Newsletter | Nov/Dec 2010

2009 OWA Holiday Party

In Memoriam: Milka Tscherneva Bliznakov

by Inge S. Horton
Milka Tscherneva Bliznakov (1927-2010)

It is with great fondness and deep sadness that I write to you that my dear friend Milka Bliznakov passed away on November 4, 2010 in her home at Blacksburg, Virginia, shortly after reaching her 83th birthday. Milka, the founder and driving force behind the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA) at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, was indeed the friend of all women in architecture. Her passionate energy and strong dedication to the cause of recognizing the contribution of women to the field of architecture and related design fields will live on in the Archive. Milka did not only recognize the need for collecting and preserving documents of women’s work but also stimulated the use of the collection by launching an annual research prize with her own funds. It was named in her honor the Milka Bliznakov Prize.

I feel honored to have known Milka, to have had the opportunity to learn from her and support the IAWA. So many happy memories surface when thinking of her. In 1987, even before I really knew her, she invited Wendy Bertrand and me to stay in her house while she was at a conference when we visited to get to know the Archive. “Just open the sliding door on the terrace and make yourselves comfortable inside,” she told us without hesitation. I remember with fondness her generous hospitality, inviting me and other board members to stay at her home in Blacksburg when attending the annual meetings of the IAWA. We often passionately discussed the direction and the future of the Archive late into the night.

She also hosted wonderful concerts with music by women composers at her house. The board was amazed when she told us that she, then in her late seventies, carried several suitcases with drawings by Bulgarian women architects back to the United States after a trip to her homeland. She loved Bulgaria and organized an unforgettable trip for some of her friends to experience the beautiful country and the work of Bulgarian women architects. I am thankful for encouragement she gave me for my own research on Bay Area women architects and her call congratulating me when she received my book this summer. I will miss her cheerful voice and upbeat attitude when answering my calls. In her last years, she was troubled by the loss of her eye sight due to macular degeneration and not being able to read or drive her beloved historic Mercedes but she never complained.

Educated in architecture at the State Polytechnic University of Sofia, Bulgaria, Milka practiced architecture in Bulgaria, France and the United States. After earning her Ph.D. in architectural history from Columbia University she went on to teaching, first at the University of Texas and, starting in 1974, at Virginia Tech. According to her students, she was an excellent teacher as well as an outstanding researcher, became an authority on Russian Constructivism and a cofounder of the Institute of Modern Russian Culture at USC. Among several awards bestowed on her were two Fulbright scholarships which allowed her to carry out her research in Europe. A more formal obituary describing her many achievements and awards can be found here.

In the early 1980s she perceived the need to collect work by women architects because examples of women’s designs were not available to share with her classes. For this purpose, she founded the International Archive of Women in Architecture in 1985 which has since grown into a significant collection. Several California women donated money and either their whole collection or a few projects such a Sigrid Lorenzen Rupp, Lois Gottlieb, Olive Chadeayne, Lilian Rice, Rebecca Wood Watkin, Zelma Wilson, Beverly Willis, Wendy Bertrand, Kathleen Cruise, Fani Hansen, Wena Dows, Sally Bould Stan, Jane Duncombe, Barbara Woodward, and others.

To honor the vision and important work of Milka Bliznakov, I urge you to support the mission and goals of the International Archive of Women in Architecture at Virginia Tech. Please donate documents of your own work to the Archive by contacting:

Special Collections, Digital Library and Archives
University Libraries, Virginia Tech
P.O. Box 90001
Blacksburg, VA 24062-9001 USA

or e-mail Special Collections at
or make a financial donation in her name to the Milka Bliznakov Prize Fund of the IAWA, c/o Donna Dunay, Chair, IAWA, School of Architecture + Design, Virginia Tech, 201 Cowgill Hall, Blacksburg, Va. 24061-0205

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