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21 women-led architecture and landscape architecture firms in Philly

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From small studios to big-name firms

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, Curbed Philly searched out as many women-owned architecture and landscape architecture firms based in Philly. From rising designers to big names who continue to leave their mark locally and beyond, these women all play leading roles in their respective firms. This is, we hope, no means an exhaustive list, so please share more design firms run by women that we may have missed.

Did we miss a women-owned architecture or landscape architecture firm? If so, please comment below with your recommendations and we will add it to the list.

KSS Architects

This architecture firm has been around since its 1983 founding in Princeton. Now with another office in Philadelphia, 45 percent of its licensed technical staff is female and a women make up a majority of the office staff. In fact, more than 50 percent of the company is owned by women, who spearhead many of the firm’s educational and special needs projects. One of the firm’s most recent local projects was the Pennovation Center in Grays Ferry, for which they teamed up with Hollwich Kushner.

Daroff Design

Interior designer Karen Daroff founded Daroff Design Inc. in 1973. Today, she remains as president and lead designer at the firm, which offers both interior design and architecture services. They’ve worked on everything from residential projects to big-time offices, including the interiors of the Comcast Tower.

The 30th Street Station District Plan.
Rendering by Olin

Olin

Since its beginnings, Olin has made a name for itself under the leadership of renowned landscape architect Laurie Olin, who spearheaded the redesign of Independence Mall, the Washington Monument grounds, Battery Park, and the Barnes Foundation grounds. These days, however, the firm has been ushered into a new era under the leadership of CEO Lucinda Sanders, who is behind major projects like the 30th Street Station District Plan.

IEI

This interior design and architecture firm has been around for decades and just recently celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2016. The president of the sustainability-driven firm is Rosemary Espanol, who has led projects like the renovations of Aramark’s and PECO’s headquarters.

The field house at St. Andrew’s School in Delaware.
Courtesy of Voith & Mactavish Architects

Voith & Mactavish Architects

Daniela Holt Voith is a founding principal of this design firm, which offers architecture, preservation, landscape, and interior services and was founded in 1988. Voith’s work focuses on planning and design for educational institutions, and includes the field house at St. Andrew’s in Delaware (where Dead Poets Society was filmed). In a 2014 interview with Philly.com, she said she broke through the glass ceiling by playing pickup basketball games in college. “You do that and eventually you understand a guy's mentality in competitive and teamwork situations.”

Ramla Benaissa Architects

Ramla Benaissa is the founder of her small namesake firm, which has some interesting competition-based projects under its belt in Philadelphia and beyond. The firm is the first to point out that it doesn’t adhere to a certain aesthetic. Its mission statement reads: “Rather than a recognizable aesthetic agenda we maintain a strong commitment to ground each project in its program, site, historical and cultural context.”

A Chestnut Hill residence designed by CDA&I

CDA&I Architecture and Interiors

Cecelia Denegre started CDA&I in 1992 as an interior design and architecture firm. Interestingly though, architecture wasn’t her first choice: She first studied psychology and fine arts in college. Today, she runs the CDA&I with principal and husband Joseph Denegre, overseeing the small studio firm’s educational, residential, and office projects. A lot of their work can be found on Penn’s campus as well as scattered throughout the Philadelphia region.

Locus Partners

This women-owned architecture-landscape-planning firm is run by Danielle DiLeo Kim (architect) and Sylvia Palms (landscape architect). They take their female-driven business to heart: At the same time that they founded Locus, they also created Philly Girls Do Good, a passion project that brings local women together involved in design and community development. Their biggest project to date is the master plan to build the 10-acre Bridesburg Park along the Delaware River.

Port

After working for eight years for James Corner Field Operations in New York, landscape architect and urban planner Megan Born joined Port as a full partner in October 2016. Born, whose past work includes the High Line and the master plan and concept design of the Seattle Central Waterfront, joins Port founders Christopher Marcinkoski and Andrew Moddrell in their Philly office as the sole registered landscape architect. She’s currently leading the Quarry Lake project in Knoxville.

Lea Elementary School

Salt Design Studio

Salt was founded by landscape architect Sara Schuh, who has played a leading role in the design of a number of local parks, school yards, and master plans throughout Philadelphia. Most recently, Salt’s design of Lea Elementary School’s playground in West Philly won the 2016 GSI Award for Public Projects. It features 3,000 perennials, 35 shrubs, 19 trees, and 5,500 square feet of porous pavers.

Viridian Landscape Studio

Since her co-founder Rolf Sauer’s retirement, landscape architect Tavis Dockwiller has been running the show at Viridian Landscape Studio. In her own words, Dockwiller says, “Viridian Landscape Studio heals ecological systems while making beautiful places for people. We are women-owned and in business since 1999!” She’s behind the master plan for the Woodlands and the Hamilton Family Children's Zoo at the Philadelphia Zoo, which opened in 2013.

The Porch at 30th Street Station.
Courtesy of University City District

Ground Reconsidered

Landscape architect Anita Toby Lager founded what is today known as Ground Reconsidered with Peta Raabe in 1991. Although Lager recently retired from practice and from the city’s Civic Design Review committee, the firm is now owned and directed by Karen M. Skafte and Julie A. Bush. You’ve seen their most recent work over at Hawthorne Park, the first iteration of the Porch at 30th Street Station, and the recreation of Ann Bartram Carr Garden at Bartram’s Garden.

Tend Landscape

A trio of women make up Tend Landscape, all playing leading roles. Julie Snell, Linda Walczak, and Lisa McDonald Hanes act as landscape architects, horticultural consultants, while often leading the community engagement process when it comes to public spaces. One of their most recent projects was the redesign of the John H. Taggart School campus, which brought stormwater management, an outdoor theater, and gardens to the school yard.

Roofmeadow

This landscape architecture and civil engineering firm has been around for two decades, and it’s now led by president Melissa Muroff and design director Laura Hansplant. Perhaps one of Roofmeadow’s most recognizable projects in Philadelphia is Cira Green, the city’s first-ever public roof top park that opened in late 2016. Fun fact: While it’s the Center City views that really wow, underneath the park’s pavers there’s a “pancake cistern” that holds 20,000 gallons of rainwater.

Purdy O’Gwynn, Inc.

Purdy O’Gwynn is a small architecture firm was founded by Linda O’Gwynn in 1994. Though the team consists of only O’Gwynn, Tom Purdy, and two others, the duo has worked on recognizable projects in the area, including the Chemical Heritage Foundation headquarters in Old City, as well as residential homes throughout Philly and the Main Line.

Continuum Architecture + Design

Judy Robinson runs the ship at Continuum as principal and owner. The firm, which was founded in 2005, is behind a lot of mixed-use, residential, and adaptive reuse projects around Philadelphia, including a number of well-known ones in Fishtown and Kensington: the Ice House development, La Colombe, and the ongoing St. Laurentius Church adaptive reuse project.

Bolender Architects

Formerly known as Schade and Bolender Architects, Bolender Architects is now run by Kiki Bolender, owner and principal designer. The Women Business Enterprise firm has a number of interesting residential, institutional, and commercial projects under its belt, including Dock Street Brewery on Baltimore Avenue. Outside of Philly, SBA also played a big role in the restoration of Asbury Boardwalk.

Cicada Architecture/Planning, Inc.

Architect Mary Holland founded Cicada in 1995, and today women make up 60 percent of the firm’s professional staff. In addition to working on cultural institution projects like the sustainable Pennypack Environmental Center, Cicada has designed a number of affordable housing developments and residential homes throughout the city.

3rd Street Estates.
Rendering by Canno Design

Canno Design

Gabrielle Canno is a founder and partner of Canno Design, which has taken on a number of interesting mixed-use and single-family residential projects around Philly. She led the design of the recently finished 1720 Fairmount, and Canno counts the smaller, but super-luxurious 3rd Street Estates among one of her favorites, too.

Woodcock Design

Behind this one-person architecture/interior design/planning firm is Janice Woodcock, a former president of AIA Philadelphia and executive director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. Most recently, Woodcock Design was the architect for the new Fillmore in Fishtown, but some of her smaller projects are notable, too, like the restoration of the building at 13th and Sansom, or we like to refer to as, “the one with that epic fire escape.”

Interface Studio Architects (ISA)

Deb Katz is no stranger to Philly-based architecture firm Interface Studio Architects. But only last year did she return to ISA as a principal after some years working in Boston. Today, she leads the firm’s Cambridge office, but her previous Philly-based work involved seminal projects like the Granary, which imagined transforming the city’s old grain silos into a 12-story, 100-unit apartment mixed-use development.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated from a previous version.