Newsletter | Jul/Aug 2014

Remembering Architect Mary Laleyan

by Wendy Bertrand

Architect Mary Laleyan has a super special spot in OWA.

I had just graduated from the Master’s Program at the University of California in 1972 when I met Architect Mary Laleyan. An active member with the San Francisco Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, who had practiced internationally for ten years, she realized many of the problems American women in architecture were facing and that we needed to work on solutions. She had experienced a better working environment in her country of origin, Bulgaria.

Mary Laleyan, Mui Ho, and I joined forces in 1972 to trigger the founding of the Organization of Women Architects. Mary convinced those of us present when we voted on the name at an early meeting in 1973, that the name of the organization should be as women architects, not women in architecture used by some groups.

OWA Booth, AIA Convention 1973 (top) Mary Leyalan (inset)

Due to her connection to SFAIA President Howard Friedman, OWA was offered a booth, at no cost, at the 1973 AIA National Convention, and she was influential in getting the first big article about our organization into the San Francisco Chronicle (May 8, 1973), "Women Architects in the Flesh", just months after our founding (article saved in our OWA June 1973 Newsletter by editor Mui Ho). Mary was super active at the national level of the AIA and, thus, after several years grew less active in OWA.

I hold great respect and kind memories from knowing and working with her. I tried to link up with her a few years ago, but I am sorry it didn't work out; I wanted to know her perspective on the situation of women in the profession. I recently learned that she died on January 21, 2014.

Mary's archive is part of the International Archive of Women Architects at Virginia Tech. I edit here from IAWA website's biographical notes:

"Marie-Louise Laleyan (1935-2014) was a San Francisco based architect with 48 years of experience including 30 years as principal of Laleyan Architects (1977-2007), formally Laleyan Associates.

"Born and educated in Bulgaria, Laleyan arrived in the United States in 1964. Laleyan has practiced architecture in Sofia, Bulgaria; Paris, France; and the United States. Before establishing her own practice she worked with the following firms: Hart & Turner Architects (Sacramento, CA), Richard Neutra (Los Angeles, CA), and the San Francisco, CA firms of Claude Oakland and Associates, Anshen & Allen, Mario J. Ciamp, FAIA, and Paffard Keatinge Clay.

"An active member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) she has served on the Northern California Chapter's Board of Directors, as co-chairperson of the national AIA Task Force of Women in Architecture, and coauthor of the AIA Affirmative Action Plan. Besides her instrumental work getting OWA started, she represented the interests of women architects at numerous conferences and seminars. Mary cared for her parents who lived with her in San Francisco for many years. She never married.

"The establishment of Laleyan Associates in 1977 was the culmination of a lifelong career intention and in her words a 'family tradition.' Laleyan was committed to keeping the firm small so that she would be able to provide quality service and personal attention to each project and client. In 2001, Laleyan began providing Physical Needs Assessments (PNA) and Construction Monitoring services for the California Housing Finance Agency (CHFA), a state housing acquisition lender to non-profit and for profit developers. She was highly respected in the field of affordable housing.

"Projects undertaken by Laleyan Architects included light commercial, medical, institutional, residential, and public buildings with construction costs ranging from $25,000-3.4 million. She generously helped many public non-profit organizations with their projects."

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