Norma Merrick Sklarek
Her studies :
Norma Merrick was born to West Indian parents who had moved to Harlem, New York. Sklarek’s father, a doctor, encouraged her to excel in school and seek a career in a field not normally open to women or Americans of color. She attended Hunter High School, a tycoon school for girls, and Barnard College, a women’s college associated with Columbia University, which was not accepting female students at the time. In 1950, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in architecture.
Start of her work career :
After graduating, Norma Merrick could not find work at an architectural firm. After being rejected by dozens of companies, she accepted a position with the New York Department of Public Works. While working there from 1950 to 1954, she studied and passed the grueling week-long series of tests to become a licensed architect in New York State – on her first try. She was then better placed to join the large New York office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), where she worked from 1955 to 1960. Ten years after obtaining her degree in architecture, she decided to settle in the Western coast.
Working as a director in Gruen and Associates :
It was Sklarek’s the long association with Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles, California, where she made a name for herself within the architectural community. From 1960 to 1980, she used both her architectural expertise and her project management skills to complete Gruen’s many multi-million dollar projects – becoming the company’s first female director in 1966.
She wasn’t given the credit in many of her works :
Sklarek’s race and gender were often disadvantages for marketing at the time of his employment with major architectural firms. When she was a director at Gruen Associates, Sklarek collaborated with César Pelli.
As production manager, Skarek had immense responsibilities but was rarely recognized on the finished project.
Only the United States Embassy in Japan has acknowledged Sklarek’s contributions.
Leaving Gruen and working as vice president at Welton Becket Associates :
After 20 years with Gruen, Sklarek left and from 1980 to 1985 became vice president at Welton Becket Associates in Santa Monica, California. While there, she led the construction of Terminal 1 at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which opened in time for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Founding her own business :
In 1985, she left Welton Becket to found Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond, an all-female partnership with Margot Siegel and Katherine Diamond.
And finally working as a director in the Jerde Partnership :
Sklarek reportedly missed working on the large, complex projects in previous positions, and so she ended her professional career as a director of the Jerde Partnership in Venice, California, from 1989 until her retirement in 1992.
“In architecture, I had absolutely no role model. I am happy today to be a role model for others who follow.”
My opinion :
In everything we do in life, we always look for a person to relate to, a role model, to learn from their experience before we could jump in completely. We want to learn from their mistakes and avoid them as much as possible, that’s why “the firsts” are hard, being the first to do or experience something has always been a really big deal and a scary thing that takes a lot of courage because it may take two completely opposite turns, you either make it like Norma Shlarek and be part of history and your name will be mentioned for ages or you don’t and you have to pick yourself up and try again.
As a black American architect, Norma Sklarek more than survived in a tough profession – she thrived. Raised during the American Great Depression, Norma Merrick developed an intelligence and tenacity of mind that have become an influence for many others in her field. She has proven that the architectural profession has a place for anyone who wants to persist in doing a good job.
Reflecting on the book “I want to be an architect” by Campo Baeza
In this book, Campo Baeza explains perfectly all the things architects go through and what it’s like to work as an architect, based on his own experience. He explains all his ideas in a very simple way that helps us, as new architecture students, comprehend easily every thing he mentiones, and thus be able to project ourselves into the future and have an idea of how our studying journey and career would would probably look like.