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Norma Merrick Sklarek—Architect and Trailblazer

This article is the second in a three-part series that celebrates Black History Month. These articles highlight the contributions of individual African Americans in the history of the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industries.

A woman posing for a picture

Norma Merrick Sklarek (1926-2012)

Celebrated for breaking through as one of the first African American women architects in North America, Norma Merrick Sklarek was born on April 15, 1926, in Harlem, NY. She excelled in math, science, and the fine arts at school, and engaged in many activities typically reserved for boys at the time, spending most of her childhood helping her father paint houses, fishing, and assisting with carpentry.

After graduating from high school, Norma studied at Barnard College in 1944 to gain the prerequisites necessary to attend Columbia University. When she graduated in 1950, she was one of two women, and the only African American in her class. Upon graduation, she was rejected by 19 architectural firms which she attributed to race and gender discrimination. Eventually, she landed a job as a junior draftsperson for the Department of Public Works in New York.

A woman of many firsts, Norma became the first registered Black female architect in New York in 1954, and later the first to be licensed in California in 1962. In 1980, she was the first African American woman elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects.

In 1985, she cofounded Siegel Sklarek Diamond (1985-1989)—a woman-owned firm—with partners Margo Siegel and Katherine Diamond. Norma retired in 1992. During the 1990s she spent much of her time lecturing and mentoring younger minority women architects.

Norma’s impressive resume includes projects such as:

  • Terminal One Los Angeles Airport

  • Mall of America in Minneapolis

  • Embassy of the United States in Tokyo, Tokyo Japan

  • Fox Plaza, San Francisco, CA

  • California Mart, Los Angeles, CA

  • San Bernadino City Hall, San Bernardino, CA

  • Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles, CA

  • Santa Monica Place, Santa Monica, CA

Norma also received many awards and honors including:

  • 1987 – Association of Black Women Entrepreneurs Outstanding Business Role Model Award

  • 1990 – Honorary Member of the Delta Sigma sorority

  • 2007 – Honored by the California State Legislature

  • 2007 – Honored by the Goodwill Board of Governors for work on behalf of the disabled

  • 2007 – Honored by the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA)

  • 2008 – Whitney Young Jr. Award Service Award for Social Action at the AIA National Convention in Boston


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