There is a powerful saying that speaks to the need for visible role models in careers like architecture: If you can’t see it, it’s hard to be it. Norma Merrick Sklarek (1926–2012) remains one of those hidden personalities who drew her own blueprints in the profession—not only as a woman, but also as a Black woman in the decidedly male-driven world of American architecture.
During her lifetime she was quoted as saying that she practically stumbled on architecture as a career. “It was the art, as well as the technical, that drew me to architecture, but when I started in my studies, I really didn’t know what it was,” she said in an interview conducted by UCLA in 1994.
After she graduated from Columbia University with a degree in architecture, Sklarek struggled to get that first break in her chosen field. In the same interview, she said, “Every time I went somewhere to look for work, the answer would be the same. They weren’t hiring women, or African Americans.” Sklarek recalled knocking on twenty-five doors at architectural firms in New York, without an appointment, before securing her first position. And it wasn’t even in architecture. She took a job as a junior draftsperson at the City of New York Department of Public Works.
This story appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of MILIEU. To read the complete story or to see all photos, visit the MILIEU Newsstand to purchase this issue in print or visit Zinio.com to purchase this issue in digital format.
WRITTEN BY ANDREA KING COLLIER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY GRUEN ASSOCIATES