The Heydar Aliyev Centre in Azerbaijan is among architect Zaha Hadid's most acclaimed buildings. Credit: Iwan Baan / Zaha Hadid Architecture Studio

Four emblematic constructions headed by women

Jeanne Gang designed the St. Regis Chicago skyscraper, a 101-storey, 363-metre-tall megastructure inspired by the geometry present in natural materials like crystal and sapphire. These are the iconic buildings that owe their construction to influential female architects.



Thousands of women have been relegated to the background in fields such as architecture and engineering. After exploring the lives and work of four women engineers who made history and great women who broke the mould of architecture, we look at four emblematic construction projects that have been led by women, from the remodelling of the Musée d'Orsay in Paris to the construction of the iconic St. Regis Chicago skyscraper.


Musée d'Orsay


Gae Aulenti converted the interior of a former train station into the Musée d'Orsay in Paris in 1986. The Italian architect, who died in 2012, created a large central corridor in a cavernous space that once housed train tracks under a large barrel-vaulted glass ceiling. In addition to the original support beams being enhanced and the walls restored with rough stone, new industrial materials such as wire mesh were used.

After the inauguration, not all reviews were positive. The French newspaper Libération said the museum had been compared "to a funeral parlour". "As part of their culture, the French are opposed to change," Aulenti said at the time, noting that nearly 20,000 people lined up every day to visit the museum. Later, the architect received multiple commissions. For example, she designed the Italian pavilion at the Universal Exhibition in Seville in 1992 and renovated the Palau Nacional de Montjuïc in Barcelona. In addition to her famed work with interiors, she also designed pens and watches for Louis Vuitton and a coffee table on wheels for the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


Gae Aulenti converted the interior of a former train station into the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. Credit: Pixabay.


Heydar Aliyev Centre


In 2004, Zaha Hadid became the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, the world's highest award in the field of architecture. The Iraqi-British architect, who died in 2016, has left a legacy of incalculable value. In addition to designing iconic buildings such as the Guangzhou Opera House in China and the London Aquatics Centre, she created furniture, sculptures, shoes, jewellery and even boats. Among her most acclaimed constructions is the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Azerbaijan. Built between 2007 and 2012, this 57,519 m² building complex breaks with the rigid Soviet architecture prevalent in Baku, the country's capital.

This structure, which stands out for its curved style devoid of sharp angles, houses a conference hall, an exhibition hall and a museum. All are connected by a column-free interior space and a continuous outer skin of undulations, bifurcations and folds. "One of the most critical yet challenging elements was the architectural development of the building's skin," says architecture firm Zaha Hadid. The building, which was nominated in 2013 at the World Architecture Festival Awards, consists mainly of two systems: a concrete structure combined with a spatial framework system.


The Heydar Aliyev Centre breaks with the rigid Soviet architecture prevalent in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Credit: Helene Binet / Zaha Hadid Architectural Studio.


One World Trade Center


The attacks of 11 September 2001 made One World Trade Center the tallest building ever demolished. On the same day, Rudolph Giuliani, then mayor of New York, promised that the city would regain its famed skyline: "We’re going to rebuild, and we’re going to be stronger than we were before." Nicole Dosso, an expert in the design of tall buildings in complex urban contexts, played a key role in this reconstruction. The architect from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill led the construction of One World Trade Center, a megastructure formerly known as the Freedom Tower, which was inaugurated in 2014 and stands 541 metres tall. It is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the seventh tallest in the world.

Although it was designed by architect David Childs, Dosso supervised the day-to-day execution of the work. One of the biggest challenges, which she says went unnoticed by the press, was getting the building up to ground level"Professionals understood its importance, because some of the greatest technical challenges were below grade," says Dosso. In addition to the fact that there were many different projects in the vicinity, there were the rail tracks running through the area to contend with: "We were able to preserve the existing slabs, which still had the electrical distribution for the tracks hanging from them. Our slabs are sitting above them." The architect has also contributed to many other major projects in New York City, such as the Baccarat Hotel & Residences and the 250 West 55th Street and 383 Madison Avenue buildings.


Architect Nicole Dosso led the construction of the 541-metre-tall One World Trade Center. Credit: Giorgio Galeotti / Wikimedia Commons.


St. Regis Chicago


St. Regis Chicago is the tallest skyscraper in the world designed by a woman. Acclaimed American architect Jeanne Gang devised this iconic 101-storey, 363-metre-tall building, which was erected between 2016 and 2020. Composed of three interconnected towers of increasing heights, its design is inspired by the geometry of natural materials such as crystal, fluorite and sapphire. "We take ordinary materials and made extraordinary buildings," says Gang, who is also the architect of other megastructures such as the nearby Aqua Tower.

The exterior glass walls of the St. Regis Chicago appear to move in and out from floor to floor. The aim, according to the architect, was to create an architectural form that is reminiscent of nature. This undulating appearance is further accentuated by different shades of blue in an alternating pattern. "The undulation inward and outward creates really interesting views for the city or skyward," says the architect. Inside, Chicago's third tallest skyscraper has luxury flats and a hotel with a swimming pool, gym and even a cinema.


The skyscraper St. Regis Chicago is composed of three interconnected towers of increasing heights. Credit: St. Regis Residences Chicago.


These are just a few of the emblematic constructions led by women, but there are many more: from the Brooklyn BridgeHearst Castle and Trump Tower to the Leonardo Building in Johannesburg and the Sao Paulo Museum of ArtFor decades, women architects have had to contend with sexism, harassment, unequal pay and a lack of career advancement. "These issues persist in the profession today, where women still earn less, occupy few top roles and often leave before fulfilling their potential," emphasises the organisation Women in Architecture. However, more and more voices are being raised to stem the loss of talented women in this sector.


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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

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