How and by whom NYC buildings have been built has changed markedly since the original wigwams built of birch bark by the Lenni-Lenape. One of the city’s first architects could be considered Cryn Fredericks, the designer of The New Amsterdam Fort which was built on the tip of Manhattan out of hard-packed earth and rubble to protect Dutch interests from the English and the French. In the 400 years since, most of the architects of New York City’s structures have been men. The 2016 loss of one of architecture’s greats, Zaha Hadid, has brought to light the importance of the contributions made by women to our city’s beautiful skyline. From the tallest office tower in the United States to the tallest residential tower in the western hemisphere, the contributions of women cannot be overstated. Here we’ll take a look at some of the female forces changing our city’s skyline.
But first the terminology:
Design Architect: The creative architect whose design vision is brought to life.
Executive Architect: Also known as “Architect on Record,” Executive Architects handle behind the scenes work such as planning, construction documentation, and permits.
Interior Design Architect: Plan and execute the functionality and aesthetics of interior spaces
Technical Director: Manages teams of architects, designers, engineers, and contractors to ensure successful delivery of projects according to specification.
A Queens native, Deborah Berke knew she wanted to be an architect at the age of 14 after falling in love with work by Eero Saarinen. In 1982 she started her firm, Deborah Berke and Partners LLC, which now employs more than 50 people including her partners, Maitland Jones and Marc Leff. Deborah is also the Dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University – the first woman dean – succeeding Robert. A.M. Stern in his role. Her firm’s work includes institutional, residential, and commercial projects spanning 13 states and a wide array of design from private homes in Miami to luxury hotels in Kentucky to 432 Park Avenue, the tallest residential tower in the Western Hemisphere. Her firm is currently working on a feminist hub in Chelsea known as The Women’s Building, a transformed NYC correctional facility. Notable NYC projects include serving as interior design architect for residential spaces and interior designer of model residences and building amenities for 432 Park Avenue, design architect and interior design for 48 Bond Street, and sole architect and interior design for The New School College of Performing Arts.
Although Dosso was honored in Crain’s 2012 40 under 40 for her work with tall buildings in NYC, she is not yet a household name as some of these other women are. A native New Yorker, Dosso is a Director at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, where she has been for 18 years and is recognized for her expertise in the design of tall building in urban settings.
Dosso served as the Technical Director of 1 WTC, ensuring that the building was built to spec by managing a team of 50 architects and designers, navigating the messy leadership that included Silverstein Properties, Port Authority, and The Durst Organization, and resolving the needs of engineers and contractors who oversaw 1,100 construction workers… not to mention her involvement in the design details that required her to conduct on-sites such as to marble quarries in Italy. Her other work includes 7 WTC which opened in 2006 and the 50-story Baccarat Hotel at 53rd and 5th. Her current project list includes Hudson Yards, Manhattan West, and a Four Seasons Brand multi-use project in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Winka Dubbledam started her NYC-and-Holland based firm, Archi-Tectonics, at the age of 28. Born and raised in the Netherlands, Dubbledam studied architecture in Rotterdam and then moved to NYC for her Master of Architecture Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Her work spans five continents and includes commercial, retail, hospitality, pro-bono, large scale and individual residential projects.
New York City projects include 497 Greenwich Street, an 80,000 SF, 11 story mixed-use building in SoHo and one of the first NYC buildings to use passive solar energy along with highly insulated walls for sustainability; 33 Vestry Street, a 9 story TriBeCa building with 7 uniquely designed units ranging in size from 3,500 to 5,000 SF; and Brewster Carriage House, a six story multi-use building which was the manufacturing plant for Brewster Carriages in the 1870s and was completely rebuilt from the ground up by Dubbledam and her crew. John Legend and Chrissy Teigen called Brewster Carriage House home until their recent sale. Other than expertise in and passion for sustainable design, Archi-tectonics does not have a style that can be recognized across their work, but rather Dubbledam takes pride in customizing projects to each client’s needs.
Of all the stories shared here, Matlock’s may be the most inspiring. A graduate of Yale, Audrey worked for notable NYC-based architects Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, and then at Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill for over a decade before branching out on her own during the 90s recessions. She recruited a few out-of-work architects and together they worked out of Matlock’s loft, tirelessly and without pay, entering design competition after design competition. As soon as they won a competition, Audrey Matlock Architect was founded.
Matlock and her typically deconstructivist style have led the design on projects including 57 Irving Place, the long-anticipated nine-unit glass building in which each unit houses a steam room and entitles residents to a Gramercy Park key; the award-winning Chelsea Modern 47-unit with five undulating glass bands on the facade, as well as cultural institutions and private residences including this stunning catskill mountain home.
Anabelle Selldorf’s work has been lauded as subtle and dignified, transcending the latest push for stand-out-from-the-crowd buildings such as Bjarke Ingels’ pyramid-shaped Via 57 West and Santiago Calatrava’s bird-shaped transit hub. Originally from Cologne, Germany, Selldorf received her architectural degrees from Pratt Institute and Syracuse University in Italy. After working for a NYC architect for one year and then receiving her Master’s Degree, Anabelle’s first paid job was a redesign of her friend’s Manhattan kitchen which lead to her opening up shop in 1988. She remains among the 17% of architecture firms whose owners or partners are women, along with her three female partners, Sara Lopergolo, Lisa Green, and Julie Hausch-Fen. With a reputation for completing projects on time and on budget, Selldorf’s focus is on clean and simple architecture. She summarizes her approach beautifully by explaining that she and her team “..try to achieve a clearly resolved sum of parts, where you can’t deduct anything more but where everything comes together in unique harmony. It’s like working on a sentence until it cannot be said any better way.”
Selldorf and her team have an extensive art gallery portfolio, with work including serving as Design Architect in New York, Zurich, London, and for the Venice Biennale. Selldorf met David Zwirner (considered by many the art world’s most powerful dealer) when they were teenagers and completed his first gallery in 1992, with 20+ more completed since. Other projects include the transformation of the Neue Galerie (at 5th Avenue and 86th Street) out of a 1914 Beaux Arts Mansion and Chelsea’s 200 West 11th Street, a 19 story condo with a car elevator that allows residents, including Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, to park their car steps from their front door. The firm recently expanded the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego and was recently chosen to design the Frick Collection expansion. Her portfolio includes beautifully designed private homes as well.
A brief scan of any NYC architecture firms’ websites shows the large number of women currently coming up in the ranks of this historically male-dominated industry. With the above heroines leading the way, I look forward to seeing how the skyline continues to change by these architects at the top of their game and those coming behind them.