Mildred Schmertz, the first woman to become editor-in-chief of a professional architectural publication in the United States, died Wednesday morning at the New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. She was 92 years old.
Schmertz was editor-in-chief of Architectural Record from 1985 to 1990 and remained an active contributor to the magazine for 33 years. The daughter of architect Robert Schmertz, she received a B.Arch. from Carnegie Mellon University in 1947. After working for a time for an architect in her home city of Pittsburgh, Schmertz left to pursue an MFA in graphic arts at Yale from 1955 to 1957.
Schmertz started at Architectural Record as a member of its art department, but she eventually segued into reporting and began climbing the ranks—senior editor, executive editor, and then editor-in-chief. On her way to the top, Schmertz reported on some of the most influential architects ever, including Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer, I.M. Pei, and Mies van der Rohe. In 1958, she had the opportunity to visit Frank Lloyd Wright at his winter home, Taliesin West, and was able to snap photos of the then 89-year-old master at work. Wright would die 14 months later.
During her tenure as editor-in-chief, Schmertz focused equally on both U.S. and global projects, advocating for international awards programs such as the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, which honors projects "that [reflect] the pluralism that has characterized Muslim societies and communities around the world," according to the foundation.
"Mildred Schmertz, maintained a lifelong commitment to excellence, good design, and architecture throughout her prodigious career as an editor and writer," said AIA executive vice president and CEO, and former Architectural Record editor-in-chief, Robert Ivy in an email to ARCHITECT. "Throughout her years at Architectural Record and later Architectural Digest, she interviewed, visited, dined with, and knew a panoply of great architects, and was able—with little prodding—to extract a bon mot or a pungent story about most of them. Gifted with good humor, dogged persistence, and talent, she edited Architectural Record into a prize-winning journal covering the best of modernism at the intersection of buildings and urban design. She kept the flame of good design roaring, but didn’t suffer fools, and lived a full life on her own, admirable terms."
Inducted as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1977, Schmertz was also a contributing writer for Architectural Digest from 1997 to 2010.