At the Forefront of Design

Norma MERRICK Sklarek ’44, FAIA, was the first Black woman to become a licensed architect in the states of New York (1954) and California (1962). Known as the “Rosa Parks of Architecture,” until 1980, she remained the only licensed Black woman in California. Sklarek was one of two women and the only Black student in her class to graduate with a Bachelor of Architecture from Columbia University in 1950. She faced gender and racial discrimination as she applied for work and was rejected by 13 firms.

First holding a city job at the Department of Public Works, she was later hired by the internationally known firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Upon relocating to Los Angeles, Sklarek held positions of increasing responsibility at firms in the region. She helped lead the design of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and Terminal One at the Los Angeles International Airport. In 1985, she cofounded the woman owned firm Siegel Sklarek Diamond, which was the largest such practice in the country. Sklarek was also a faculty member at the University of California, Los Angeles and at the University of Southern California, where she taught and mentored many young architects.

Sklarek was elected to the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows in 1980, the first Black woman to earn that distinction.