architect in Connecticut through the 1970s.
  • Mary Brown Channel (1907-2006), first registered woman architect in Virginia.
  • Norma Merrick Sklarek (1928-2012), FAIA, first African-American woman to become a licensed architect in New York (1954), California (1962).
  • Kimiko Suzuki (1929-1992), first graduate in the housing studies program at Japan Women's University.
  • L. Jane Hastings (1928 - ), FAIA, graduate of University of Washington (1952), founder and owner of the Hastings Group in Seattle, first woman to serve as chancellor of the AIA College of Fellows, early member of the International Union of Women Architects (UIFA).
  • M. Rosaria Piomelli (1937 - ), graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1960), practicing architect and professor of architecture at the City College of the City University of New York, first woman to serve as dean of a school of architecture in the U.S.

Advocacy and organizing for women in architecture and design

Many of the individuals, organizations, and exhibits featured in the IAWA challenged the status quo for women in the design professions. Here is a small sample of the prolific mentors, innovative leaders, irrepressible activists, and tireless educators featured in the collections:

  • Judith Edelman (1923-2014), founder and principle at Edelman Sultan Knox Wood/Architects, chair of the American Institute of Architects first Task Force on Women, inspiration for the 1974 children's book titled What Can She Be? An Architect.
  • Natalie de Blois (1921-2013), FAIA, architect for Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill (SOM) and member of the American Institute of Architects Task Force on Women.
  • Jean Linden Young (1922-1997), Seattle architect, member of the American Institute of Architects Task Force on Women with Judith Edelman and Natalie de Blois, and heavily active in several organizations for women architects including the International Union of Women Architects (UIFA), Sisters for a Human Environment.
  • Despina Stratigakos, architectural historian, author and professor at University of Buffalo's School of Architecture, successfully lobbied the Mattel toy company to include an architect in the 'Barbie I Can Be..." series.
  • More Than the Sum of Our Body Parts: An Exhibition by CARY, "Caryatids: Chicks in Architecture Refuse to Yield (to atavistic thinking in design and society)" (1992-1993), a provocative exhibition designed and produced by a group of Chicago based collective of women architects to draw attention to the experiences of women architects.

Taliesin fellows

The IAWA maintains archival collections for several women who studied with Frank Lloyd Wright at his Taliesin studio. Three of these women were honored by the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation in its 2009 documentary, A Girl is a Fellow Here:

  • Eleanore Pettersen(1916-2003), FAIA, one of the first women licensed as an architect in New Jersey, Taliesin fellow from 1941-1943. Designed residences for President Richard Nixon and jazz artist George Benson.
  • A. Jane Duncombe (1925 - ), graduate of the Art Institute of Chicago's School of Industrial Design, architect of California, Taliesin fellow from 1950-1951.
  • Lois Davidson Gottlieb (1926 - ), graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Graduate School of Design, residential designer in California, Taliesin fellow from 1948-1949.

Women architects in Eastern Bloc countries

The early development of the IAWA was driven in large part by the personal efforts of its founder, Dr. Milka Bliznakov. Before joining Virginia Tech in 1972 as a professor of architecture and urban design, Dr. Bliznakov studied and practiced architecture in her home country of Bulgaria (then under the leadership of the Bulgarian Communist Party). Having emigrated first to France in 1959 and then to the United States in 1961, Dr. Bliznakov maintained a rich network of friends and colleagues in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia), Hungary, Poland, Romania, the Soviet Union (including Latvia and Russia), and Yugoslavia (including Croatia and Slovenia). As a result of these personal connections, the IAWA maintains several collections for women who studied and practiced architecture under communist regimes in Central/Eastern Europe and the USSR. Like Dr. Bliznakov, a significant proportion of these women emigrated to the United States of America to practice and teach architecture.


Women's contributions to Russian architectural history and theory

Building upon the early work of Dr. Milka Bliznakov to document the legacies of women architects in Eastern Bloc countries, the IAWA continues to collect primary and secondary sources on the advancement of Russian architecture and architectural theory. Dr. Bliznakov's research files offer a wealth of scholarly insight into 20th century Russian architecture, particularly the avante-garde, constructivism, and futurist theory. Through the work of architectural historian and honorary advisor Dr. Anna Sokolina, the IAWA continues to document the work of Russian women architects throughout the present day.


Women architects and landscape architects of California

As a result of an enduring partnership with the Los Angeles Chapter of the Association for Women in Architecture (AWA), the IAWA is home to several collections for women who practiced architecture and landscape architecture in California, including:

  • Beverly Willis (1928 - ), FAIA, artist, craftswoman, designer, and nationally recognized San Francisco architect whose firm developed CARLA (Computerized Approach to Residential Land Analysis), a groundbreaking software for architectural design and land analysis. Founder of the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation.
  • Wendy Scott Bertrand (1941 - ), student at the École des Beaux Arts (1964-65) and graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (B.A., 1971; M.A. 1972). Architect, planner, and department lead for the Western Division Naval Facilities Engineering Command and the U.S. Forest Service.
  • Elsa Leviseur, practiced and taught internationally in South Africa, California, and England.
  • Sigrid Lorenzen Rupp, German-born architect, practiced in Palo Alto, California.
  • Zelma Wilson, FAIA, architect in Ojai, California.

Contact the Collections Archivist

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Sam Winn
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Special Collections
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