Norma Merrick Sklarek, African-American Architect, Died at 85

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Dead, Norma Merrick Sklarek on February 6, 2012, born in Harlem, New York on April 15, 1928, to Trinidadian parents, she attended Hunter College High School, then went to Barnard College, and acquired her architecture degree in 1950 from Columbia University School of Architecture.

She was one of the first black women to be licensed as an architect in the United States, and the first to be licensed in the state of New York in 1954 and in the state of California in 1962.

After receiving her degree, Sklarek was unable to find work at an architecture firm, so she took a job at the New York Department of Public Works.

Later she spent four years at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

She became the first African-American director of architecture at Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles, CA, in 1966, and she also worked with the Jon Jerde Partnership.

Sklarek became the first black woman to be elected Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980.

She didn’t like her work for the city, and soon she was pounding the pavement again, looking for a job in architecture.

Her search took her to Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, a high-profile outfit in New York.

She stayed there four years, before packing up again, this time for the west coast at Gruen Associates in Los Angeles.

For Sklarek, the new firm proved to be everything she’d hoped it would be. At Gruen, Sklarek quickly climbed the company ladder, getting named the firm’s director in 1966.

In that position, and later as vice president of the Welton Becket firm, she left her mark on several important projects including the American Embassy in Tokyo, the behemoth 2.5 million square foot fashion center known as California Mart, the Fox Plaza in San Francisco and Terminal One at Los Angeles International Airport.

In addition to her architectural work, Sklarek is married to Cornelius Welch and has three children.

She taught part-time for six years in UCLA’s graduate architecture program, and lectured at several universities throughout the country.

She served as commissioner to the California Board of Architectural Examiners and as Master Juror for the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), grading the architectural design and site planning exams.

In 1984 her husband Rolf passed away.

The following year she married her third husband, Dr. Cornelius Welch, a physician.

Also in 1985 she partnered with Margot Siegel to form the firm of Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond.

Four years later she became a principal at Jerde Partnership, retiring in 1991.

In 2008 Sklarek received the AIA’s Whitney M. Young Jr. Award honoring her as a pioneer in the profession.

The Young award goes to a person or organization that stands out as a positive force of change.

Howard University also awards an architectural scholarship in her name.

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