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Women in Architecture: Mary Colter

In the late 19th century when few women were to be found in the architecture field, Mary Colter disrupted the landscape with lasting impact. Her career was founded on lifelong passions that began with deep curiosity about Native American culture and a love of Arts and Crafts architecture that she was exposed to as a young girl. Learn more about her inspiring life and work below:

The Life of Mary Colter

Colter was born on April 4, 1869, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she was raised by her merchant father, William Colter, and milliner mother, Rebecca Colter. As a child, Colter moved across America with her family, living in towns from Colorado to Texas before calling St. Paul, Minnesota home for the rest of her youth. In St. Paul, she acquainted herself with the large Sioux community in the city, immersing herself in their art and culture while profoundly influencing her architectural practice. 

After graduating high school at just 14 years old, Colter moved with her mother and enrolled in Oakland’s California School of Design, where she studied art and design. In California, she not only advanced her drawing skills but discovered an appreciation for architecture, thanks to an apprenticeship at a local firm. In 1891, she returned to St. Paul, where she found herself teaching art, design and architecture at Mechanics Arts High School for more than 15 years. Students of Colter later found themselves winning awards at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the 1904 Saint Louis World’s Fair. 

Hopi House, Grand Canyon National Park, Mary Colter, 1905

Notable Works and Achievements 

In 1902, with her newfound recognition, Colter was appointed Chief Architect at the Fred Harvey Company in St. Paul, where she completed designs for 21 hotels, shops and rest areas along numerous railways across the Western United States. Many of Colter’s designs featured characteristics she quickly became known for, including narrow windows, low ceilings, courtyards and being built into the Earth. 

Throughout her career, Colter designed a series of buildings in the Grand Canyon National Park, including the most recognized of the series, Hopi House, in 1905. In the build, Colter employed various indigenous builders, artists and craftsmen in the area to help with her “re-creation.” The completed design exhibits a rectangular, Hopi pueblo structure, finished with stone masonry, mud-coated ceilings and other precise details that model the traditional dwelling type. Hopi House and three other buildings designed by Colter in Grand Canyon National Park were later named National Historic Landmarks in 1987.

The interior of La Posada Hotel, mixing Spanish Colonial Revival with Native American influences, Mary Colter, 1930, Courtesy of La Posada Hotel

Outside of Grand Canyon National Park, Colter left her mark on other famed designs, including what she stated was her masterpiece, La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona. Completed in 1930, the hacienda-style hotel features Spanish Colonial Revival characteristics in its design. Colter’s say in La Posada’s design stretched from the building’s facade and gardens to its interior and dishware. 

Although she grew up in the Midwest, Colter had an enormous influence across the western states, thanks to her curiosity and drive. Blending Spanish Colonial Revival style with Native American cultural elements, Colter helped shape much of the architecture that remains intact in the Southwest today and became a voice for many who didn’t have one at the time.

How Arcosanti is Still Evolving Today

Although 50 years old, Paolo Soleri’s visionary planned city, Arcosanti, is still thriving today. For the last five decades, the magnificent community exhibited the best of Soleri’s philosophy, fusing architecture and ecology and providing a home for many educational resources. However, currently the famed property is entering a new era, pushing the boundaries of Soleri’s philosophy further than ever. 

Liz Martin-Malikian, CEO of Arcosanti under the Cosanti Foundation states that while the community’s first half-century focused on Soleri’s vision, the next half-century will focus on the collective. Not only does the community aim to unearth more behind arcology, but they also plan to collaborate and partner with various groups, including local Indigenous populations. 

Shiro, a shelter by TSOA student, Micehle Yeels

Many of Arcosanti’s resources are provided to students of The School of Architecture, a crucial feature of the community. One of the key programs constantly bringing new life to the planned city is The Shelter Program. The capstone design project encourages students to design and build single-occupancy structures for future students throughout the community. 

While preserving Arcosanti’s historic past, Martin-Malikian is embracing the future by decoding Soleri’s philosophy of arcology – starting by reframing the community’s vision around its cultural landscape. Along with debuting a Cosanti Indigenous Residency, a new Indigenous co-design program provides a new opportunity to combine sustainability with passive and culturally diverse designs. 

Biopod 1, a shelter by TSOA student, Soloman Edelmen

Arcosanti has always existed as a hub for innovation and inspiration. And today, with a spotlight on collective, the planned city is preparing to embrace its regional heritage more than ever before. To explore more about Arcosanti, and stay up to date on their events and programming, head to their website here.

Women in Architecture: Doreen Adengo

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re shedding light on a trailblazer for some of Africa’s most transformative architecture, Doreen Adengo. Studying and traveling across various continents, Adengo’s ultimate architectural vision showcases the best of the world’s architectural feats. Learn more about her impactful life and work below: 

The Life of Doreen Adengo

Adengo was born in 1976 in Uganda where she lived until she was 18. She moved with her family to the United States in 1994 and studied architecture at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. She then completed her masters degree in architecture from Yale University and began her professional career shortly after. 

Her work took her from the United States to Europe early on in her career, where she worked at various architectural studios in London. Following her stint in the UK, Adengo returned home to Uganda where she founded the Kampala-based studio Adengo Architecture in 2015. Much of the work Adengo created while at Adengo Architecture focused the studio’s commitment to developing affordable and sustainable housing projects. 

The Bujuuko Schools, Adengo Architecture, Courtesy of Adengo Architecture
The Bujuuko Schools, Adengo Architecture, Courtesy of Adengo Architecture

Notable Works and Achievements

While Adengo had experience designing furniture and participating in research and advocacy focused on urban communities, her most well-known projects include transformative architecture in Uganda. 

Found in Bujuuko, Uganda, The Bujuuko Schools consists of three series of one-story buildings that stretch across the sloping land. The school’s were designed with passive techniques to establish comfortable interiors throughout the region’s dry and rainy seasons. Adengo also designed the school to echo the larger community’s appreciation for the outdoors, providing a seamless connection between their interior and exterior. 

Still under construction, the L-Building is another of Adengo’s most talked about projects. The mixed-used construction found in Wakiso, Uganda is primarily made of locally sourced clay brick, constructed at the Uganda Clays Factory nearby. The brick is not only used in its traditional building method as a wall, but also as brick-screen and flooring throughout the building. 

The L-Building, Adengo Architecture, Courtesy of Adengo Architecture

Beyond her architectural work, Adengo has taught at The New School and Pratt Institute in New York, the University of Johannesburg’s School of Architecture and Uganda Martyrs University. 

Adengo is a pioneer for modern Ugandan architecture, transforming the lives of many in the country. Although she passed away in July 2022, her studio, Adengo Architecture, still an active practice today, continues to welcome clients around the world interested in sustainable, affordable architecture and custom furniture.

Women of the Bauhaus

In “The Other Art History: The Forgotten Women of Bauhaus,” an in-depth piece that was published on July 13, 2018 on Artspace by Jillian Billard, we have the opportunity to understand the enormous impact a group of women visionaries had in shaping the Bauhaus.

We learn from Billard that the Bauhaus was dedicated to “interdisciplinary innovation” by combining design and craft through a new model of fostering community as the basis for learning instead of traditional teacher-student interactions. And with this new model as a defining principle, the Bauhaus community was ripe for welcoming and supporting women artists.

As Billard explains, Walter Gropius, who founded the Bauhaus School of Design in Weimar, Germany in 1919, stipulated that the school would be open to “any person of good repute, regardless of age or sex.” So while women were allowed to study at the school, they were directed into practices commonly regarded as “women’s work” –– textiles and weaving — while their male counterparts were encouraged to be architects, sculptors, and painters.

Photo of Alexa von Porewski, Lena Amsel, Rut Landshoff, unknown by Bauhaus photographers Umbo and Paul Citroen), before 1929. Berlinische Galerie, Photographic Collection.

Billard reminds us that the artists most closely associated with the Bauhaus were men, including Josef Albers, Marcel Breuer, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. At the same time, history has treated the women in the movement as the counterparts of these great artists. In the past ten years, as many have revisited the Bauhaus participants in a more accurate art historical context, we have had the opportunity to celebrate the incredible women artists and the contributions they made. 

In “The Women of the Bauhaus,” an extensive thesis presented by Corinne Julius in Blueprint on September 3, 2019, we learn of the rise to prominence of Gunta Stölzl, only one of six students certified as a Master weaver. As head of the department from 1929 to 1931, she ushered in the transition from individual pictorial weaving to modern industrial designs, while also implementing the study of mathematics. Her bold artistic experiments include creating the mercerised cotton and Eisengarn fabric for Breuer’s tubular-steel chairs while leading joint projects with the Polytex Textile Company.

Julius describes Marianne Brandt as a brilliant metalwork artist who joined the Bauhaus as a workshop assistant and eventually took over as acting director in 1928 from László Moholy-Nagy. As both artist and administrator, Brandt helped solidify the role of industrial design 

Wera Meyer-Waldeck entered the Bauhaus in 1927, studying with Marcel Breuer in the carpentry workshop making furniture. Over the next several years, she studied in the construction and architecture departments, and went on to establish a distinguished career with a focus on sustainable housing.

And the list goes on. As we shared in Female Weavers and the Bauhaus, virtually every aspect of the Bauhaus and its artistic practices has been informed by a group of women with talent, vision and unapologetic courage. They, along with their male counterparts, continue to inspire the timelessness of Modernist thinking-and-doing. And in every part of our holistic design thinking at Optima, we celebrate their contributions.

Wera Meyer-Waldeck in the carpentry workshop at Bauhaus Dessau in 1930, photographed by Gertrud Arndt. Credit: VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019 / Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin

For further reading on 45 luminary women of the Bauhaus, Bauhaus Women: A Global Perspective, written by Elizabeth Otto and Patrick Rössler and published in 2019 by Bloomsbury Publishing, is an excellent resource, along with A Tribute to Pioneering Women Artists (Taschen, 2019), written by Patrick Rössler.

Furniture Spotlight: Tulip Tables

As we continue to tour the public spaces at Optima communities to highlight the impeccably-curated collection of Modernist furnishings, it is always a delight to set our sights on Tulip tables, designed by the luminary architect, Eero Saarinen.

Eero Saarinen (1910-1961), the Finnish architect who conceived the St. Louis Gateway Arch, along with many other well-known structures including the Washington Dulles International Airport, also received enormous recognition for his modernist furniture designs produced by Knoll, including the Womb™ Chair.

Legend has it that Saarinen approached Florence Knoll in 1955 with his desire to explore new approaches to furniture design, evolving from his background in sculpture and a desire to create a table with a single leg.

A drawing of the Tulip Table by Eero Saarinen

So in the late 1957, Saarinen proved true to his word and broke tradition by introducing a collection of tables, initially referred to as Saarinen Tables. They feature a single central base, made from single pieces of cast aluminum and finished in black, white or platinum, that appeared to “grow like a flower” with a stem-like base, as opposed to having the more traditional standing legs. With this simple, organic shape that included a slender neck and elegant, organic proportions, the base became the focus of a large series of tables that came to be known as Tulip Tables. 

With options for circular and oval tops with tapered edges in a variety of sizes and heights, Tulip Tables were conceived from an integrated design framework that supports a cohesive human experience. They were an immediate hit once they became commercially available, in part because the single base provides visual lightness while inviting people to gather around a table unencumbered by legs. Tulip Tables delighted both residential and commercial furniture buyers with an array of color choices as well, with tops constructed of laminate or wood veneers, or made from natural materials like granite or coated Arabescato marble.

The Tulip Table found in an Optima Lakeview residence

While design trends come and go, a precious few furniture pieces remain timeless and iconic. Saarinen’s Tulip Tables are among those —  ever-elegant, minimal and sophisticated.

Vertical Landscaping Around the World

Our passionate connection to nature is an essential piece of our identity at Optima and has been since our founding. This foundation has led to signature design elements in our properties, like our vertical landscaping system. From the vibrant greenery that extends beyond Optima Kierland Center, Optima Camelview Village and Optima Sonoran Village in Arizona to the introduction of vertical landscaping to the Midwest’s four seasons at Optima Verdana in Chicago, the lush green element is a cornerstone of our Optima communities. Given our innovation in this arena, it’s interesting to take a look at how vertical landscaping is used throughout the rest of the world:

The Via Verde project, Mexico City

Via Verde, Mexico City 

In 2016, Mexico City began planning an ambitious project to bring vibrant greenery into the city to reduce pollution and welcome additional natural allure to the area. The city came up with Via Verde, an initiative to cover more than 1,000 highway pillars with lush vertical landscaping. Because traffic in the city is some of the most congested in the world, the pillars not only serve as beneficial to the environment but also as works of natural art for residents.  

The vertical landscaping at One Central Park, Sydney

One Central Park, Sydney

Completed in 2012, One Central Park was built as part of Sydney’s Central Park renewal project. The building is a dual high-rise with a height of more than 380 feet, but it is famously known for its vertical landscaping designed by its architects, Foster and Partners, Ateliers Jean Nouvel and PTW Architects. The vertical landscaping system was a collaboration between French botanist Patrick Blanc, the modern innovator of the green wall, and the architects. One Central Park is home to 350 different species, including both exotic and native verdure, and totaling over 85,000 plants that cascade more than meters down its facade.

The Rainforest Chandelier in EmQuartier, Bangkok

Rainforest Chandelier, EmQuartier, Bangkok

Designed by the American architecture firm Leeser Architecture, EmQuartier is a 2,700,000 square foot mall located in Bangkok, Thailand. The innovative design that makes up the grand retail hub features restaurants, offices, event halls, and at its heart, an open-air atrium. In the atrium’s core, an unprecedented 337-foot chandelier hangs with exotic plants spilling from its sides. Patrick Blac – who also inspired One Central Park’s vertical landscaping – not only designed the ellipse-shaped Rainforest Chandelier for EmQuartier but also included two garden areas and a fully landscaped bridge connecting the mall to other surrounding buildings. 

We couldn’t be more proud to have brought vertical landscaping to the Scottsdale and Chicago communities like many other projects have done across the globe, enriching communities and fostering a connection to nature found little elsewhere.

Wilmette Architecture Spotlight: Bahai’ Temple

Chicago has earned its place on the architectural map thanks to the countless architects who helped fill the city with unique designs. Not to be outdone, the Chicago suburb and home to Optima Verdana, Wilmette, also boasts a myriad of architectural wonders itself, from houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to a Prairie-style ‘L’ station still in use. Today, we’re taking a closer look at the architectural history behind Wilmette’s iconic Baha’i House of Worship. 

Plans to construct a Baháʼí temple in the United States began in 1903. At the time, only one other temple existed throughout the rest of the world in Turkmenistan. Baháʼí’s presence in and around Chicago made it the perfect city to build in, but leaders in the religion wanted to build in a quaint community outside of the city and eventually, they decided on Wilmette to harbor the temple. 

Constructing the dome of the Baha’i House of Worship, Wilmette

In 1907, individual Baháʼí contributors purchased two lots alongside Lake Michigan. Groundbreaking on the nearly 7-acre site began in 1912, but construction on the building didn’t start until eight years later, in 1920. The community chose Canadian architect Louis Bourgeois – a collaborator of Louis Sullivan – to design the temple. 

Bourgeois’ design drew inspiration from Baháʼís’ belief of unity and was chosen due to its diverse inclusion of architectural styles. The most prominent architectural styles include Neoclassic, Gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque and Islamic arabesque. The temple’s superstructure was completed in 1931, and construction on the building’s entire exteriors finished in 1943. However, the interior had yet to be designed. 

Designers had a difficult time choosing what material to use throughout the design, debating between granite, limestone, terra cotta and aluminum before deciding on concrete made of cement, quartz and other natural stone. Many intricate details are carved into the concrete drape across the exterior facade. Along with its lush gardens and fountains the temple’s most brilliant feature is its 72-foot-wide dome. The temple features nine dome sections and nine interior alcoves, symbolizing completion. 

An interior view from the top of the dome featuring the intricate Islamic arabesque design

More than 3,500 people attended the dedication of the temple in 1953 following the completion of its construction. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and is continuously voted one of the most must-see places in the country. 

Today, Wilmette’s Baháʼí’ House of Worship is the oldest standing temple of Baháʼí and the only in North America. To learn more about the architectural wonder and visit it yourself, head to the website here

Women in Architecture: Lilian Rice

As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re spotlighting an eco-conscious architect of the early 20th century, Lilian Rice. Inspired both by the historic Spanish Colonial design she grew up in and the organic philosophy that influenced her throughout college, Lilian Rice left an impressive mark on the architecture of Southern California. Learn more about her extraordinary life and work below:  

The Life of Lilian Rice

Born on June 12, 1889, Rice grew up in National City, California, just south of San Diego and only 10 miles north of the Mexican border. Her father, Julius Rice, was a prominent educator in the state and her mother, Laura Rice, an amateur painter and designer, both empowered her to pursue her interests in education and the arts. 

Growing up, Rice was heavily inspired and influenced by the abundant Spanish Colonial culture and architecture in the area, including the many adobe homes. In 1906, she moved to Northern California, where she started attending school at the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied architecture. Rice joined the school’s Architecture Association shortly after and quickly rose to a leadership position. At school, she also discovered her philosophy of holding a deep respect for each project’s surroundings and striving to protect their natural environments. 

Lilian Rice, The Claude and Florence Terwilliger Home, 1925, Courtesy of Don Terwilliger

Following her graduation in 1910, she moved back home to National City to care for her mother and acquired a job working with San Diego architect Hazel Wood Waterman – the city’s first female architect. While working for Waterman, Rice also spent time teaching at San Diego High School, leaving her influence on many future architects, including Samuel Hamill, FAIA. 

Notable Works and Achievements

In 1921 Rice’s career catapulted when Richard Requa and Herbert Jackson hired her as an associate in their architecture firm. During her first year, Requa and Jackson assigned Rice with designing a Civic Center for Rancho Santa Fe – an up-and-coming subdivision – which she eventually gained leadership over in 1923. 

Lilian Rice, The ZLCA Rowing Clubhouse, 1932, Photograph by Diane Y. Welch

From then on until 1927, the majority of Rice’s work involved developments and expansions within Rancho Santa Fe. Many of the projects she designed in the subdivision are listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, including the Claude and Florence Terwilliger House and the Reginald M. and Constance Clotfelter Row House. In 1928, after she had received her architect’s license from California, Rice made the ambitious decision to open her own architecture firm.

Following the launch of her firm, Rice began working outside of Rancho Santa Fe, allowing her to step away from the Spanish Colonial style she was known for into more organic approaches. Even throughout the depression, Rice’s career excelled in the 1930s when she designed some of her most familiar works, including the Paul Ecke Ranch home, and both a boathouse and a clubhouse for the San Diego ZLAC Rowing Club in 1932.  

Lilian Rice, Mixed-use building holding La Valenciana Apartments and Rice’s office, Rancho Santa Fe, 1928

Alongside her work, Rice has been a recipient of many architecture awards and achievements, including: 

  • AIA Honor Award, Chrstine Arnberg Residence, 1928
  • AIA Honor Award, ZLAC Rowing Club, 1933
  • AIA Honor Award, La Valenciana Apartments, 1933
  • 11 buildings listed to the National Register of Historic Places

Through her diverse catalog of architecture projects, Rice filled Southern California with more than 60 unique homes. And while the Spanish Colonial Revival was prevalent at the time, Rice was one of the leading architects who helped make it widespread throughout the state, leaving a reputation little can compare. 

Chicago Public Art: Art on TheMART

Chicago is home to a myriad of stunning public art experiences, where each complement their encompassing environment. In this spirit, the city’s largest work of public art, and the largest permanent digital art project in the world, Art on theMART, embraces its surroundings unlike any other installation in Chicago. 

The now-beloved contemporary art project originated in September of 2018 as more than 30,000 fled to the Chicago Riverwalk to watch the historic Merchandise Mart building transform into a work of art. Following its launch, Art on theMart has hosted nightly projects created by countless artists, ranging from the current exhibitioner Nick Cave to the inaugural artist Jason Salavon

Every evening, 34 projects – sprawled across the Riverwalk itself – help project multiple works of digital art across its 2.5-acre facade. TheMART takes advantage of the latest immersive art technology, using various mapping techniques to ensure every projection fits perfectly to the Art Deco details of theMart. 

While all of the projections showcased at Art on theMART utilize the giant facade of theMart to showcase bright colors and complex imagery to catch the attention of viewers, the installations also comprise bespoke audio elements, creating an even more immersive experience.

Art on theMART, THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU, Barabara Kruger

Current exhibitions include explore by Jonas Denzel and Billiken by Shkynna Stewart and Wills Glasspiegel beginning at 9 p.m. and at 9:30, Ba Boom Boom Pa Pop Pop by Nick Cave, running concurrently with the Furthermore installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Only a 15-minute walk from Optima Signature, prime locations to witness the marvelous exhibition are found across the river from theMart on Chicago’s Riverwalk and West Wacker Drive.

Natural Stone: A Timeless Staple of Architecture

At Optima, we celebrate the fundamental connection between design and nature. It’s this philosophy that often inspires the design in our communities, including our newest, Optima Lakeview. One of Optima Lakeview’s most exceptional features is the stunning natural stone that lines the first floor. Today, we’re taking a closer look at a classic architectural material, natural stone. 

The History of Natural Stone in Architecture

Stone is a timeless material used in some of the world’s most admired architectural works and monuments, from the Colosseum to the Washington Monument. The centuries-old resource, dating back nearly 12,000 years, has found its use in nearly all aspects of architecture and remains relevant today. 

In its early use, quarried stone was utilized to create walls, columns and piers. For centuries, entire cities were made of stone, making it an essential building resource. As technology advanced and more sophisticated construction methods metamorphosed, stone began appearing in archways, windows, facades and other stunning building accents.  

The Colosseum, famously built with natural stones such as travertine, lime and marble

With time, materials like iron and concrete became an easy replacement for natural stone in architecture and helped to allow the construction of skyscrapers in the 19th and 20th centuries. The natural resource then became a popular staple for exteriors and cladding exclusively. However, today, architects are again embracing stone in full force, and it’s found on everything from kitchen tables to living room walls. 

Natural Stone in Optima

Each of Optima’s Illinois communities — Optima Lakeview, Optima Signature and the in-progress Optima Verdana — feature one-of-a-kind granite flooring throughout their main levels. Granite, which is only one of many natural stones used in Optima Communities, perfectly compliments Optima’s commitment to artistry and elevated living, amplifying each atmosphere housing the stone.  

Optima Kierland’s landscaped courtyard featuring a natural stone water feature

We embrace the organic here at Optima, which is why you can find more than just granite in most of our communities. Other uses of natural stones include stunning, polished quartz and granite for kitchen and bathroom finishes throughout our communities and even in Optima Kierland’s courtyard’s sparkling water feature. 

Even after a millennium of use, architects and designers continue to discover new adoptions for natural stone in buildings today, making it a timeless staple of the architecture world.

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