Groundbreaker, Architect, Mentor
Norma Merrick Sklarek, FAIA
Posthumously Awarded the 2019 AIA|LA Gold Medal
A woman of firsts, Sklarek earns yet another:
first black woman to receive
the American Institute of Architects Los Angeles Chapter’s most prestigious award.
July 18, 2019 (Los Angeles, CA)—Born in 1926, a graduate of Columbia University, Norma Merrick Sklarek, FAIA, applied to and was rejected by nineteen architecture firms before she became one of the first African American women licensed to practice architecture in the United States. Today, Angelenos recognize her work throughout the city and points beyond—California Mart, Fox Plaza, the Pacific Design Center’s Blue Whale, MOCA, San Bernardino City Hall, the US Embassy in Tokyo. Sklarek oversaw these significant projects as Director of Architecture at Gruen Associates based in Los Angeles. Later, as Vice President of Welton Becket Associates, she supervised the execution of Terminal One at Los Angeles International Airport. Sklarek’s contribution to changing both actual landscape and the landscape of practice includes the firm Siegel Sklarek Diamond. Co-founded with partners Margot Siegel, AIA, and Katherine Diamond, FAIA, Siegel Sklarek Diamond was the largest wholly-owned-by-women practice of its time.
Sklarek’s life was remarkable in multiple ways: the work itself, and her tremendous list of firsts. One of the first black women licensed to practice architecture in the United States. First black woman licensed to practice architecture in New York, then in California. First black woman to be elected to the College of Fellow by the American Institute of Architects.
And now, the first black woman to be bestowed The American Institute of Architects Los Angeles’ (AIA|LA) Gold Medal. Conferred by the President of the AIA|LA’s Board of Directors in recognition of a significant body of work with lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture, the Gold Medal is the highest honor the organization accords.
“Norma advanced the profession in an unparalleled way. Her lasting influence in the field is extraordinary,” observed 2019 AIA|LA President Barbara Bouza, FAIA. Bouza herself is a product of Sklarek’s impact. As a young black woman studying architecture, Bouza was introduced to Sklarek’s achievements through a feature in Ebony magazine. Today, Bouza is Managing Director, Principal of Gensler Los Angeles, a global firm with over six-hundred employees locally. Throughout her career, she has returned to Sklarek as a touchstone.
“Norma was a heroine,” stated Katherine “Kate” Diamond, FAIA, Sklarek’s former business partner.
“She is the definition of ‘pioneer,’” added Bouza.
“She was an esteemed architect, a social barrier-breaker and a mother,” said AIA|LA Executive Director Carlo Caccavale, Hon. AIA|LA.
Sklarek died in 2012. Accepting the award on her behalf at the 2019 AIA|LA Design Awards Ceremony on October 28, will be her son David Fairweather. “I am deeply humbled and grateful to see that recognition of my mother’s legacy continues to grow,” said Fairweather.
Far more than simply a ‘first,’ Sklarek delivered excellence; in addition to her quiet tenaciousness, her work drove her success.
“Her extraordinary professionalism and ability to put complex, large-scale, iconic buildings together earned her key positions with Gruen, Welton Becket, Siegel Sklarek Diamond Architects and Jerde Partners,” Diamond observed of the architect’s employment at offices that were and are prolific changers of Los Angeles’ built environment. “I am absolutely confident that all of the design principals in these many Los Angeles firms would agree with me that Norma led great teams to deliver impeccable and innovative, thoroughly detailed construction documents that resulted in better, buildable, beautiful buildings.”
“She was responsible for delivering all the projects during a groundbreaking time at Gruen Associates,” said current Managing Partner of the firm, Michael A. Enomoto, FAIA, a Gold Medal recipient himself. Forty-six years ago, Enomoto, then looking for a job, was referred to Sklarek by a family friend. She initially told him that there were no openings for him at Gruen, but when Enomoto asked her for advice on his portfolio, she immediately arranged to review it with him. Then, she hired him. Decades later, Sklarek’s willingness to counsel him as a young designer is still a vivid memory for Enomoto. He is not an exception. Sklarek was a renowned mentor.
“She loved her work and she loved helping others to succeed,” remembers Fairweather. This interest in supporting others and furthering architecture was facilitated formally and informally. Sklarek shared her expertise as a firm leader; as a teacher—first at New York City Community College, then later at the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Southern California; and, directly, with individuals who sought her mentorship.
“She trained entire generations of LA architects to pass their licensing exams and to learn the craft of putting better construction documents together,” said Diamond.
Today, Sklarek’s influence and the progress she began are as important as during her lifetime. “Recognizing Norma and the attainments she personally achieved is essential to the field. It’s a reminder of the enormous barriers in our very recent past and that, while we still have a great deal of work to do, the possibilities are extraordinary,” believes Bouza.
Norma Merrick Sklarek, FAIA, will be celebrated during a ceremony honoring the 2019 AIA|LA Design Award winners and Presidential Honoree recipients on October 28, at the Saban Media Center Wolf Theater.
For ticket purchase, click here or use this link: https://tinyurl.com/aiala-design-awards-tickets
Or, for more information about the 2019 AIA|LA Design Awards visit: https://tinyurl.com/aiala-design-awards
Event: 2019 AIA|LA Design Awards Ceremony + Party
Date: Monday October 28, 2019
Where: Saban Media Center Wolf Theater
Address: 5210 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601
Early Bird Prices (available through 8/09):
AIA Architect and Affiliate Members – $205
Associate Members – $95
General Public – $265
Tickets remain available after close of early bird price until event sells out, but increase in price.
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