Special to the NNPA to Our Weekly –
Memorial services were being set for Norma Merrick Sklarek, a celebrated African American architect who accomplished numerous firsts in the field.
Sklarek died Monday at her home in Pacific Palisades. She was 85.
Born Norma Merrick in Harlem to Trinidadian parents, she attended Hunter College High School, then Barnard College and acquired her architecture degree in 1950 from Columbia University School of Architecture, where only one other female student was among the graduates. She was the first Black woman to be licensed as an architect in the United States, with certification in the state of New York in 1954 and in the state of California in 1962.
After receiving her degree, Sklarek was unable to find work at an architecture firm, so she took a job at the New York Department of Public Works. Later she spent four years at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. She became the first African American director of architecture at Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles in 1966, and she also worked with the Jon Jerde Partnership.
Sklarek became the first Black woman to be elected Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980. In 1985, she became the first African American female architect to form her own architectural firm: Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond, which was the largest woman-owned and mostly woman-staffed architectural firm in the United States.
Sklarek was known for coordinating major projects. Among them are San Bernardino City Hall, the Fox Plaza in San Francisco, Terminal One at the Los Angeles International Airport, California Mart, Pacific Design Center, and the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo, Japan.
Following her retirement, she served on the California Architects Board. She also served for several years as chair of the AIA National Ethics Council. In her honor, Howard University offers the Norma Merrick Sklarek Architectural Scholarship Award. Sklarek is also an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
She is survived by her husband, Dr. Cornelius Welch, a son David Merrick Fairweather and three grandchildren.