Chloethiel Woodard Smith
Early life and education
Chloethiel Woodard Smith was the sixth woman to receive fellowship into the College of the American Institute of Architects, and one of the first woman to have a nationally recognized reputation in American architecture. Born in Peoria, Illinois on February 2, 1910 to Oliver Ernest Woodard and Coy Blanche Johnston Woodard, Smith was raised in an environment where her parents encouraged and inspired her to pursue intellectual challenges. Throughout her career, she opposed the classification as “woman architect”; this sentiment capitalized on her adamant refusal to be distinguished by gender, and her pride of being an accomplished architect whose works and designs matched and even rivaled in prestige those of her male counterparts.
Smith attributed her desire of becoming an architect to an event in her childhood when her family built a house in Portland, Oregon. Based in Washington, her legacy is of the notable urban planning and redevelopment of the southwest section of Washington and the creation of “new towns” in Virginia, Missouri, and Washington, D.C. in the 1960s. Graduating with honors and a bachelor’s degree of architecture from the University of Oregon in 1932, she also was honored with the AIA Award for Best Student in Architecture. This led her to pursue higher education at the Washington University, completing a master’s of architecture in city planning in 1933 (Smith was one of two women graduating with a master’s degree in architecture that year). Smith passed away from cancer on December 30, 1992 in Washington, D.C. at the age of 82.
Career in Architecture
Smith began her post-graduate professional career in New York, at the office of Henry Wright. Up until graduation, she had attained considerable experience in the field of design by working as a junior draftsman in a number of small firms. From 1933-34, she worked freelance as a student assistant to Henry Wright in the Housing Study Guild and exhibited her command at the craft of design. During her time with Wright, Smith contributed mostly to the design development and planning of a number of communities in New York. Also during this time Smith began to correspond with an associate of Wright’s known as Lewis Mumford, who wrote about the potential of contemporary architecture to foster communal peace through technological innovation and design. Through relating to Mumford’s architectural philosophy, the theoretical foundations of Smith’s renowned designs for urban development began to take root.
A year before Wright’s death and the subsequent break-up of his New York office, Smith secured a position as chief architect in the large scale housing division of FDR’s Federal Housing Administration (FHA), an important establishment for the improvement of the quality of living for low-income communities during the Great Depression. While working for FHA she met Bromley K. Smith and they married in 1940. The marriage marked the start in Smith’s career of her involvement in South American architectural affairs for the following decade.
After designing an exhibit in Montreal (“City for Living,” 1941), Smith took up lecturing in the architecture school of Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (La Paz, Bolivia) until 1944. She was then awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to travel to and study city planning in South America for one year; she expanded her global perspective by visiting the countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. During her teaching post she served as an honorary member of the Bolivian Association of Architects. The following year, she became a member of the American Institute of Architects.
The mature phase of Smith’s career began upon the family’s return to the U.S. in the early years of the 1950s. Partnering with her associates from FHA, the firm Keyes, Smith and Satterlee (which would later add architect Lethbridge) took on the redevelopment plan for the Southwest section of Washington, DC. This particular quadrant was rather controversial in comparison to other developments in the city of Washington as a result of the negative portrayal through the media. Essentially, combined effects from the majority population being low-income residents and the declining appearance gave the Southwest quadrant a bad reputation and perception. Remembering her correspondance with Mumford and his philosophy about the potential for moral redemption through innovative architecture and technology, Smith felt it her charge to restore the once glorious neighborhoods of Southwest Washington. Smith collaborated as a consultant with Louis Justement of the Redevelopment Land Agency (RLA). In the 1952 plan, the team eliminated alleys (which generated the most negative attention); condensed blocks to enhance the sense of local communities; and closed off the waterfront and park for exclusive access to pedestrians and boats. They also planned for a variety of high-rises, town houses, and underground parking decks. Ultimately, the Justement-Smith plan sought to integrate families from diverse socio-economic backgrounds in an intimate neighborhood setting.
The Southwest redevelopment plan was the first demonstration of urban renewal in the United States. After the Justement-Smith plan was approved and the area was broken down into sections to be designed by a multitude of architects. Smith, who was at this point partnered with Nicholas Satterlee, was responsible for the design of Capitol Park (Area “B”) which was executed in four stages from 1956-63. Area B spanned 20 city blocks, and was the largest redevelopment area with more properties designed by a single architect than any other zone. This substaintiates Smith’s status as the premier architect who defied gender borders and expectations to prove what she was ultimately capable of. The first phase of the redevelopment consisted of 40 townhouses and a 400-unit, 8 story block. The contrast of materials between steel and concrete in the construction and mahogany and terrazo in the interior creates a profound sense of modernism which would become characteristic of Smith’s designs during this period. By 1960, Smith’s plan grew to 1600 units to accomodate 525 families, which testifies to positive reception Smith was receiving from her work in Area B. By the beginning of 1961, 81 additional townhouses were designed as well as the remaining three high-rises (one 288-unit and two 160-units). In 1960, Smith was elected Fellow to the American Institute of Architects (after years of contention about the jury refusing to award her fellowship based on the qualification of design) and was likewise awarded the AIA Award of Merit for Capitol Park (which was one of several awards for the complex).
Harbour Square was the final phase of Area B, and was distinctive amongst Smith’s preceding works for its luxurious and unique design. From 1963 (the year Smith broke with partner Satterlee and established her own firm) to 1966, she dedicated herself to the design and construction of buildings which appealed to a different kind of clientele. Juxtaposing historic and contemporary style townhouses with the addition of neighboring high-rises, Smith not only broke with architectural tradition but created an innovation in the planning of different types of apartments which reflected the diverse residents who came to own them, in contrast to the tenants who rented the apartments in Capitol Park. A most ingenious urban scheme and testimonial to her skill at compromising her desired design with zoning restrictions, Harbour Square brilliantly confirms Smith’s special status in the history of architecture.
By 1967, Smith was in charge of the largest female-run architectural firm in the country. The two last major projects attributed to Smith were the E St. Expressway/Kennedy Center and the National Building Museum. The modern day National Building Museum is the product of Smith’s plan for adaptive reuse and restoration of the old Pension Building, which would later become a National Historic Landmark.
Major Buildings and Projects
- Partner in Charge of Design – Club Union [La Paz, Bolivia], 1943
- Partner in Charge of Design – Hospital [Guayamerin, Bolivia], 1944
- Partner in Charge of Design – Hospital [Riberalba, Bolivia], 1944
- Partner in Charge of Design – Regional “Climate Contol” house, “House Beautiful” [Washington, DC]
- Partner in Charge of Design – Waldsworth Residence [Fairfax County, VA], 1952
- Partner in Charge of Design – Bullard Residence [Annapolis, MD], 1953
- Partner in Charge of Design – Dyrud Residence [Somerset, MD], 1955
- Partner in Charge of Design – Lewis Residence [Potomac, MD], 1955
- Partner in Charge of Design – Washburn Residence [St. Michaels, MD], 1958
- Partner in Charge of Design – Chestnut Lodge Recreational Center [Rockville, MD], 1955
- Partner in Charge of Design – Chestnut Lodge Research Center [Rockville, MD], 1956
- Partner in Charge of Design – Chestnut Lodge Mental Hospital [Rockville, MD], 1957
- Partner in Charge of Design – United Nations International Cooperative Community [Ossining, NY & Briarcliff, NY]: Community plan, apartments and houses.
- Partner in Charge of Design – Redevelopment plan for Southwest Washington, DC (in association with Jestement, Elam & Derby), 1952: District of Columbia Board of Commissioners (with federal assistance) – $500 million package for the nation’s first example of urban renewal; creation of a 522 acre “city within a city”
- Partner in Charge of Design – Redevelopment Plan for Area “B” [Washington, DC]: Elevator buildings and townhouses.
- Partner in Charge of Design – U.S. Embassy [Asuncion, Paraguay], 1958: Office building and residence.
- Partner collaborating on Design – Regimental Headquarters Building, Dept. of Army, 1952
- Partner collaborating on Design – Analysis of Air Force building types, Office Chief of Engineers, 1953
- Partner collaborating on Design – Pine Spring Development Housing [Fairfax County, VA], 1954
- Partner collaborating on Design – Family Housing Units for 9 bases of the Dept. of the Air Force, 1954
- Partner collaborating on Design – Criteria for Family Housing/Standard for building types, Dept. of Defense, 1954
- Partner collaborating on Design – Design for permanent Army structures, Office Chief of Engineeers, 1954
- Partner collaborating on Design – Temple Sinai Synagogue [Washington, DC], 1958
Press and Awards
- Recipient of the Washington Board of Trade for Residences Award (1951, 1953, 1955, 1956)
- Recipient of the Evening Star for Residences Award (1955)
- Elected Fellow to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects for Notable Contribution to the Advancement of the Profession by Achievement in Design and Service to the Institute (1960)
- Recipient of a Distinguished Service Award, University of Oregon (1982)
- Voted “Woman of the Year” by the YWCA of the National Capitol Area (1985)
- Recipient of the Centenniel Award for “continuous service to the chapter, the community and the profession” from the Washington Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (1989)
- Architectural Record, “Rental Housing and Community Planning” (1935)
- Report for Mayor of Quito, Ecuador – new master plan for Quito (1945)
- Articles for Architectural Forum on architecture and city planning in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile (1946)
- Article on “space” for Architectural Forum (1947)
- Book review for Washington Post articles on architecture, housing and city planning
- “The Pension Building: A Building in Search of a Client” – report proposal on adaptive re-use of the nineteenth century and historic landmark, Washington’s Pension Building (which would later become the National Building Museum) (1967)
- Chairman of Associates, Washington-Metropolitan Chapter of the AIA (1938)
- Chairman of City Planning Commission, Washington-Metropolitan Chapter of the AIA (1938-39)
- Chairman of Activities Committee, Washington-Metropolitan Chapter of the AIA (1939)
- Member of Executive Committee, Washington-Metropolitan Chapter of the AIA (c. 1948)
- U.S. Delegate to VII Pan-American Congress of Architects (Havana, Cuba: 1950)
- Member of the Jury on National Honor Awards, AIA Chicago Convention (1951)
- Chairman of International Committee, AIA (1952)
- Member of the Juries on architecture for National Association of Home Builders (Washington, DC: 1956-58)
- Member, Building Code Revision Advisory Committee (1957-58)
- Member of the Jury on Builders’ Developments for Architectural Forum (1958)
- Honorary Member, Bolivian Society of Architects (1944-46)
- Member, ACTION – Ad hoc committee on the consumer, NY
- Member, American Planning and Civic Association
- Member, Committee of 100 on the Federal City
- Trustee, The Fred L. Lavanburg Foundation
- Founding Trustee, the National Building Museum
- Profesora de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, Escuela de Arquitectura, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés (La Paz, Bolivia: 1941)
- Visiting Lecturer, Duke University (1946)
- Visiting Lecturer, North Carolina Sate Univeristy (1952)
Torre, Susana, ed. Women in American Architecture: a Historic and Contemporary Perspective. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1977.
Zipf, Catherine W. A Female Modernist in the Classical Capital: Chloethiel Woodard Smith and the Architecture of Southwest Washington, DC. Newport: The Cultural and Historic Preservation Program at the Salve Regina University, 2006.