From an early age, Harriet Redlich was intrigued by architecture. So much so that, as a child, she broke a family prohibition against reading her parents’ mail. Her father, an electrical engineer, subscribed to something she found irresistible: Pencil Points, an architectural design and drafting magazine.
She recalls, “I’d slip it out of the wrapping, read it and put it back in,” adding, “He probably wouldn’t have minded my reading the magazine, but I didn’t know that.”
Redlich’s fascination with architecture stayed with her during her upbringing, first in Maine, where she was born, and later in New Jersey, where she grew up.
At Antioch College in Ohio, she found herself in a milieu that was remarkably free from gender stereotype even for its time. Against this background, she thought nothing of studying architecture at a time when most women were guided toward teaching, nursing or raising families. “I fell into architecture,” she writes in her bio, “because it seemed like the most interesting thing one could do.”
Although Antioch didn’t offer a degree in architecture (she earned a BA in art and engineering), its work-study program enabled her to work for two years with two of what she calls the “starchitects” of the mid-century modern movement: Richard Neutra and Minoru Yamasaki, who later designed the World Trade Center in New York. After graduation, she worked for a disciple of Mies van der Rohe.
This work plus a 5-day exam entitled her to become a licensed architect in Illinois, where she was then living. She has been a registered architect for over 60 years. Postgraduate adventures also included hitch-hiking to California to pursue an internship in architecture and to an interview with Frank Lloyd Wright.
After Redlich met and married her husband, a veteran Merchant Marine and middle school teacher, she took time off to raise a family. Then she went back to work for a large architectural firm in Chicago. She also did remodels and rehabs in Chicago’s historic Hyde Park district.
When Redlich’s husband retired as a school principal 28 years ago, the couple heeded her son Roy’s invitation to move to California. He bought a lot in Petaluma, and Redlich designed both her son’s house up front and the granny unit in the back of the property where she continues to live today after her husband passed away eight years ago.
Around the corner from the property is another “granny house” built from the same plan. Redlich’s also designed larger houses in the area, all of them incorporating her preferences for an open floor plan and a hidden garage. With a history of muscular dystrophy, Redlich has recently narrowed her focus to granny designs, and you can see them at her website, www.grannyhousesbyagranny.com. As a disabled “granny” herself, Redlich knows what kinds of accommodations work well for older and disabled adults.
For now, Redlich continues to drive to shops for her errands and gets about with her walker adorned with a Mercedes hood ornament. But should her options become more limited in the future, she is well positioned to live the rest of her life in the “granny house” she designed herself.