On April 15, 1928 Norma Merrick Sklarek was born in Harlem, New York to parents who were raised in the West Indies. As a child she was labeled as a bright and creative person. Her father instilled the idea of greatness no matter what her field of choice was. Her brilliance as a child would lead her to attending and graduating from Hunter High. This was an all-girls magnet school for the smartest girls in New York City. Early in Life she developed a love for art, science and math; these subjects are the foundation of architecture. After graduating high school she attended Barnard College for a year; she would then enroll in Columbia University’s School of Architecture. Sklarek was able to beat the odds because Columbia University’s Architect School only accepts a small number of women each year.
While earning her degree in Architecture, Sklarek continuously amazed her peers and professors by displaying her brilliance and skill. She was one of the few students to pass the Architecture exit exam in one try, in the history of Columbia University. After Graduation she faced some roadblocks looking to start her career as an architect. Sklarek found it difficult to land a job working for a private architecture firm, so she began working for The Department of Works in New York City. Though Sklarek was happy to have a job, working for the City of New York was not her dream. Her dream was to become an architect so she stuck to her dream and quit her job. Her next step was looking for a job within the architecture field which took time but she eventually found a job. She gained employment with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, which is a well renowned architecture firm in New York.
Sklarek worked with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill for four years before she left New York for Los Angles. After moving to Los Angles Sklarek was able to find employment with Gruen Associates. Working for Gruen Associates was a dream that came true for Sklarek. She was able to find success within the field of architecture as well as build a name for herself. In 1966 Sklarek was named director of Gruen Associates and the company was able to flourish under her direction. She would later leave Gruen and become the vice president of the Weldon Becket Firm. As the vice president of Weldon Becket she was able to spearhead the building of several projects. She was able to lead the building of the American Embassy in Tokyo, Japan, The California Mart, The Fox Plaza in San Francisco, California, and the Terminal One in Los Angeles International Airport.
In 1980 Sklarek became the first African-American women to be honored with a fellowship by the American Institute of Architects. In 1985 Sklarek along with her colleges Margot Seigal and Katherine Diamond created their own architectural firm; Seigal, Sklarek and Diamond. Their firm became one of the largest female-owned firms in the United States. Sklarek became the first African-American woman to create and manage her own architectural firm. Sklarek is known as the “Rosa Parks” of architecture because of her efforts there are over 100,000 black architects in America now.
She also became a professor at UCLA, Columbia and Arizona State Universities. She authored “Women in Architecture” for the Encyclopedia of Architecture & Construction. She then became the chair of the AIA National Ethics Council. An architecture scholarship was honored in the name of Norma Sklarek at Howard University, and Sklarek was honored with the Whitney Young Jr. award at the AIA National Convention in 2008. On February 12, 2012 Norma Merrick Sklarek died at the age of 84 but she literally left her mark on the world. She used her imagination and passion to help her forge a future for herself and others. She was a groundbreaking hero that we should never forget. Mrs. Norma Merrick Sklarek, we stand on your shoulders.
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