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NYC landmarks designed or built by women: Brooklyn Bridge, One WTC, and more

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You have women to thank for the Brooklyn Bridge and other New York icons

Max Touhey

There’s no shortage of great women working in the fields of architecture, design, and urban planning—particularly in New York City, where some of the most noteworthy new buildings or urban-design schemes are helmed or championed by women. (Also, hello, Jane Jacobs.)

But there are also women whose contributions to the urban fabric of New York are less known, though no less important than those of their celebrated peers. You may not know their names, but you certainly know the buildings or other landmarks that are an indelible part of the cityscape.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we’ve gathered seven well-known NYC landmarks—buildings, parks, and otherwise—that would never have existed if not for the women who got them done.

Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.
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Bethesda Fountain

One of Central Park’s most popular attractions is Bethesda Terrace and the large, ornate fountain at its center. The sculpture within the fountain—officially called Angel in the Water—was designed by Emma Stebbins, and was noteworthy for being the first public artwork commissioned by the city to be created by a woman. The sculpture was dedicated in 1872; rumor has it that Stebbins based the angelic figure at its center on Charlotte Cushman, her lover.

Max Touhey

Brooklyn Bridge

The iconic East River bridge probably wouldn’t have been completed if it weren’t for Emily Roebling, whose contributions are honored with a plaque on one of the structure’s hulking granite towers. The bridge itself was designed by her father-in-law, John Roebling (who passed away before its completion), and work was carried out by Emily’s husband, Washington. But he developed the bends in 1872, leading Emily to finish the project—and she was the first person to cross the bridge when it opened in 1883.

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Lever House

Natalie de Blois’s name has been in the news recently thanks to JPMorgan Chase’s decision to replace the sleek, modernist Union Carbide Building at 270 Park Avenue, in which the pioneering female architect played a major role. In fact, during her time at Skidmore Owings & Merill, De Blois frequently collaborated with Gordon Bunshaft, working as senior designer on projects like Union Carbide, the Pepsi-Cola building (at 500 Park Avenue), and—our personal favorite—Lever House, erected in 1952 as the HQ for the British soap company Lever Brothers. It marked a shift on Park Avenue toward corporate modernism, and De Blois’s contribution was immense.

The Surrogate’s Courthouse staircase

Though the larger Surrogate’s Courthouse building was designed by architect John R. Thomas, one of its notable elements—the ornate Beaux Arts staircase on the first floor—is the work of Fay Kellogg, known during her time as “the foremost woman architect in the United States.” She also helped draw up the plans for the building, according to the Pratt Institute, which counts Kellogg as one of its alumna.

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site

Though the building where the 26th president of the United States was born and raised wasn’t built by a woman—and, in fact, was demolished at the beginning of the 20th century—the re-created townhouse that stands in its place was. Theodate Pope Riddle, who was the first licensed female architect in New York, was given the commission to redesign the Roosevelt family’s original home; it became a National Historic Site in 1966.

Park Avenue Mall

Landscape architect and NYC Parks Department employee Clara Coffey is responsible for several green spaces throughout the city, including Clement Clarke Moore Park in Chelsea and Yellowstone Park in Queens. But her best-known work is the redevelopment of the Park Avenue Malls, a series of planters lining the thoroughfare from Midtown to the Upper East Side. The Parks Department calls her design for the Malls “understated, practical and accessible,” with flower beds and seasonal flora an integral part of the design. Appropriately, a park within Sutton Place was later named for her.

Large skyscrapers including One World Trade Center. In the foreground there is a row of trees. Max Touhey

One World Trade Center

David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill may be known as the architect of record for Manhattan’s (current) tallest skyscraper, but as Fast.Co Design points out, “the architect who finally got the damned thing built” was Nicole Dosso, the director of the firm’s technical group. In her role, she oversaw the actual construction of the supertall skyscraper; as she told Fast.Co Design, “There was a design, the one David Childs and SOM created. My responsibility was to insure that [the design] took place." So the next time you see the building, remember the woman who got it done.