An Architect Who Paints

An Architect Who Paints

In October 1991, guided by Editor Deborah K. Dietsch, Architecture magazine* published an entire issue focused on Women in Architecture. In the “Technology & Practice” section, there was an article called Women in Corporate Firms, focused on eight women. At that time, a few of the women were quite well known, and several were new to me. As I was reading through the article, I was interested to see that Ruth Gless — a senior associate at Perkins & Will in Washington DC — had an undergraduate degree in English and a master’s in architecture.

Over the years, I had met a handful of architects who had undergraduate degrees in English, Journalism, Philosophy, Music, and a number of other liberal arts curricula. Inevitably, they were, well, interesting, and I enjoyed getting to know them.

I reached out to Ruth, who was originally taken aback. But we came to be very good friends, as we are to this day.

Ruth not only studied English, but she taught it at the high-school level for several years. If I were ever on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, I would ask Ruth to be my “phone a friend,” because she has an encyclopedic memory, particularly of literature (Shakespeare) and films.

But back to the story — after being a classroom teacher for several years, Ruth realized that she wanted to be an architect, and she entered the graduate program at the University of Virginia. Then she began working at P&W in their original DC office. In 1990, P&W closed the office, and Ruth transferred to Chicago, where she worked on many educational projects, including the New Albany High School, which had a remarkable curriculum as well as design.

She subsequently joined NBBJ as the first female principal in their Columbus OH office, and a few years later, joined her husband Frank Elmer FAIA in Lincoln Street Studio. Her design experience includes projects in K-12 and higher education, education programming and planning, research and technology, and corporate headquarters.


Today, my friend Ruth is an architect who paints. As she says, “Architecture and painting are forms of language, but they are also ways of seeing…. As an architect and a painter, I celebrate space, especially urban space.”

Ruth has been an active advocate within the profession, serving as the 2011 President of the Columbus Chapter of the AIA, and on the board of the Columbus Center for Architecture and Design. In 2016, she was elevated to Fellow in the AIA, and in 2019, she was honored with the AIA Ohio Mentor Award.

Needless to say, she continues to be an inspiration to generations of women in architecture. She also continues to teach. As she says, “Once you’ve been a teacher, you can’t not teach. You’re a teacher for your whole life.”

View Ruth’s gallery and exhibitions here.

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Once the official magazine of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Architecture was one of the main journals on the subject until it was closed in 2006, replaced by Architect Magazine.

For a compendium of magazines about architects and architecture, go to, where I found a complete index of PDFs for issues of AIA Journal, Architecture, and ARCHITECT.

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