MAS Context Spring Talks 2021

Natalie de Blois at 100

April 2, 2021 at 12PM

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.


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
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Natalie de Blois and Nathaniel Owings. Photo courtesy of SOM.

Suggested readings:

Gabrielle Esperdy, “Natalie Griffin de Blois,” Pioneering Woman of American Architecture

David W. Dunlap, “An Architect Whose Work Stood Out, Even if She Did Not,” New York Times, July 31, 2013.

Amy Smith, “Then There’s This: A Pioneer Among Women Architects,” The Austin Chronicle, August 16, 2013.

“Natalie de Blois Architectural Collection,” Special Collections, Virginia Tech.

“Interview with Natalie de Blois by Detlef Mertins,” SOM Journal, 4, June 17, 2004.

Betty J. Blum, “Oral history of Natalie de Blois,” Chicago Architects Oral History Project.

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

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

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Natalie de Blois, 2010. Photo courtesy of SOM.