1814 - 1871
Responsible for the design of more than 40 Anglican churches in South Africa during the 1800s, Gray is widely regarded as the country’s first female architect. Her particular focus was the Gothic Revival Style, examples of which can be seen at the annual Sophia Gray Lecture and Exhibition held by the School of Architecture at the University of the Free State. She was born in Yorkshire, England, and married Bishop Robert Gray in 1836. In 1848 they moved to South Africa, where she began contributing to the South African architectural landscape.
Born in Berlin, Germany, Albers is best known for her exploration of weaving and abstraction. She initially joined the Bauhaus (in 1922) to become a fine artist, but instead joined the weaving workshop, eventually becoming the head. She was one of the few women to achieve this, and went on to publish a book, On Weaving, in 1965. Considered by many to be groundbreaking with regards to the theory, practice and history of weaving, the book would help to develop the artform for years to come.
1897 - 2000
Born in Vienna, Austria, Schutte-Lihotzky’s most well-known work is the Frankfurt kitchen. This particular design was created after her research into the everyday lives of the masses, and driven by her desire to create more accessible private spaces for the public. She studied and developed her design approach at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, and many consider her to be the school’s first female architectural graduate. Other key works include kindergarten pavilions, and her work in developing specifications for large-scale housing
1894 - 1949
Born in Helsinki, Finland, Aalto is a pioneer of Scandinavian design. In 1913 she attended the University of Helsinki, where she met her future business partner and husband, Alvar Aalto. The pair collaborated with Maire Gullichsen and Nils Gustav Hahl to found Artek, a furniture company built on the foundations of functionalism. There, Aalto managed the industrial art department until 1941, and eventually became the managing director of the company until 1949. Aalto and her husband designed the Villa Mairea in 1938, and she is responsible for the interior.
1885 - 1947
Born in Berlin, Germany, Reich was known for her modernist approach to architecture and furniture design. She initially trained as an industrial embroiderer in 1908, and worked in the Viennese workshop of Josef Hoffman. Notable pieces were collaborations with Mies van der Rohe, namely the Barcelona Chair, Tugendhat House, and Barcelona Pavilion. She became the second ever Bauhaus master, and headed up the interior design workshop in 1932.
1878 - 1976
Born in Enniscorthy, Ireland, Gray’s work ranges from furniture to architecture. She studied art at the Slade School of Fine Art at the University of London, and moved to Paris thereafter to study lacquer work and develop her furniture designs. Notable work includes the Bibendum Chair in 1930, and E.1027. The latter explores the interface between public and private through the use of screens (a fascination that originated during her stay in Paris).
1903 - 1999
Perriand is known for her tubular and swivel furniture in the 1920s and 30s. She studied furniture design at the École de l’Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs, and went on to lead a group of architects in the design of Les Arcs, a french ski resort. The resort had a staggered design so as to fit more naturally into the mountain landscape. Other notable works include the B-301 Basculant Lounge Chair (1929), and the LC4 Lounging Chair (1928).
Etel Mittag Fodor
1905 - 2005
Mittag-Fodor is a Bauhaus photographer and artist. She began her career at the Bauhaus in 1928 after studying at the Álmos Jaschik private arts school, and the Institute of Graphic Research and Education in Vienna. Though she initially studied to be a commercial graphic artist, her time at the Bauhaus was spent developing her photographic skills under Walter Peterhans. Her notable works include Photographic study with toy pistol and sugarcubes (1928) and Advertising image for Indanthren-Barben (1929).
1912 - 1988
Eames was an American designer who specialised in furniture, textiles, and architecture. She and her partner, Charles, are known for their plywood furniture and Case Study 8 (also known at the Eames House). The front facade of the Eames House was inspired by her art studies, and a notable Mondrian influence is present in the colourful panels. Notably, the Eames House makes use of standardised, mass-produced parts from builders’ catalogues.
Lina Bo Bardi
1914 - 1992
Bardi moved to Brazil in 1945, where she fully developed as a modern architect. Her most significant brutalist work, the Sesc Pompéia in São Paulo, was converted from a working factory to a cultural centre for the public. Bardi also designed The Glass House, where she and her husband, Pietro Maria, resided. Influenced by the Dom-Ino house, the Glass House seems to float between the trees of the Mata Atlãntica forest on thin pilotis.
1916 - 2006
As an American-Canadian journalist, author and activist, Jacobs is best known for her influence on urban studies, sociology and economics. Though she had no formal training as a planner, she has made great strides in the field. Her publication, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and her work with grassroots movements to protect neighbourhoods from urban renewal and slum clearance strategies, are examples of this. Her achievements include derailing the car-centered approaches to city planning.
1917 - 2019
Knoll (also Knoll-Bassett), of the furniture company, Knoll in the USA, had a significant role in the company’s aesthetic development. In addition to her official role designing office interiors, she was the architect behind the Knoll Planning Unit. This solidified her role as a creator of space, as well as a decorator. She is also responsible for the now widely-recognised standard of the mid-century modern interior. Her meticulous methods and rigorous design methodology can be attributed to her advanced schooling and extended travels. She was also mentored by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
1917 - 1979
Mgudlandlu is a recipient of The Order of Ikhamanga, silver class, awarded for her pioneering contribution to visual arts in South Africa. Born in the Peddie district near Grahamstown, Mgudlandlu is a self-taught artist. She often used several viewpoints in her work, namely ground-level perspectives when depicting animals, and high vantage points in her landscapes. Her work carries a deep spiritual and symbolic importance, and she has achieved success despite criticism from her contemporaries.
Gwendoline Elizabeth Fagan
Fagan is a South African researcher and winner of the Simon van der Stel Foundation - Heritage South Africa Gold Medal (1992). She initially trained and worked as a medical practitioner, but later joined her husband, architect Gabriël Fagan, as a historical researcher and landscape planner. She boasts a diverse collection of research publications and books. Her influential body of work, engaging the design and restoration of historical landscapes, has earned her honorary memberships at various architectural and planning Institutes.
1928 - 1993
Smithson was a British architect who was at the forefront of New Brutalism, an architectural movement that stressed spartan functionality and a stark presentation of structure and materials, including exposed concrete and visible service conduits. She was born Alison Gill and studied at the University of Durham, where she met fellow student and future husband Peter Smithson. They began a joint practice and a seamless partnership in which they shared credit for everything they designed or wrote.
Mahlangu is a well-respected South African artist and educator, known for her bold, large-scale contemporary paintings and murals that reference her Ndebele heritage. She was the first woman to take part in the BMW Art Car Project (other artists involved include Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein), and painted her geometric patterns on a BMW 525i in 1991. She founded an art school in the backyard of her home in Mabhoko, Mpumalanga with the goal of preserving her cultural heritage. Mahlangu’s work is featured in collections around the world.
Bessie Emery Head
Head trained and worked as a teacher and journalist in apartheid South Africa, before going into exile and becoming Botswana's most influential writer. She advocated for indigenous southern Africans’ sense of belonging in their own land, and in 2006 she was honoured with the Literary Posthumous Award at the South African Literary Awards. Her writings were influenced by her own experience, and her books, When Rain Clouds Gather, Maru and A Question of Power still resonate with audiences today.
Adèle Naudé Santos
Santos (FAIA) is a South African-born architect and planner whose career combines professional practice, research and teaching. She served as the Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT from 2003-2014. She is also principal architect in the San Francisco-based firm, Santos Prescott and Associates, which focuses on architecture that is socially and contextually responsible. Santos has won several international design competitions, is published in journals world-wide, and has worked in cultures as diverse as Japan, Africa and the United States.
1945 - 1999
Japha ran a research-based practice in Cape Town, and was the second woman to be elected President of the South African Institute of Architects in 1998. Her interest in conservation-planning led to numerous published papers on the subject of architecture. Noteworthy works include her research in the field of policy planning, and thought provoking curriculum content at the UCT School of Architecture and Planning.
Trudy Groenewald & Debbie Preller
This duo established their Cape Town firm in 1990 after years of work in countries across the world. This global experience instilled a sense of the importance of context when designing local projects. Their designs are free of ostentation, and instead favour dignified designs with integrity. A large portion of their work focuses on previously marginalised communities, and they aim to address various socio-economic challenges. Groenewald became the first female president of the Cape Institute of Architects in 1992, followed by Preller’s turn in the same seat in 2004.
Dame Hadid established herself as an icon of modernism with her signature future-forward architecture and product designs. She became the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. Her firm, Zaha Hadid Architects, continues her legacy by continuing to produce groundbreaking work even after her passing.
Mori’s work is influenced by fashion, poetry and art, and she carries these inspirations into her work in order to create designs that act as positive catalysts for those who engage with them. She founded her architecture firm in 1981 in New York, and her dedication to material innovation and conceptual clarity earned her tenure at the Harvard Graduate School of Architecture. She is the first woman to earn this accolade, and has been a professor there since 1995.
Yvonne Farrell & Shelley Mcnamara
1951 - / 1952 -
Farrell and McNamara founded Grafton Architects in Dublin in 1978, and have since gone on to win multiple awards for their work. The World Building of the Year Award (2008), the RIBA International Prize (2016) and the Royal Gold Medal (2020) are a few instances of their acclaim. Their first publication, Dialogue and Translation: Grafton Architects, illustrates the influence that cultural and geographical context has on their designs. The duo also won the 2020 Pritzker Prize, becoming the fourth and fifth women to receive this honour since its inception in 1979.
Blaisse is the founder of Amsterdam-based studio, Inside Outside, established in 1991. As the name suggests, her designs focus on both interior and exterior spaces. She is inspired and influenced by architecture, textile design, interior architecture, set design and landscape architecture. Her notable work includes the 2012 Dutch Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Architecture.
Decq’s approach to architecture has led to her reputation as an unconventional and radical designer. In 1985, she and her husband, Benoit Cornette, founded ODBC. The name of the firm was later changed to Studio Odile Decq after Benoit’s death in 1998, as a result of her frustration with the media for not crediting her work correctly. She is also the founder of Confluence: Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture, established in 2014, to imagine different avenues of architectural education not restrained by strict historical institutions.
Lacaton is a french architect, and founder of Lacaton & Vassal. She formed the firm with her partner, Jean-Phillippe Vassal, in 1989. Together they gained global acclaim for their transformative work in social housing. Her work focuses on architectural economy, namely the use of lower cost construction techniques to create dignified, contemporary designs. Lacaton & Vassal received the Mies van der Rohe Award in 2019.
Japanese architect Kazayo Sejima’s work focuses on the social use and potential adaptation of space, only considering a project complete once its users breathe life into it through activity. Her signature style features pure forms. Smooth surfaces, like glass and marble form the architectural basis of her contemporary projects. Sejima founded the Tokyo-based architecture firm SANAA with partner Ryue Nishizawa in 1995, and was the second woman ever to receive the Pritzker Prize in 2010.
Heynen is a professor of Architectural Theory in Belgium. Her main research focus is modernism, modernity, and gender in architecture. One of her notable publications, Architecture and Modernity. A Critique, explores the relationship between modernity, dwelling, and architecture. Recently, in another one of her publications, Negotiating Domesticity, Heynen explores the relationship between architecture, gender, and domesticity in the home.
As an American architect and artist, Lin is known for her design of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington DC. Her winning submission in a nationwide competition to design the memorial catapulted her into national scrutiny that examined her age, race, gender and design practices. In her own words, she describes her designs as interpretations of “the natural world through science, history, politics, and culture, creating a remarkable and highly acclaimed body of work in art and architecture.
As a South African architect, academic and writer, Joubert was the driving force and editor of 10+ Years 100+ Buildings: Architecture in a Democratic South Africa. She is currently a private practitioner and affiliated professor at both the University of the Free State and the University of Pretoria. Joubert’s work has been featured in The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture, and has been lauded internationally with her inclusion of the list of 40 Architects Under 40.
Masojada is known for her work on the Constitutional Court Building, South Africa in 2004. The design for this building, in collaboration with Durban-based firm Designworkshop, was developed as a physical manifestation of the concept of ‘ubuntu’. It is regarded as an icon of contemporary architecture, and an example of what architecture can offer to the discourse of South African identity in this space.
Gang, founder of Studio Gang in Chicago, USA, is the designer of the Aqua Tower, the tallest building ever to be designed by a female architect. She has been featured in TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2019 for her numerous architectural achievements. Other notable projects include the Polis Station Research Project, which showcases her ability to use architecture as a catalyst for socioeconomic and environmental change.
Otten is the founder of Kate Otten Architects, established in 1989, which boasts a diverse portfolio of work that includes residential, commercial and public buildings. Her projects have earned her numerous awards including the Sophia Gray Memorial Lecture Certificate of Recognition. She is known for the Womens’ Jail Museum at the Old Fort in Johannesburg, Gabriel’s Pavilion, and My Little Red House. Otten’s design work blurs interiors and exteriors with a focus on material, texture, light and colour.
Lees is a director at DesigncoLab in Durban, South Africa, and a programme manager for FLOW, a social change project pilot. Her work includes architecture, research and policy development in planning, urban regeneration and the informal economy. Her work also focuses on inclusive sustainable development and spatial transformation. Lees and her all-women team won the international Housing Generator Competition in 1997.
Lokko is a Scottish-Ghanaian architect, academic and writer. She currently acts as editor of White Papers, Black Marks: Architecture, Race, Culture, where she continues to make significant contributions to discourse around race, identity, gender, African urbanism and spatiality in architectural education and writing. Lokko has taught at a number of prestigious schools, and is the Dean of Pitzer School of Architecture, City College of New York. Her past posts include time at Bartlett, and the Graduate School of Architecture at the University of Johannesburg.
Jo da Silva
Da Silva trained and worked as a post-disaster engineer, and went on to found Arup International Development. She currently acts as director of the company, and has been featured on a list of Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 for her work on engineering in developing countries and humanitarian crisis zones. Her work in Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Nepal, as well as notable work on the ACCCRN, focuses on building sustainable resilient cities to weather the risk of climate change.
Tabassum is a Bangladeshi architect known for her design of the Bait-ur-Rouf Mosque, which earned her the Aga Khan Award. Her work is celebrated for its prioritisation of climate, site, materiality, light, local culture and history through contemporary architecture. She has participated in the Venice Biennale for Architecture under the theme Freespace. Tabassum’s designs for fluid, communal living through clusters and courtyards are inspired by local rural examples.
Klitzner is a Cape Town-based landscape architect, and currently teaches at the University of Cape Town. One of her most notable projects is the Violence Prevention Through Urban Upgrading (VPUU) project, in collaboration with architects Chamberlain and Irving. VPUU is an urban renewal project in Khayelitsha, and seeks to provide safer access routes to and from schools through a network of playgrounds, playing courts, commercial squares and pedestrian walkways. The project also seeks to create more spaces for positive human interactions within that community.
Charlotte Chamberlain & Nicola Irving
Chamberlain and Irving are co-founders of the Cape Town-based architecture practice CCNIA, a spatial practice that is focused on community upliftment through interrogation of current social and spatial issues that impact the built environment. A notable project includes the renovation of Joseph’s Home for Kids with Chronic Illness. CCNIA is the recipient of the 2019 CifA (Cape Institute for Architecture) Award for their work on the TWK Villiersdorp Resource Centre.
Dr Suzanne Hall
Dr Hall is an associate professor of Sociology at the LSE, a scholar and an architect. As an urban ethnographer, she is known for her research on social diversity, global migration, and its impact on public space.
Mathur is an associate professor, architect and landscape architect based in the USA and India. She runs a collaborative research practice along with her partner Dilip da Cunha. Her work focuses on how water can be engaged through conditions of excess and scarcity, with the intention to create opportunities for resilience based design.
Maritz is the founder of Nina Maritz Architects in Windhoek, Namibia. Her notable works include various sustainable architecture and community developments projects, such as the Skeleton Coast Shipwreck Lodge which was inspired by the harsh landscape surrounding it. Her design approach strives to create honest expressions of structure and materiality that draws inspiration from Namibia’s culture, history and ecology.
Armstrong is currently the professor of Experimental Architecture at Newcastle University. She is also the founder and director of the Experimental Architecture Group. Her influence and inspiration centres around living architecture that looks to see how buildings can appropriate and integrate the properties of natural systems.
Thorold is the co-founder of Thorold Architects, South Africa. The studio specialises in conservation, adaptive reuse and restoration. They are known for their sensitive and highly responsive approach to built and natural environments.
Oxman is an American Israeli designer, the Sony Corporation Career Development Professor and Associate Professor of Media Art and Sciences at MIT Media Lab. There she founded, and currently leads the Mediated Research Group. The cross-disciplinary studio conducts research and design projects which are at the intersection of computational design, digital fabrication, material science and authentic biology. In utilizing design principles inspired by nature, Oxman aims to bridge together the built, natural and biological environments through research and experimentation.
Wolff is an architect, scholar, writer and co-director of Wolff Architects based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is a pioneering thought leader concerned with addressing social inequities through engaging spatial design practices. In 2018, she was shortlisted for the Architectural Review’s Moira Gemmill award, and in 2019 she received an international prize for Scholarly Works in Modern and Contemporary Art and Architecture in Rome for her book, Unstitching Rex Trueform, the story of an African factory.
Shawl is an Ethiopian architect born and educated in Addis Ababa. She is the founder of Raas Architects, and is known for her advocacy work in the construction industry which has positively impacted communities and the built environment. Shawl is the recipient of the 2007 Aga Khan Award for Architecture for her role as the architect of record for the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa.
Sharif is a practicing architect and academic. Her focus is on design that fosters means to facilitate and empower ‘forgotten communities’ whilst interrogating the role and relationship of architecture, its agency, and politics. In 2014 she won the Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction for the Middle East Regions.
Barbados-born Omotoso is a novelist, architect and designer. She grew up in Nigeria but has been based in South Africa since 1992. She has gained critical acclaim for her two novels, Bom Boy and The Woman Next Door, and won the South African Literary Award for a first-time author in 2012.
King is an Architectural Designer and Urban Researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences. Currently pursuing her PhD-by-practice, King’s work in the slums of India challenges architecture’s role in the future of developing countries through the provision of sanitation infrastructure. Her research is titled the Architecture for Rapid Change and Scarce Resources (ARCSR) project. King’s work has been widely published, and she has earned numerous awards, including AJ’s Emerging Women Architect of the Year.
Asmal is a South African urbanist, researcher, writer and curator. She founded The City in 2010, which focuses on creating inclusive cities. Her work deals with issues of social, cultural and spatial challenges in a post-colonial environment, and strives to create cultural equity in the built landscapes of the country. She regularly contributes to the global discourse, and acts as an advisor for the International Archive of Women in Architecture. Asmal’s notable works include her first book, Reflections & Opportunities and a placemaking project at Park Station in Johannesburg.
Kamara is the founder and principal of the architecture and research firm atelier masōmī, based in Niger. Her approach to design is culturally, historically and climatically relevant, and addresses the problems of the developing world. In 2018 she was the recipient of the Rolex Art Initiative in the architecture category.
This initiative was originally a physical exhibition developed during August 2019, in response to a call from the South African Institute of Architects to celebrate womxn in architecture for the duration of Womxn’s Month. The exhibition sought to recover stories and acknowledge the contributions that womxn have made to the built environment, both locally and globally, through a public participation project in the form of an incomplete timeline.
Upon its opening, the timeline was deliberately left empty to represent the silence in the history books and media about the influence women have had and continue to have in this field. Over the next three weeks, we invited the Cape Town community to populate the timeline by adding names of women they believed deserved recognition for their work. The response was overwhelming and at the end of the month, there were over 50 names submitted.
Upon completion, we realised that we had created a really valuable resource and decided to continue the project by converting the timeline into a digital format – this website.
We now invite you to help us grow this database by submitting the name of a womxn you think has made a significant impact on our industry. This is not just limited to architects but aims to showcase the brilliant work of womxn across both history and the various disciplines that encompass the built environment.
Over time we hope to create a globally accessible archive, which challenges the under representation, and often, mis representation of women in architecture. By recovering her stories we can endeavour to rewrite the narrow narrative of who constitutes an architect in order to level the playing field for future generations.