Norma Merrick Sklarek (1928-2012)
Art by Eve M.
Born to Trinidadian parents in Harlem, Norma attended Hunter College High School and Barnard College before completing her architecture degree at Columbia University in 1950. One of only two women in her graduating class, Norma was one of the first black female architects in the United States. She was the first black woman licensed as an architect in both New York State (1954) and California (1962).
Unable to find a job at an architectural firm, Norma began her career at the New York City Department of Public Works before moving to the prestigious firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. During this period, she also taught at New York’s City College. In 1960, she moved to California to work at Gruen and Associates where she became the firm’s first black director of architecture. At Gruen, Norma worked on important buildings such as the US embassy in Tokyo, the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, and San Bernardino’s City Hall. In 1980, Norma moved to Welton Becket Associates where she worked on Terminal One of Los Angeles International Airport. The same year, she became the first black woman to be elected a fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In 1985, Norma co-founded Siegel-Sklarek-Diamond, one of the largest all-women architectural firms in the country. She left in 1989 to join the larger Jerde Partnership where she worked until her retirement in 1991.