Architecture has often been seen as an extremely male-dominated field. However, there are female architects who are changing the industry and are also working to ensure that young female architects feel inspired to keep going, keep dreaming, and not be afraid to forge their own journeys in the field of architecture.
Read further to find out more about the women who broke the glass ceiling in architecture, establishing successful careers and designing some of the world’s most admired landmark buildings and urban settings.
1. Jeanne Gang
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Jeanne Gang is the founder and leader of Studio Gang, an architecture and urban design firm. Her style of architecture goes beyond building structures and cities and instead embodies the building of relationships between human beings and the built world. She considers her architecture a catalyst for change.
A good example of this is her police station concept, which aims to improve how civilians interact with law enforcement by fusing police stations with civic recreation centers. Some of her most notable projects include the Aqua Tower in Chicago.
2. Zaha Hadid
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The late Zaha Hadid is highly remembered as a female architect who was constantly pushing the envelope when it came to the boundaries of architectural imagination. Some of her projects include the London Aquatics Center, the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, and the Guangzhou Opera House. Zaha Hadid was nicknamed the “Queen of the Curve” and, as a result, received numerous prestigious awards like the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which she won in 2004 and was the first female architect to have won.
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In 2012, Zaha Hadid was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, making her Dame Hadid. This honor is considered the highest order of the British Empire. In 2016, she was recognized by the Royal Institute of British Architects and granted a Royal Gold Medal, making her the first woman to have been honored with such a highly esteemed architectural award.
She is known for her outstanding architecture and extraordinary accomplishments. Zaha Hadid was constantly exploring new ways to imagine how space might work. One of her famous quotes was “There are 360 degrees. So why stick to one?” This basically epitomized her design philosophy.
3. Denise Scott Brown
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Denise Scott Brown is considered one of the most highly influential female architects. She was then a partner at Venturi Scott Brown Architects. She shaped most of the 20th century’s architecture. She refers to herself as the grandmother of architecture.
Some of her highly acclaimed designs are of buildings such as the Sainsbury Wing of London’s National Gallery, the Provincial Capitol Building in Toulouse, and the Seattle Art Museum. She broke a glass ceiling during a time when it was almost impossible to do so and wrote about her frustrations in a 1989 essay titled “Room at the Top? Sexism and the Star System in Architecture.”
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Her husband, Robert Venturi, received the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1991, and this was raised as a concern within the architectural community then, as most people felt that Denise Scott was the right person to have received the award.
This later spiraled into the Harvard University Graduate School of Design Women in Design Group launching a petition demanding that the Pritzker Prize recognize Denise Scott Brown’s accomplishments in architecture. Though the committee declined to change its original decision, Denise Scott and her husband were jointly awarded the 2016 American Institute of Architects, Gold Medal.
4. Kazuyo Sejima
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Kazuyo Sejima is the co-founder of SANAA (Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates). The studio is known for its airy, white architectural aesthetic, which attracted projects like the New Museum of New York City, the Rolex Learning Center in Switzerland, Nagano’s O-Museum, and Kanzawa’s 21st Century Museum of Art. The duo has developed an interest in exploring the relationship between the inside and outside.
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As a young child, Kazuyo Sejima never dreamed of becoming a professional architect and instead wanted to be a grandmother with a quiet life. She is now one of the most sought-after female architects in the world and has worked on some of the most impressive projects.
She is the first female architect to have taken on the directorship at the Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy. With SANAA, she envisions a style that is fluid, transparent, and intertwined with nature. She draws her inspiration for materials from a building’s natural surroundings.
5. Odile Decq
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Odile Decq is the founder of Studio Odile Decq, which is a highly acclaimed and internationally recognized, and awarded firm. She views architecture as an adventure and an industry that should always allow people to move, live in good conditions, and have a humanistic approach to everything. Some of her notable projects include the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome, Italy, and FRAC Bretagne in Rennes.
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She has received numerous prestigious awards, like the Jane Drew Prize in 2016—part of the Women in Architecture Awards—and Commandeur de l’Ordre du Merite in France. Odile has also opened an international school of architecture in Lyon that aims to infuse architectural teaching with other disciplines such as physics, sociology, and the visual arts.
6. Emma Miloyo
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Emma Miloyo is the first female president of the Architectural Association of Kenya and is also the first female architect to graduate from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology with first-class honors in architecture. She is currently a partner at Design Source, an architectural firm based in Nairobi, Kenya. In addition, she is also the co-founder of a school, Kiota School.
In 2011, she was listed in the Top 40 Under 40 and is an Eisenhower fellow. She is proof that women can indeed break the glass ceiling, and this is her lifelong ambition: to inspire young women that they too can achieve their dreams and don’t have to be defined by societal standards.
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As the President of the Architectural Association, she has done a lot of advocacy in her position as a thought leader in the industry. Miloyo and her team have also launched a document called Kenya We Want that aims to outline the issues that need to be addressed in making our cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. The document focuses on six key areas: affordable housing for all, safe and clean public spaces, efficient public and non-motorized transport, ease of doing business within the counties, and effective monitoring of buildings being built.
7. Dr. Neri Oxman
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Dr. Neri Oxman is the creator of a discipline known as material ecology,” which marries the technological advances of computational design, synthetic biology, and digital fabrication to produce compostable structures, glass objects that vary their optical and structural properties, and garments made from a single piece of silk fabric. She has received prestigious awards such as the 2019 Contemporary Vision Award from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She founded Mediated Matter, which is a research group that specializes in organic design.
Neri Oxman has developed new ways of thinking about materials, objects, buildings, and construction methods. She has also developed a new framework for interdisciplinary and interspecies collaborations. Some of her work includes a collection of digitally designed artifacts based on molecular components from tree branches, insect exoskeletons, and human bones.
8. Maya Lin
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While a senior at Yale University, Maya Link submitted her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in a national competition and won. To date, this is considered one of her most notable projects. She has worked on other projects such as the Peace Chapel at Pennsylvania’s Juniata College, the Sculpture Center in Long Island City, the Manhattanville Sanctuary, and the Environmental Learning Lab. Her life and work have been documented in an Academy Award-winning documentary film from 1995 titled Maya Lin: A Strong, Clear Vision.
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In 2009, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by then-President Barack Obama, and in 2016, her achievements were recognized with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has published a multi-cited work known as “What is Missing,” which includes a book, an online presence, and installations at multiple scientific institutions and is an investigation of habitat loss and the biodiversity crisis.
9. Amanda Levete
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Amanda Levete is the founding principal of AL_A, which is an international award-winning design and architecture studio based in London. Some of her most notable projects include the design of the contemporary wing of London’s V&A’s Exhibition Road Quarter and the futuristic design of Lisbon’s Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology.
She was awarded the RIBA Stirling Prize. For Amanda, designing a building embodies what it means to be human, as it is about identity, social issues, and political issues. She enjoys that architecture is deeply creative, technical, and very conceptual.
10. Annabelle Selldorf
Annabelle Selldorf is the founding principal of Selldorf Architects, New York. She is considered to be the art world’s favorite architect due to her functional, modernist approach to design.
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She believes that art should have functional settings, and as a result, she has remade the white cube for the 21st century. Some of her highly acclaimed projects include the Neue Galerie and the Swiss Institute. She is a firm believer in the power of subtle design.
Selldorf is a preferred architect for cultural organizations, from galleries and museums to the Clark Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. She has created a variety of structures, including residential buildings, recycling facilities for construction sites, and a rural Zimbabwean school.
11. Elizabeth Diller
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Elizabeth Diller is the sole female founding partner at the New York-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Some of her firm’s highly acclaimed work includes the sustainable design of the High Line, which is a 1.5-mile-long elevated public park that snakes up the west side of Manhattan along an abandoned train line. This project catapulted them to international fame.
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Other notable projects include the Museum of Modern Art expansion in New York and the London Center for Music. Her style is firmly rooted within the Modernist tradition, which developed in Europe in the 1920s.
12. Victoria Heilman
Victoria Heilman is a Tanzanian architect, educator, and founder of VK Green Architects Ltd. She also co-founded a non-profit, Tanzanian Women Architects for Humanity. She holds a Ph.D. in sustainable building and architecture practice with a focus on Tanzania.
Her research is geared towards pushing for legislative reform in Tanzania’s construction industry. She has also been lobbying for the integration of green and passive design concepts in a new Tanzanian building code.
At the moment, Tanzania does not have a national building code. Her firm aims to integrate sustainability concepts into every design proposal, and her main goal is to show that basic technologies and passive design can result in energy savings.
Her path into architecture is quite interesting, as she got into it without really knowing what it entailed. While undertaking her Masters in the United States, she worked with Habitat Humanity, and when she returned to Tanzania, she continued working on socially-oriented projects in Zanzibar and Tanga.
13. Devothe Mukeshimana
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Devothee Mukishana is an emerging female architect who graduated in the first cohort of East African architects from the new faculty building at the University of Rwanda School of Architecture and Environmental Design.
While in school, her focus was on sustainable materials, energy efficiency, and low-cost construction. She has worked as a student assistant on the IMBUGA City Walk, which is a master plan to turn one of the key streets in Kigali into a fully accessible one for pedestrians. She also interned at Journeyman International, where, alongside Patrice Uwizeyimana, she proposed a new design for a vocational training facility for victims of HIV at a site in Muyumbo, which is near the Rwandan capital.
14. Assumpta Nnaggenda-Musana
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Assumpta Nnaggenda-Musana is the first Ugandan woman to get a Ph.D. in architecture. Her Ph.D. is geared towards exploring urban housing formation in Kampala. She runs her own design studio and is also a lecturer at Makerere University’s Department of Architecture and Physical Planning. Her research is focused on low-income housing and settlements in Kampala. Assumpta noticed that the mainstream approach has always been to rebuild informal housing from scratch, but she believes that the best approach would be to build housing that caters to African cities.
She is a big advocate for mixed-use development when working on urban planning projects. She envisions her home city, Kampala, as a garden city full of biodiversity and a place where people are able to live closer to their places of work.
15. Maliam Mdoko
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Maliam Mdoko is an architect and project manager at Press Trust, a charitable organization that aims to further Malawi’s social and economic development through community-based projects. For Maliam, the architecture allows her to create solutions that can leave a positive footprint. Through her work, she has been able to meet and serve different types of people, from decision-makers to grass-roots communities. She is the first female president of the Malawi Institute of Architects and aims to promote the visibility and role of architects in the country during her term.
Maliam has worked on projects for clients such as the Malawi Government, the World Bank, and the European Union during her time at Kanjere and Associates, a local architecture firm based in Malawi.
16. Gabriella Carillo
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Gabriella Carillo is a Mexican-based architect and co-principal at the architectural firm Taller | Mauricio Rocha + Gabriella Carillo, which believes in and emphasizes “the importance of the vernacular, craftsmanship, sustainability, and socially responsible design.”
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She was named the Architect of the Year by The Architectural Review in 2017. At Taller, Gabriella and her partner explore volume, light, proportion, and material with a particular focus on sensitivity to user needs and responsiveness to climate. Gabriella is known for her humane and sensitive approach to community buildings. She has designed cultural centers and a library for visually impaired people, among others.
17. Farshid Moussavi
Farshid Moussavi is the founder and principal of Farshid Moussavi Architecture in London, a professor at the Harvard University Graduate School, and the author of three well-known architectural books. She is known as an innovator, and her projects act as proof of this. She designed buildings like the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland. She has received numerous prestigious awards, including the RIBA International Awards and the Kanazawa Prize for Architecture in Japan.
She is also part of international architecture advisory groups like the Whitechapel Gallery, where she is a member of the Board of Trustees. One of the projects she’s really proud of is the Yokohama International Cruise Terminal. This is because it went above and beyond what the locals expected it to be. She also believes in working with young women and women in the architecture field to navigate working in a male-dominated field.
18. Suchi Reddy
Suchi Reddy is one of the most famous architects of all time. She is known for her comprehensive and holistic approach to architecture and design. Some of the work includes the prototypical sensory healing room that she designed to affect the recovery rates of children coming out of comas.
Suchi Reddy is the founder of Reddymade Architecture and Design, a New York-based architectural firm that is highly admired for its ‘formal experimentation, imaginative use of color, and passion for innovative materials.”
The firm runs solely on its guiding principle, “form follows feeling”. It is widely held that good design, when carefully calibrated to the individual, has a positive impact on well-being, creativity, and productivity.
19. Toshiko Mori
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Toshiko Mori is the founder of Toshiko Mori Architect, based in New York. She has earned prestigious awards such as the 2005 Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the 2017 Institute Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.
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Her work pushes the envelope with regard to tradition and pulls from disciplines outside of architecture,e such as art and fashion while preserving the idea of buildings as positive catalysts in the lives of those who use them. Some of her projects include museums in Brooklyn and an innovative arts and cultural center in rural Senegal.
20. Olajumoke Adenowo
Olajumoke Adenowo is a highly acclaimed architect and philanthropist. She is the founder and principal partner of AD Consulting. She also founded and ran Advantage Energy, which is an oil and gas firm, and Awesome Treasures, an international philanthropic foundation that aims to raise 100 leaders. She has been honored as a laureate and a guest scientist as the chair of theory, architectural history, and art & design arms of the university’s Department of Architecture.
She has designed projects for brands such as Coca-Cola and L’Oreal. She has also been awarded numerous prestigious awards like the New African Business Woman of the Year” and the “IDEA Award for the Best Institutional Architect. In 2018, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) listed her as one of the most inspirational women in architecture today.
21. Roberta Washington
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Roberta Washington is one of the first African American woman to establish her own architectural firm. She is the principal of Roberta Washington Architects, whose primary work includes health and educational facilities and affordable housing projects. Some of her projects include the African Burial Ground Interpretive Center, which is a part of the National Park Monument.
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She also pioneered the first green building in Harlem, which comprises 60% recyclable or renewable materials. Growing up as a woman of color, though she knew she wanted to be an architect, she didn’t have role models she could look up to. This later inspired her to take up leadership at the National Organization of Minority Architects, where she’s trying to change that and inspire young future architects.
22. Lu Wenyu
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Lu Wenyu is the founder of Amateur Architecture Studio in the city of Hangzhou.
Lu Wenyu grew up during a period when China was undergoing rapid modernization, economic growth, and urbanization. This inspired her passion for natural materials and cultural heritage, which highly shapes her architectural vision.
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Her studio focuses on traditional and craft-based practices where they use natural materials such as wood and mud. Her body of architectural work includes the Ningbo History Museum, the new campus of the China Art Academy, and the Huan Gongwang Museum. Her work and thoughtful approach to architecture earned her prestigious awards such as the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize. She was awarded jointly with her partner.
23. Frida Escobedo
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Frida Escobedo is one of Mexico’s best architects and is best known for designing the 2018 Serpentine Pavilion in the Kensington Gardens in London. She’s the youngest architect and the first solo woman since 2000 to have received the distinguished commission. She is the founder of Frida Escobedo, Taller de Arquitectura.
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Other notable projects she has worked on include commissions from organizations like the V&A Museum and MoMA PS1. Her approach to architecture is to use simple materials that can be used to express luxury and sophistication.
24. Shahira Fahmy
Shahira Fahmy is a highly sought-after architect in Egypt and is known for her notable projects, such as the modern buildings at the new AUC campus and the restoration of the iconic Al Mounira Palace. She is the founder and principal of Shahira Fahmy Architects, based in Cairo, Egypt.
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25. Selasi Setufe
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Selasi Setufe is one of the four founders of BFA, Black Females in Architecture, which is a network and enterprise founded to increase the visibility of black and black mixed-race heritage females within the architectural industry and the built environment.
She explores socially responsive approaches to design, architecture, and place-making with a focus on cultural and environmental issues. She is the founder of Crystal Design Studios. She is currently a trustee and the former vice president for the students and associates at the Royal Institute of British Architects.
26. Sheila O’Donnell
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Sheila O’Donnell is one of the architects who have left their mark on their hometown. She was able to study architecture at University College Dublin. The warm, brick façades of the buildings she designed with her firm, O’Donnell + Toumey, have had a significant impact on Dublin’s visual identity, infusing a touch of nostalgia into otherwise rigorous contemporary architecture designs.
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Her firm has received numerous national awards, including the RIAI Downes Medal on seven occasions and the RIAI Gold Medal. She has also represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale of Architecture twice and has been nominated for several European awards.
27. Carme Pigem
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Carme Pigem is a Spanish architect and a founding member of the firm RCR Arquitectes, which is known for its collaborative approach to designing public and private projects. RCR Arquitectes was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2017, marking the first time the award was bestowed on three individuals at the same time.
She served on the board of examiners for the final examinations from 1995 to 2004, and she taught architectural projects at ETSA Vallés from 1992 to 1999. From 1997 to 2003, she was an ETSAB professor of architectural projects and a member of the board of examiners. Since 2005, she has served as a visiting professor at the Zurich Institute of Technology’s (ETHZ Department) School of Architecture.
28. Amale Andraos
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Amale Andraos works as a designer in New York. She is the former vice principal of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, as well as an advisor to the Columbia School. She was the first woman to hold that position.
She and her husband, Dan Wood, co-founded the New York City architecture firm WORKac. In 2021, she was named an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, recognizing her global impact on architectural practice.
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Her firm is based in New York City and works on projects both in the United States and abroad. Her own practice has received international acclaim for projects such as Public Farm 1 for MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program, the Edible Schoolyards at PS216 in Brooklyn, and PS7 in Harlem, NY.
Also in New York are a residential conversion of a historic New York cast-iron building titled the Stealth Building, the Miami Museum Garage, and the Rhode Island School of Design Student Center in Providence.
29. Ana Gatóo
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Ana Gatóo is a partner at Light Earth Designs LLP, a British architecture firm that gained international attention last year with the completion of the Rwanda Cricket Stadium in Kigali, Rwanda, which was named a 2018 A+Awards Popular Winner in the Stadium category.
Local builders used local materials to build the charming, minimal stadium. The project’s core consists of three simple parabolic vaults that shield onlookers from the sun, but their form is sculptural and expressive, reflecting the path of the bouncing ball. The cement tiles were made of locally excavated soil, which is possibly the most sustainable material imaginable.
30. Sharon Davis
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Sharon Davis is the founder and principal of Sharon Davis Design and an award-winning practitioner whose work is motivated by her belief in the transformative power of design. She believes that the designs’ success is measured by how far they expand access to the fundamental human right to social justice, economic empowerment, and a healthy, sustainable environment. Her architectural vision includes structures that can influence the future of communities.
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Her social design philosophy came to life with her project, the Women’s Opportunity Center in Rwanda. The goal was to establish an innovative educational and community center in Kayonza to train and educate local women through farming.
The main idea was to organize around the form of a vernacular Rwandan village: a series of human-scaled pavilions clustered together to provide security and community for up to 300 women. The project also includes a demonstration farm to assist women in producing and marketing their products.
31. Patricia Patkau
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Patricia Patkau is a co-founder of Patkau Architects, a Vancouver-based firm that has been in operation for over 30 years. The firm’s aesthetic combines a contemporary sensibility with a love of the Pacific Northwest’s landscapes.
Take a project like Tula House, a cantilevered structure in British Columbia that blends in so well that it almost becomes invisible. Even if you never went on a hike, living here would be like living with the landscape.
Frequently Asked Questions About Female Architects
1. Who is the most famous female architect?
Dame Zaha Hadid is without a doubt the most well-known and successful female architect in history. She became the initial woman to be awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2004 for her commitment, innovative thinking, and outspoken personality. work and achievements inspired women in architecture and design to pursue their dreams.
2. What percentage of architects are female?
According to Zippia, there are currently over 152,775 architects working in the United States. Women make up 23.3% of all architects, while men make up 76.7%. An employed architect is 45 years old on average.
3. Who was the first successful female architect?
Marion Mahony Griffin was one of the women who pioneered the architectural field. She was likely the first female licensed architect in the United States, and she spent much of her early career working for Frank Lloyd Wright. Later on, she became one of the first and most successful female architects of all time.
4. Where do the majority of female architects come from?
Women in architecture have emerged from all over the world, as evidenced by this list. The first arose in England and the Americas, followed by others in European countries such as Italy. Even one of our architects was born in Iraq. As we can see, these women came from all over the world to pave the way for others.