When Los Angeles architects Margot Siegel and Norma Sklarek began practicing independently in the 1950s, women architects were about as rare in Los Angeles as buildings taller than the 27-story City Hall.
But while the 13-story height limit was lifted in 1958, women architects are still unusual. Only 6.5% of the American Institute of Architects' 50,000 members are women.
Siegel, Sklarek and architect Katherine Diamond have taken another unusual step by combining forces to form what is believed to be one of the largest women-owned architecture firms in the nation. Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond, AIA Architects has a portfolio of nearly a dozen large projects in Southern California with a value of more than $25 million.
The architecture profession "is definitely an old-boys network," Diamond said. "It's definitely a very male-oriented profession, and I think that part (of the reason) is our clients, in order to have the money to hire an architect, tend to be older and more conservative."
Siegel has had her own business for 14 years while Sklarek and Diamond worked for large companies. Sklarek was the first black woman architect registered in the United States and the first black woman to become a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, which is the highest designation bestowed by the professional organization.
The new firm's projects include the Tarzana Promenade, a 90,000-square-foot medical and retail center, and an extensive remodeling of the Lawndale Civic Center.
"We're really excited about it, which is not to say we think we have eliminated the problems of being a women-owned business," Diamond said. "But we have eliminated some of those obstacles because we can point to our projects."
Diamond said the company's work was won through competition for projects rather than through special set-aside programs, "which is nice."