It wasn’t until 1898 that the first woman architect, Ethel
Charles, was admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects. However, our
brief tour through a handful of listed buildings, illustrated by images from the Historic England Archive, shows that women have been
influencing architecture in England for over 400 years.
Brougham Castle, Brougham, Cumbria (2004-01-15) by Jonathan Bailey, English HeritageHistoric England
Lady Anne Clifford (1590-1676)
The first woman ever recorded to have had hands-on involvement in re-shaping buildings, Lady Clifford’s earliest known work includes the restoration of the Grade II* listed Church of St Michael in Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria.
She also redesigned one of her family seats, Brougham Castle (pictured), transforming the site from a military complex into a grand country estate. The medieval fabric is listed and the remains of a Roman fort are scheduled as an ancient monument.
Church of St Michael List Entry
Brougham Roman Fort and Castle List Entry
Discover more about Lady Anne Clifford with Historic England
A la Ronde, Summer Lane, Exmouth, Devon (1850/1920) by Unknown photographerHistoric England
Jane and Mary Parminter (late 18th century)
The Parminter cousins built their rural retreat A La Ronde near Exmouth in Devon in 1798. The pair had travelled extensively across Europe, their passion for eclectic design reflected in the building.
The cottage’s central octagon shape is thought to have been modelled on the 6th century basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. Rustic details like intricate shell and feather wall patterns and hidden grottoes mean that the building is listed at Grade I.
A La Ronde List Entry
Church of St Mary, Wreay, St Cuthbert Without, Cumbria (2008-10-20) by Alun Bull, English HeritageHistoric England
Sara Losh (1785–1853)
Sarah Losh was an expert linguist, member of the Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society and friend to poets Wordsworth and Coleridge. In 1839 she funded and designed the rebuilding of the Church of St Mary in Wreay, Cumbria.
Having travelled extensively, Losh based the design of the church on a Roman basilica - a simple building form that contrasted the popular English Gothic style. The inside of the church is embellished with ornate symbolic carvings making for a unique and imaginative space.
The church was completed at a cost of £1,200 and is now Grade II* listed. It includes a Grade II listed mausoleum built by Losh in memory of her sister Katharine.
Church of St Mary List Entry
Losh Mausoleum List Entry
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Waterside, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire (2012-08-23) by Steve Cole, English HeritageHistoric England
Elisabeth Scott (1898-1972)
One of the first women to study at the Architectural Association in London, Scott paved the way for many aspiring female architects.
Architecture was in her blood, being the great-niece of architects George Gilbert Scott (Midland Hotel, St Pancras Station) and second cousin of Giles Gilbert Scott (Battersea Power Station).
In 1928, just four years after getting her diploma, Scott won a high-profile competition to rebuild the burnt-out Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon - a huge step forward for women in architecture.
Scott hired women on her projects and worked with the Fawcett Society to promote wider acceptance of women in professions they were not typically associated with. She disliked being labelled a ‘female architect’ rather than simply an ‘architect’.
Now known as the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Scott’s distinctive building is listed Grade II*.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre List Entry
Aiton & Co Ltd Engineering Works, Stores Road, Derby (1932-05) by Aerofilms LtdHistoric England
Norah Aiton (1904–1989) and Betty Scott (1904–1983)
After meeting as students at the Architectural Association in the mid-1920s Aiton and Scott practiced together, firstly gaining commissions from their families.
In 1931 they designed the steel-framed Aiton Works in Derby, home to Aiton & Co, owned by Norah’s father. It was the first industrial building of the Modern Movement in Britain and one of the first designed by a female partnership. For both reasons it is listed at Grade II.
Former Aiton Works List Entry
The Sainsbury Wing, The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Westminster, Greater London (2015-01-19) by Chris Redgrave, Historic EnglandHistoric England
Denise Scott Brown (born 1931)
Another graduate of the Architectural Association in London, Scott Brown was born into a Jewish family in what is now Zambia in 1931.
She came to London to work for the Modernist Frederick Gibberd and to study, before moving to America to attend the University of Pennsylvania.
Throughout her career, Scott Brown has been vocal about the discrimination against women in architecture - she was notably overlooked for her contribution to the Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery, for which her husband Robert Venturi won the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1991.
London Aquatics Centre, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Newham, Greater London (2012-09-29) by Daman Grady, English HeritageHistoric England
Zaha Hadid (1950–2016)
Born in Iraq in 1950, Hadid studied mathematics at the American University in Beirut before moving to London in 1972 to attend the Architectural Association School.
She founded Zaha Hadid Architects in 1979 and the firm’s first major project was the Vitra Fire Station in Germany. They also designed the distinctive London Aquatics Centre (pictured), a diving and swimming facility built for the 2012 London Olympics and now open to the public.
In 2004, Hadid was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize (considered the Nobel Prize of Architecture). She was made a Dame in 2012 for services to architecture and, in 2015, became the first and only woman to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects.
In 2013, Zaha Hadid supported the campaign to recognise Denise Scott Brown as a Pritzker Prize laureate.
Historic England is the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England's spectacular historic environment, from beaches and battlefields to parks and pie shops.
Discover more about women architects and builders with Historic England
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