Fund Named for Norma Merrick Sklarek to Break Barriers to Graduate Study

Editor's note:

A version of this article originally appeared on Columbia GSAPP

October 29, 2020

In October 2020, Dean Amale Andraos announced that GSAPP will commit $1 million to establish the Norma Merrick Sklarek '50 B.Arch Scholars Fund, intended to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity by breaking down barriers to access for graduate study.

Columbia alumna Norma Merrick Sklarek, born on April 15, 1928, in Harlem, New York, was a trailblazer. When she passed the New York state exam in 1954, she was among the first Black women to become a registered architect in the state. Author Anna M. Lewis calls Sklarek the ‘Rosa Parks of Architecture' in her book Women of Steel and Stone.

Following graduation from the Columbia University School of Architecture, Sklarek embarked on her career with a civil service job at the Department of Works for New York City. Committed to pursuing a career in architecture, she eventually accepted a position at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in New York before, four years later, relocating to Los Angeles for a position at Gruen Associates. It was there that Sklarek’s career accelerated; she was named the firm’s director in 1966 before transferring to the firm Welton Becket as the company’s vice president. Her influential oeuvre includes the American Embassy in Tokyo, the fashion center California Mart, Fox Plaza in San Francisco, and Terminal One at Los Angeles International Airport.

Sklarek became the first Black woman to receive a fellowship from the American Institute of Architects in 1980. Five years later, she founded Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond, together with Margot Siegal and Katherine Diamond, becoming the first African-American woman to establish and manage an architectural firm.

The Norma Merrick Sklarek ’50 B.Arch Scholars Fund will be used over the next three academic years to support a cohort of full tuition financial aid awards and will be aimed at positively addressing inequity and barriers for students who have historically been underrepresented at GSAPP. Intended to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity by breaking down barriers to access for graduate study, the first Sklarek scholarships will be funded with $1 million from GSAPP.

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