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threat of lawsuits can hinder architects, designer contends

LOS ANGELES - She might not spit nails, but she can sure tell you where to put them. Mrs. Rolf (Norma) Sklarek, directer of architecture at Gruen Assocs. in Los Angeles, heads up the technical end of things there.
She oversees a department of 30 people, including architects, draftsmen and apprentices who design the electrical, civil and mechanical engineering for important structures all over the world. 
Mrs. Sklarek explains, "First, the building is designed. Usually it is done by Cesar Pelli, an exceptionally talented architect who is inspiring to work with. Then my department and I come up with the working drawings. These are detailed instructions to the contractor on how every item is to be built and how all engineering and structural tasks(electricity, air conditioning, plumbing, ceiling spaces, ventilation, etc.) should be coordinated."
In California, she says, building must be earthquake resistant, because of the high seismic probability zone, whereas in New York, crime poses a big problem, and security must be dealt with architecturally. 
An outside consultant makes a geological and seismological report, going over soil, weather, water and earthquake conditions for every project. 
Mrs, Sklarek began working at Gruen Assocs. in 1960 and became its director seven years ago. Her husband is vice president of the concern, but she firmly asserts she attained her position as director before they met.
Her duties are decided between administrative and architectural work. At the beginning of the day she usually assigns personnel to specific tasks. Interviewing job applicants and attending project meetings to discuss engineering problems often take up part of her time. 
"Sometimes I feel like I've been battling all day," she comments. The time she spends on working drawings varies - sometimes 90 per cent, other days, 10 per cent, she says. 
Among the buildings Mrs. Sklarek has must enjoyed doing is a Sears department store and adjoining civic center in downtown Columbus, Ohio. The structure, which has an all mirrow-glass exterior, includes a park and child care nusery so mothers can leave their children under supervision while they go shopping.
A city hall and cultural center in San Bernardino presented the most challenging acoustical assignment Mrs. Sklarek has undertaken, as the threatre is used for symphonies and other muscial events. 
A $40 million dollar shopping senter in Queens, N.Y., which she worked on was comprised of only large department stores and had 10 levels of parking. Mrs. Sklarek points out that there, as with serveral Hawaii jobs, hydrostatic pressure can create a problem for the builders. 
"The water pressure in the ground is so great it's almost impossible to keep it out, so pumps have to work round the clock while the building in under construction." She adds with a sigh, "We do get the difficult jobs. But that's what makes it so interesting."
One of her most recent assignments was the new American Embassy in Japan. "We had to be unusually careful about acoustics, as sound insolation can be very important there. And the strength of the building, or seismic design, had to measure up under more stringent regulations than those of Los Angeles to withstand earthquake and bomb posibilities."
Mrs. Sklarek says U.S. Seabees will supervise the construction to make sure each item going into the building is not "bugged."
All measurements for it were done with the metric system. "It's easier, but it's different, so it had its difficulties. We can form a mental picture of how long 300 ft. is, but for this projet, we had to reorient our thinking to meters," she explains.
How does Mrs. Sklarek feels about the fact the United States will gradually change to the metric system within the next 10 years? "Personally, I will welcome it," she reflects. "Everything today is international, and in keeping with that, I think our measurement system should be too. Most of the other countries that haven't switched over yet are tiny, backward African nations."
Mrs. Sklarek is excited about a 27-story megastructure for the Mormom Church now under contruction in Salt Lake City. It took eight months for her and about 10 staff members working full time to come up with the working drawings for the shopping complex, theatre and plaza.
With all this work comes tremendous responsibility. Mrs. Sklarek observes that architects and engineers are being sued more today for problems during or after contrustion. She has had no lawsuits involving her work, but she feels it's a constant threat and makes her "extremely careful," especially about using new materials which haven't been fully tested yet.
"This can hinder progress. Like auto insurance claims, often exorbitant fees are awarded, and in many cases, this makes for astronomical premiums to be paid by the architectural firms."
So the strain is ever present. Some people claim women react too emotionally to handle it. But counters Mrs. Sklarek, "I have seen several architets break down and I have never been near that. I spend part of my time trying to prevent other staff members from cracking under the pressure."
In fact, Mrs. Sklarek believes women are quite capable and she's hired four of them as part of her staff. One is an architect and the others are unlicensed architects. (Mrs. Sklarek points out that after receiving an architectural degree in college, a person needs three years work experience before passing an exam to receive a state license. Some people never bother to get the license, once they become established working as an apprentice.)
Mrs. Sklarek, who doesn't mince words, chooses them carefully. Does she think being a woman has hurt the progress of her career? (Pause). "No." Does she think it's helped? (Swiftly,) "No."
As far as philosophy goes, she says, "One should do what he's capable of doing. That's all that can be asked of a person." She adds that she thinks she and her staff are making valuable contribution to society through their work. 
"Self-discipline is important in achieving anything significant, especially in my field, where things run on tight schedules.
Otherwise, you'd never accomplish anything. Also, perseverance and enthusiasm about your work are essential."
Mrs. Sklarek works a 40-hour week, and says the only time she worked longer was when she held a job with a firm in New York and taught architecture classes two nights a week. Of course, when she was going to school, she had a grueling routine of classes from  9 a.m. to 6 p.m., or later, six days a week. And the burden was increased with a young child at home. She and her first husband decided to part ways when he flunked out of school. 
"Because of his ego, I had to either quit school myself or rend the marriage." Through the years, Mrs. Sklarek was married and divorced two other times and had another child. But she sums up, "Unless you are married to a man who also has a successful career, there are bound to be problems. Whenever I've had a choice to make, I've made it for my career, and I've never regretted it."
Because of life with her husband now Mrs. Sklarek feels a career and a family lide for a woman can be compatible. Her eldest son, 24, is married and vice president of a mechanical contracting firm and her other son, 18, is a student at UCLA.
her husband, who designed their Pacific Palisade home, is a camera bug and when rhey take their vacations (four weeks a year), they both enjoy photographing buildings. They've been to the Orient and Scandinavia - Mr. Sklarek is Polish, though he grew up in Germany. The couple is looking forward to a Caribbean cruise this year. 
Born and reared in Harlem, Mrs. Sklarek recalls that her father influenced her, saying, "Even daughters should haver a careers." So she combined her talents in math, science and art by going into architecture. 
She was graduated from Columbia University in 1950, and has worked for 22 years since fir various firms including Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, a prestigious New York concern.
Mrs. Sklarek says she would never want to go into business for herself. "I enjoy being part of the team, and I like the major projects our firm is assigned that most smaller outfits wouldn't handle."
She finds thaat salaries for women who work in fields predominantly run by men tend to be higher than thise in traditionally female-type work. She has no bones to pick over the ample salary she draws, though she won't wuote any figures. She says she's paid probably as well or better than men in similar positions with other companies.

Norma Sklarek
self-discpline perservance, enthusiasm

Always having maintained good health, Mrs. Sklarek says she has no trouble relaxing, and that she and her husband are bridge "fanatics," traveling to tournaments all over the country. 
As for the on-the-job travel, Mr. Sklarek spends about three to six days, once or twice a month, on out-of-town business. She, on the other hand, rarely takes such trips, and "then it's a big deal, and I really enjoy it."
Mrs. Sklarek describes herself as "very independent" and having "somewhat of an aggressive personality. This is part of the reason I have achieved a higher success than the average person," she asserts.
She had a housekeeper to help with the children when they were growing up and with the cooking and cleaning. "The end result of this was that I had more time for my children, being with them at night and on weekends without having to interrupt that time with household chores."
Now, with the children gone, Mrs. Sklarek still maintains a housekeeper for cooking and cleaning. "I figure that if I go out to work, that is enough, and I shouldn't have to do housework when I get home."
What's the one thing she hopes the future will bring for architects? "We need more systematized buildings, with a greater degree of prefabrication. We're getting there."

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