MAS Context Spring Talks 2021
Natalie de Blois at 100

 

Architect and former SOM associate partner Natalie de Blois would have turned 100 years old on April 2, 2021. To commemorate this significant date and to discuss the relevance of Natalie de Blois’s work, MAS Context organized an online event on that day.

During the program, architectural historian and critic Gabrielle Esperdy discussed the career of Natalie de Blois. Architects Carol Ross Barney, Margaret McCurry, and Jana McCann provided remarks related to cofounding Chicago Women in Architecture, working at SOM, and her contributions to Austin.

 

Natalie de Blois. Photo courtesy of SOM.

 

On Natalie de Blois

Architect Natalie de Blois was born in Paterson, New Jersey on April 2, 1921. In 1944 de Blois graduated from Columbia University’s architecture program and took her first professional job with the firm Ketchum, Gina & Sharp. In September of the same year de Blois was hired by the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). There she spent the majority of her professional career working closely with architects Gordon Bunshaft in the New York office (1944-1962) and Bruce Graham, and Myron Goldsmith in the Chicago office (1962-1974), earning notoriety within the architectural community as one of the top female architects in America.

Natalie de Blois is recognized for her work on a number of projects, including Connecticut General Life Insurance (Hartford, CT), Equitable Building (Chicago), Hilton Hotel (Istanbul), Lever House (NYC), Lincoln Center (NYC), Pepsi-Cola building (NYC), Terrace Plaza Hotel (Cincinnati), and the Union Carbide Corporation (NYC).

After thirty years with SOM, she left to join the Houston firm of Neuhaus & Taylor as senior project designer. As a working mother during the 1950s and 1960s de Blois was personally aware of the hardships and limitations faced by women in architecture, and in the 1970s she became active advocate for women in architecture joining the American Institute of Architects Task Force on Women, visiting architecture schools, and talking to female students.

During the last thirteen years of her architecture career, de Blois taught at the University of Texas at Austin, retiring in 1993. She received the Romieniec Award of the Texas AIA for distinguished achievement in education in 1998 and the AIA Chicago Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. Natalie de Blois practiced architecture for fifty years. She died in Chicago on July 22, 2013.

 

“Basically I’m interested in the nuts and bolts of how you put things together.”
—Natalie de Blois

 

“Her mind and hands work marvels in design—and only she and God would ever know just how many great solutions, with the imprimatur of one of the male heroes of SOM, owed much more to her than was attributed either by SOM or the client.”
—Nathaniel Owings

 

Suggested readings:

Gabrielle Esperdy, “Natalie Griffin de Blois,” Pioneering Woman of American Architecture
https://pioneeringwomen.bwaf.org/natalie-griffin-de-blois/

David W. Dunlap, “An Architect Whose Work Stood Out, Even if She Did Not,” New York Times, July 31, 2013.
https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/01/nyregion/an-architect-whose-work-stood-out-even-if-she-didnt.html

Amy Smith, “Then There’s This: A Pioneer Among Women Architects,” The Austin Chronicle, August 16, 2013.
https://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2013-08-16/then-theres-this-a-pioneer-among-women-architects

“Natalie de Blois Architectural Collection,” Special Collections, Virginia Tech.
https://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaxtf/view?docId=vt/viblbv00692.xml

“Interview with Natalie de Blois by Detlef Mertins,” SOM Journal, 4, June 17, 2004.
https://som.medium.com/cracking-the-glass-ceiling-a-look-back-at-the-career-of-trailblazing-architect-natalie-de-blois-b7ef02b28c2b

Betty J. Blum, “Oral history of Natalie de Blois,” Chicago Architects Oral History Project.
https://digital-libraries.artic.edu/digital/collection/caohp/id/15893

 

Thanks to Karen Widi, Manager of Library, Records and Information Services at SOM, for her invaluable help.

 

Natalie de Blois examining a skyscraper model with her students at the UT-Austin School of Architecture in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of SOM.

 

Natalie de Blois, 2010. Photo courtesy of SOM.

 

Gabrielle Esperdy is an architectural and urban historian working on the intersection of architecture, consumerism, and modernism in metropolitan landscapes. She is particularly interested in minor or everyday buildings and in the ways that social, economic, and political issues shape the built environment, both historically and today. Gabrielle’s research also looks at the architecture profession as it is shaped by social and cultural concerns, including gender, ethnicity, and class. She is the author of Modernizing Main Street (University of Chicago Press, 2008) and American Autopia (University of Virginia Press, 2019). She is Editor of SAH Archipedia/Buildings of the United States and is Professor of Architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where she has taught since 2001.
www.esperdy.net

Jana McCann is an Austin-based architect/urban designer and CEO of McCann Adams Studio. Formerly with ROMA and prior to that, Urban Design Officer for the City of Austin, she has extensive experience in transit facility design and transit-oriented development planning, streetscape and public space design, historic preservation and adaptive re-use, as well as in management of large-scale civic projects. She is a frequent presenter at universities and professional conferences, including the American Institute of Architects, the American Planning Association, the Urban Land Institute, the International Downtown Association, and the Mayors Institute of City Design
www.mccannadamsstudio.com

Margaret McCurry is a partner of Tigerman McCurry Architects and the recipient of Honor Awards from both the AIA National and Chicago Chapters as well as Interior Design Awards from IIDA and ASID. Her projects have been published widely in architectural and interior magazines and exhibited at museums and galleries in the US and abroad. She has lectured at design conferences, schools of architecture and taught design studios. The author of two monographs, Margaret McCurry: Constructing Twenty-Five Short Stories (The Monacelli Press, 2000) and Distillations: The Architecture of Margaret McCurry (ORO Editions, 2011), McCurry is former Chair of the National AIA Committee on Design and has been President of the Alumni Council of Harvard’s GSD, Director of the Alumni Association (HAA), and President of the Harvard Club of Chicago.
www.tigerman-mccurry.com

Carol Ross Barney, FAIA, is the founder and president of Ross Barney Architects. She is responsible for the design excellence of all projects undertaken by the studio. A native Chicagoan, Carol has developed a keen understanding of the special needs of institutional and public clients which has produced distinctive structures that have become cultural icons. Her work has been published in national/ international journals and has been exhibited in Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. Under her leadership, Ross Barney Architects has received more than 60 major awards, including 4 National AIA awards, 2 COTE Top Ten awards and the 1995 AIA Illinois Firm of the Year. In 2005, Carol received the American Institute of Architects Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture, acknowledging a distinguished career and dedication to Architecture in the public realm.
www.r-barc.com | @r_barc



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