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Sam Hall Kaplan

Architecture Now Is Reflecting Its Designing Women

May 09, 1987|Sam Hall Kaplan | Kaplan also appears in The Times' Real Estate section.

For Mother's Day on Sunday, Barbara Coffman plans to take her 3-month-old daughter Caelainn and husband Arlan on a tour of construction sites of projects she has designed.

"An architect also can be a mother," Coffman said.

"But it is tough," Rebecca Binder added, referring to both professions as her 16-month-old son, Max, exercised his expanding vocabulary in the background.

Also apparent is that it is not easy simply being an architect and a woman, let alone a mother.

According to the Los Angeles-based Assn. for Women in Architecture, women compose an estimated 30% of the nation's architecture student body, but only 4% of the nation's 60,000 registered architects, and fewer still of any prominence in the large, established firms.

This harsh reality has in recent years prompted more and more women to establish their own firms--by themselves, with other women, or in full partnership with a man. As a result sprouting up across the local landscape has been an increasing number of buildings designed by women.

Coffman's projects have ranged from residential remodels and new houses to a shopping mall and an award-winning temporary pavilion at the Los Angeles County fair. In Santa Monica Coffman has a brawny single-family house nearing completion at 452 22nd St. and the start of a more interesting apartment complex at 2454 4th St.

Among Binder's designs are a playful Eats restaurant at 411 1/2 Main St. in El Segundo, an idiosyncratic addition to a house at 15119 Valley Vista Blvd. in Sherman Oaks and a distinctive High Tech-styled condominium at 116 Pacific St. in Santa Monica, the latter in partnership with Jim Stafford. All have won major awards from the American Institute of Architects.

Binder's latest design is her own house, at 7741 81st St. in Playa del Rey, a well-chorused melange of materials expressing a very functional and personal arrangement of space that takes advantage of the structure's site and light.

Brenda Levin also has done her own house, but as the principal of her own firm she is best known as an accomplished restoration architect. The impressive list of her projects includes the Oviatt and Fine Arts buildings, at 617 S. Olive St. and 811 West 7th St., downtown, and the Wiltern Theatre and Pellissier Building, at the southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue. All are landmarks that have been recycled with a respect for the original structure and a concern for details.

In addition, Levin designed the renovation of the Downtown Women's Center, at 333 S. Los Angeles St., and is directing the continuing refurbishing of the Grand Central Market, at 315 S. Broadway, and the architectural orientation of Eliot Levin Abel, her 6-year-old son.

While she was with the firm of Welton Beckett & Associates, Norma Sklarek served as project director for the design of the bright, breezy Terminal One at LAX, bringing the $50-million project in on time and on budget.

Soon after its completion in 1984, Sklarek joined with Margot Siegel, who had designed the co-generation plant and cooling tower at LAX, and Kate Diamond, to form the firm of Siegel Sklarek Diamond. Among Diamond's designs is a small, striking office building at 870 Vine for Otto Nemenz International.

The firm has since garnered some impressive commissions, attracted other women architects into the fold--most recently Alicia Rosenthal from Benton/ Park/ Candreva--and has grown to 20 employees, three of whom at present are pregnant.

Also involved in the design of the ambitious Terminal One project was Margo Hebald-Heymann, a mother of two and for the last 10 years the principal of her own firm. Among her many projects are the interiors of the Oxnard and Simi Valley childrens' dental clinics, and with the Luckman Partnership the plan for the Universal City metro rail station. And, of course, she also has designed her office, at 1320 on the Santa Monica Mall.

Seraphima Lamb's most recent project is what she calls a very practical, well-detailed house at 3318 The Strand, in Hermosa Beach. Other projects include being sub-architect to Kajima International on the design of a major warehouse and office for Kenwood Stereo at 2201 Dominguez St., in Carson.

Lamb explains that she formed her own office when she realized that after 12 years in male-dominated firms she felt she had risen as high as she would. "In architecture like in so many other things there is very much an old boys' network," she adds. "But it is changing."

And, as a result, also changing is the design of the cityscape.

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