Monday, May 19, 2014

Elizabeth Ayer: Pioneer Seattle Architect

Elizabeth Ayer
ca. 1939
Courtesy University of Washington,
Special Collections
On this journey to bring to your attention the hundreds of female artists that have been largely forgotten, or never known by most people, I do not want to neglect the architects. Elizabeth Ayer is an important woman of whom you should be aware.
Ayer's family arrived in the Washington Territory in 1852-among the earliest Anglo settlers. Her father was a lawyer and judge, her mother, an artist. Her interest in mathematics and art led Elizabeth to pursue architecture at the University of Washington, where she became the first female graduate of the University's architecture program. She received her degree in 1921, and in 1930 became the first female architect registered within the state of Washington. In the residential area, Ayer was instrumental in the synthesis of traditional Colonial forms such as double hung sash windows and a classically detailed cornice, with an irregular, boxy composition.

While Ayer’s career is linked primarily with architect Edwin J. Ivey, she worked for Andrew Willetzen in Seattle, for the architectural firm of Cross & Cross, and for Grosvenor Atterbury in New York. In addition, Ayer was interested in European architecture and twice during the 1920s, she spent a year abroad to tour and to study.

In 1927, Elizabeth Ayer began to collaborate with Ivey on a number of high profile commissions for Seattle’s social  and economic elite. Ivey provided Ayer with critical support and the guidance that would shape her approach to domestic architecture. In 1924, she was principal architect for at least one residence built in The Highlands (a gated community on Puget Sound) for C. W. Stimson. The design for these homes was traditional, predominantly Colonial Revival (with features such as the aforementioned double hung sash windows). The Langdon C. Henry residence (1927-1928), located in The Highlands, is a textbook example of the revivalist aesthetics driving domestic architectural design in the 1920s, especially in the more exclusive neighborhoods.


Langdon C. Henry residence,
The Highlands, ca. 1927-28.Courtesy University of Washington,
Special Collections
Ayer continued to employ her trademark period revival facades.  However, rear elevations and the interior spaces of her projects had a recognizable modernist flavor and often featured expanses of glass, modern materials and open floor plans.  Notable projects include the Davis House (1950) on Mercer Island; the Douds House (1951), which was featured in the book, Practical Houses for Contemporary Living; the Linden House (1962) on Bainbridge Island; and the Forland House (1963) in Seattle.
Robert F. Linden residence
Ayer and Lamping,
Bainbridge Island, 1962Courtesy University of Washington,
 Special Collections
William E. Forland residence,
Ayer and Lamping
Seattle, 1961-63,
Courtesy Shaping Seattle Architecture, Ochsner
In 1940, Ivey was killed in an automobile accident. After his death, Ayer took over the firm with Roland Lamping, another employee and graduate of the University of Washington. They continued the practice, but abandoned large-scale residential designs in favor of smaller residential and commercial projects. In 1942, they suspended the practice for the duration of World War II and Ayer worked as an Architect in the U.S. Engineers Office. She restarted the practice after 1945. Some time during the 1950s, the firm name was changed to Ayer & Lamping.
Elizabeth Ayer retired in 1970 after fifty years of successful architectural practice. She moved to Lacey, Washington, where she served on the Planning Commission through 1980. Ayer died in Lacey in 1987.
Elizabeth Ayer
Hawthorne K. Dent residence, Seattle, Washingto,
Architectural Drawing-West elevation and window details
ca. 1936
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Sources
1. HistoryLink.org, The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, Ayer, Elizabeth (1897-1987), Architect, http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=1721, retrieved May 19, 2014.
2. Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation, Elizabeth Ayer (1897-1987),  http://www.dahp.wa.gov/learn-and-research/architect-biographies/elizabeth-ayer, retrieved May 19, 2014.
3. University Libraries, University of Washington Digital Collections, http://digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/ac/id/1198/rec/4, retrieved May 19, 2014.