Women have certainly made their mark in architecture and design. In our round up celebrating International Women’s Day, we have chosen a selection of female designers and architects who challenged countless boundaries, all in the name of their dedication to the craft. They pioneered the rise of women in modern design – each with a story to inspire success for everyone out there.
Eileen Gray’s success as an architect and an interior designer paved the way for women to be recognized in what was then a totally male-dominated design industry. Well known for her creation of the iconic Bibendum chair, Gray was one of the first women admitted to the Slade School of Fine Art in London before becoming an apprentice in a London lacquer workshop for lacquer work and cabinetry.
Developing a strong skillset in lacquer work, she became internationally recognized as one of the leading designers of lacquered screens and decorative panels, establishing a strong following of art deco lovers. Despite developing sensitivity toward lacquer in her hands, she remained determined to work on lacquer, eventually setting up her own workshop.
Her creation of the Bibendum chair was emblematic of the modernist movement. It features two semi-circular, leather padded tubes inspired by the Michelin character. With its cantilevered base, the Bibendum chair sits alongside the Grand Confort and Barcelona Chair as one of the most iconic chairs from the 1920s.
Eventually progressing to architecture, Gray’s accomplishments were born from perseverance for her craft. A designer in her own right, the works of Eileen Gray continue to inspire women all over the world to earn their name in the design world.
So the story goes, when Perriand first applied to work at Le Corbusier’s studio in Paris, he replied ‘We don’t embroider cushions here.’ But after seeing the rooftop bar she designed for the Salon d’Automne in Paris, made completely from nickel and aluminium, Le Corbusier apologized and invited her to join his studio. Having novel ideas and familiarity with the technology, she immediately set out to work on storage systems, chairs and tables, becoming responsible for fittings and furniture designed under Le Corbusier’s principles. Working alongside Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret was fruitful; the success of iconic chairs such as Le Grand Confort and Chaise Lounge can be attributed to the trio’s collaboration.
She took her passion for design with her when she traveled to Japan as an official adviser for industrial design. There, she embraced bamboo as a medium by combining traditional bamboo processing with more modern steel-tubing. Returning to Europe after the war, she dedicated efforts on large-scale production designing housing and libraries, including conference rooms in the United Nations in Geneva.
Florence Knoll is famous for establishing one of the world’s largest design companies with her husband, Hans Knoll. With Knoll, she opened an avenue to market modern furniture and a way to promote different designers, eventually also becoming a staple name in designing corporate interiors.
Knoll’s career began at a young age. When orphaned at 12, she befriended Eilel Saarinen and studied under her at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Knoll’s close relationship with the Saarinen family, particularly Eero Saarinen was instrumental in her exposure to art and architecture. Exhibiting strong potential in design and architecture, she then studied under leading Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
With Knoll’s background in architecture, she is still known for her expertise in office planning. Knoll purchased the trademark rights to the Barcelona Chair, thereby popularizing it, which is one of the reasons we can delight in the classic piece to this day.
Lina Bo Bardi
Lina Bo Bardi made waves in Brazilian architecture and design with her dedication to integrating the roots of Brazilian popular culture with the Modern Movement. With a degree in architecture from the University of Rome, she moved to São Paolo with her husband and designed the first residence in the Morumbi neighborhood, Casa de Vidro or Glass House. Her work drew influences from Italian rationalism and Brazilian culture.
Soon, she gained recognition for her work and was tasked with designing the São Paulo Museum of Art during the late 1950s. Her success propelled her into many other projects in art, graphic design and furniture design. One of her most well-known designs includes the Bowl Chair, a radical design in contrast to traditional upright chairs.
Zaha Hadid was the first woman to ever be awarded The Pritzker Architecture Prize, the Nobel Prize of architecture, for her outstanding contributions to the field. A few years after graduating as an architect, she established Zaha Hadid Architects who completed the Vitra Fire Station in Germany.
Having continuously taught at the Architectural Association and being invited to various universities around the world, Hadid was awarded as an Artist for Peace by UNESCO and was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. Her legacy as visionary in the field of architecture lives on today with her practice, the Zaha Hadid Architects, who continue to promote her designs. Her contributions to furniture include the futuristic Moon Sofa System which features the complexity of curved geometries.
The stories of these women are nothing short of inspiring. From various backgrounds, their passion for design allowed them to develop skills that would leave legacies to be celebrated for years to come.
Care to share some of your favorite designers and architects? Who inspired you the most? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.