SMPS Boston

Favorite Five: Women Who Impacted the AEC Industry

This article originally appeared on SMPS Boston’s website.

by Jenn Robertson

In the past decades, more and more women have entered the fields of architecture, engineering, and construction, which have long been dominated by men. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women still only make up 27% of architects and engineers, and just 10.9% of construction workers. Though the numbers may not be large, they are growing. To close out Women’s History Month, I’m sharing five pioneering, innovative women who left their mark on the AEC industry.

Emily Roebling (1843-1903) was married to Washington Roebling, the civil engineer in charge of supervising the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. When her husband developed decompression sickness, Roebling served as his liaison and took over supervision of construction of the bridge. Throughout the following decade, she took on much of his project management duties. When the bridge was completed, Roebling was the first to cross it by carriage.

“I have more brains, common sense and know-how generally than have any two engineers, civil or uncivil.” -Emily Roebling

Julia Morgan (1872-1957) was the first woman to be admitted to the architecture program at l’École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, the most elite architecture program in the world at the time. She was also the first female architect to be licensed in California, where she would go on to design more than 700 buildings, including the Hearst Castle. She was an early advocate of using reinforced concrete to stand up to the state’s frequent earthquakes.

“My buildings will be my legacy… they will speak for me long after I’m gone.” -Julia Morgan

Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972), one of the first female engineers to earn a Ph.D, was a psychologist and industrial engineer who combined the two fields of knowledge. Together with her husband, she applied a human approach to scientific management to develop innovations in workplace efficiency, such as improved lighting and regular breaks, as well as ideas for workplace psychological well-being.

“In the industrial, as well as the academic world, almost every man is a teacher.” -Lillian Gilbreth

Edith Clarke (1883-1959) was the first woman to earn an M.S. in electrical engineering from MIT, the first woman to be employed as an electrical engineer in the United States, and the country’s first female professor of electrical engineering. Her contributions to the field didn’t stop there – Clarke also invented the Clarke Calculator, an early graphing calculator, while working for General Electric.

“There is no demand for women engineers, as such, as there are for women doctors; but there’s always a demand for anyone who can do a good piece of work.” -Edith Clarke

One of the world’s most well-known female architects, Zaha Hadid (1950-2016) was an Iraqi-British architect who practiced in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Some of her most famous works include the Broad Art Museum, the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympics, the Guangzhou Opera House, and the MAXXI Museum. Hadid was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, and was made a Dame for her services to architecture shortly before her passing in 2016.

“As a woman in architecture, you’re always an outsider. It’s okay, I like being on the edge.” -Zaha Hadid

Jenn Robertson is a marketing coordinator at Sasaki, member of the SMPS Boston Communications Committee, and the SMPS Boston blog manager.