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Pioneering African-American female architect Norma Merrick Sklarek, who helped design Los Angeles Airport’s Terminal 1 and the American Embassy in Tokyo, died Monday in her home of Pacific Palisades, reports the Los Angeles Times.

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Sklarek was 85 years of age.

Born in Harlem to Trinidadian parents, Sklarek was the first Black woman to be licensed as an architect, after getting certified in New York in 1954 and again in California in 1964. Sklarek was also the first Black woman to be elected Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980.

Her other accomplishments include being the first African-American woman to have her own architectural firm. Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond was once the largest female-owned architectural firm in the United States and also boasted a mostly female staff.

Facing discrimination and racism, Sklarek kept a low profile and opted to let her work speak for herself. Moving to California in 1960 to join architectural firm Gruen and Associates, she rose to the rank of director despite odds that faced her daily. After starting her firm in 1985, Sklarek joined the Jon Jerde Partnership, a design architecture and urban planning firm, before retiring in 1991.

Sklarek is survived by her husband, Dr. Cornelius Welch; son David Merrick Fairweather; and three grandchildren.


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