Natalie Griffin de Blois (April 2, 1921 – July 22, 2013) began her architectural career in 1944 and became known as a pioneer in the male-dominated world of architecture. She was a partner of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill but Gordon Bunshaft took all the credit and she did all the work. Natalie was interested in architecture from an early age. She attended the Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio, and received an architecture degree from Columbia University in 1944.
Architectural Career at SOM
De Blois began her career at a New York firm, Ketchum, Gina, and Sharpe, but was fired after "rebuff[ing] the affections" of one of the firm's male architects, who asked for her to be fired. She then joined the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM). She designed a number of major business buildings on Park Avenue in New York City, including The Pepsi Building and the Union Carbide Building (now known as the Chase Building). Her notable works include Lever House, the Equitable Building in Chicago, the low-rise portions of the Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan and the Connecticut General Life Insurance Company Headquarters in Bloomfield, Connecticut.
As part of SOM was transferred in Chicago she worked there constructing skyscrapers from 1962 to 1974. At that time she founded the Chicago Women in Architecture. Richard Tomlinson, the managing partner of SOM's Chicago office, believes it’s the “best thing that ever happened to us" and De Blois was eventually promoted to associate partner in 1964. In 1980, she began teaching at the University of Texas School of Architecture, and was a faculty member until 1993.
Recognition as Women Architect
In 2014 was recognized for her work designing the Pepsi Cola World Headquarters and Union Carbide Building, winning sites of Built by Women New York City, a competition launched by the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation during the fall of 2014 to identify outstanding and diverse sites and spaces designed, engineered and built by women. Willis is quoted as saying "There wasn’t anybody in the country quite like Natalie, because there was no one else working for a firm quite like Skidmore,”
Almost invisible in her own day she helped guide the design of three of the most important corporate landmarks of the 1950s and ‘60s — the headquarters of Lever Brothers, Pepsi-Cola and Union Carbide. At that point, there were only five or six women across the U.S. who had a substantial architectural practice and, of course, Natalie was doing bigger buildings, and she was doing them in the heart of Manhattan.
All our texts and many of our images appear under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License (CC BY-SA). All our content is written and edited by our community.