Architect Norma Merrick Sklarek (born April 15, 1926 in Harlem, New York) worked behind the scenes on some of the largest architectural projects in America. Notable in architectural history as the first African-American woman registered architect in New York and California, Sklarek was also the first Black woman to be elected to the prestigious Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA).
In addition to being the production architect for many high-profile Gruen and Associates projects, Sklarek became a role model to many young women entering the male-dominated architecture profession.
Sklarek"s legacy as a mentor is profound. Because of the disparities she faced in her life and career, Norma Merrick Sklarek could be sympathetic to the struggles of others. She led with her charm, grace, wisdom, and hard work. She never excused racism and sexism but gave others the strength to deal with adversities. Architect Roberta Washington has called Sklarek "the reigning mother hen to us all."
Norma Merrick was born to West Indian parents who had moved to Harlem, New York. Sklarek"s father, a doctor, encouraged her to excel in school and to seek a career in a field not normally open to females or to African-Americans. She attended Hunter High School, an all-girls magnate school, and Barnard College, a woman"s college associated with Columbia University, which did not accept women students.
In 1950 she earned a Bachelor of Architecture degree.
After receiving her degree, Norma Merrick was unable to find work at an architecture firm. She took a job at the New York Department of Public Works, and while working there from 1950 to 1954 she passed all of the tests to become a licensed architect in 1954.
She was then able to join the New York office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), working there from 1955 until 1960. Ten years after earning her architecture degree, she decided to move to the West coast.
It was Sklarek"s long association with Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles, California where she made her name