Remembering Architect Judith Edelman, 1923-2014
October 21, 2014
Photo via eskwblog.com, by Robert Ipcar
Judith and Harold Edelman discuss a drawing in their office on Washington Street, New York. Photo from What Can She Be? An Architect by Gloria and Esther Goldreich (New York: Lothrop, Lee, and Shepard, 1974).
Architect Judith Edelman, 91, died on October 4, in New York City where she left a profound mark, both on the built environment and as a role model for younger women architects. Highly principled, direct, and unwavering in her ideals, she rebelled early against the status quo—first as an architecture student at Columbia University during World War II (most men were then away in the armed forces) where she was a ring leader in a movement against the Beaux-Arts teaching that still prevailed in the school. Beginning in the 1960s, in a firm founded with her husband, Harold Edelman (who died in 1999), she designed many notable multi-family affordable housing projects, among other works.
According to Edelman, Robert A.M. Stern, when the two were once deadlocked on a design jury, called her “an unreconstructed modernist”—which to her was hardly an epithet. She was a feminist who led the first AIA task force on women in 1974, after speaking at the national convention and pointing out that only 1.2 percent of architects were women. Their grievances, she told the convention, were “not all in the heads of some paranoid chicks,” and she fought not only for greater numbers in the profession but also for advancement and equal pay.
I had the privilege of knowing Judy after we met on a trip to Cuba in 2002, with a group that was looking at social housing. Her active interest in architecture and the world never wavered. Though she retired from full-time practice, she still went to the office—now called Edelman Sultan Knox Wood—to review work in monthly pin-ups. On summer weekends, she liked to swim in the ocean—until her 80s, she would even swim alone—and had a last dip in the Atlantic a week before she died.