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Clara Hyatt Estate (Now “Redwall”), Germantown (Boyds), 1940Architect's Portfolio
Architect Biographies

Ficken, Katherine Cutler

1892–1961

“You have the distinction of being the only lady architect in the Society and it must be left to your discretion whether you would wish to be the only lady in the entire gathering of men.”
From correspondence of Lucien Gaudreau, President of the Maryland Society of Registered Architects, 1938

First Registered Woman in Maryland

1n 1936, Katherine Cutler Ficken became the first woman to earn an architecture license in Maryland, the first year the state offered such a license. She  received her architecture degree from George Washington University (GWU) and spent several years working part-time and in the summers in her father’s firm of Howard W. Cutler, Architects in Washington DC. Clients, such as the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and the University of Maryland (UMD) kept the firm afloat during the depression.

 

In 1935, the Washington Post article “Dad Displeased Once, Proud of Girl Now” indicted that her time was almost exclusively devoted to MCPS’s construction program. She helped design both Chevy Chase and Lynbrook Elementary Schools as well as Bethesda-Chevy Chase High. She also assisted her father with the Rock Creek Field House in Meadowbrook Park, a rustic lodge constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940. She continued to produce work jointly with him as an Associate, well after establishing her own firm in 1934.

Her obituary credited the American Instrument Co. on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring to her. If she was responsible for all the structures on the block, it would be one of her first projects, completed at the age of 24. By 1938, she designed UM’s Edna Amos Nice Hall in Solomons Island, which bears her name on its plaque.

That she was young, single and the only woman member of the Maryland Society of Registered Architects challenged society’s norms. When wishing to attend the annual dinner meeting in 1938, she was advised to consult the judgement of her “good father” on being the only woman in an entire gathering of men.

The 1940 commission to design the estate for Clara Hyatt, a wealthy eccentric widow, must have been a breath of fresh air for Katherine. She design everything, included the manor house, dairy barn, farm structures, and even a watering system for the fields. Masterful at integrating functionality into design, she planned the farm as a production line that a sole woman could run during the war. The fairytale residence miraculously survives today in the middle of a large housing development near Germantown. With its fanciful architecture and lack of white on its exterior brick, the owners dubbed it Redwall, after the red-stone abbey of the popular children’s book.

Katherine was equally proud of her Ceres Restaurant “reconstruction” in Washington DC, which received Best Planned & Designed Restaurant over a 5-year period by Institutions Magazine in 1950. From its efficiently arranged, stainless steal kitchen, to its stone and brick exterior cladding, it was more modern then anything she had done before. Its success helped her to secure the commission for UMD’s large Dining Hall Addition, part of a Post-War Public Works Program of 1945.

When she was 36, she married Rudolph Ficken and she changed her practice to “Katherine Cutler Ficken, Architect.” A year later, her father died at 65 after a long illness. At the age of 45, she and her husband adopted a 4 month old son, but less than 12 years later, cancer took her life. We are fortunate she assembled, and passed onto her son, a large photo album of her own projects and publicity coverage so we may know the scale and breath of her design talents.

Proposed Renovation to Mr & Mrs William Lucker Residence, Silver Spring, 1966
UMD Dining Hall Addition, College Park, circa 1948
Ceres Restaurant (1945)
Library of Congress

Timeline

1911 – born on March 3 to Howard W. Cutler, an architect and mother Marie Katherine Zahn Cutler in Rochester, NY

1917-20 – During World War I, father serves as a Major for the Surgeon General’s staff, in charge of designing U.S. military hospitals, including an addition to Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, DC

1919 – Family moves to Washington, DC

1919-1921 – Father partner in firm of Cutler & Woodbridge in Washington, DC

1921-23 – Father partner in firm of Cutler & Moss in Washington DC; partnership dissolves, firm becomes Howard W. Cutler, AIA, Architect

1929-34 – Attends George Washington University; Graduates with Bachelor of Arts in Architecture; Works as draftsman part-time and summers at father’s firm in “The                     Architects Building” at 18th & E Street NW, Washington DC​; Projects she possibly assists on include University of Maryland Richie Colosseum, College Park and several public schools for Montgomery County

1928 – Family moves to Maple St & Rosemere Ave in Silver Spring

1933 – Works as Part-time Draftsman in U.S. Procurement Division

1935 – The Washington Post features her in July 22 article Dad Displeased Once, Proud of Girl Now

1935-1939 – Projects: Assists father with Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Bethesda (1935); Chevy Chase Elementary School Addition (1936); Five UMD projects in College Park; The Evening Star features UMD Bureau of Mines Building illustration in March 6, 1936 article

1936 – Receives license to practice architecture in Maryland; Lists Katherine M. Cutler, Architect working at Howard W. Cutler, 1108 16th St NW, Washington, DC

1938 – Is Maryland Society of Registered Architects’ only woman member; Business address changes to 711 Dale Drive, Silver Spring

1940-48 – Projects with father: Rock Creek Field House (now the Meadowbrook Recreation Building) (1940); Lynbrook Elementary School, Bethesda (1941); UMD Dairy Building Addition & Renovation (1948)

1940-49 – Projects on own: Clara Hyatt Estate (Residence & Farm Buildings), Germantown (1940-45); American Instrument Co Additions, Silver Spring (1942-43); Solomons Island Yacht Club, Solomons Island (1944); UMD Dining Hall Addition & 3 Greenhouses, College Park (1945-48), part of Post-War Public Works Program

1944-45 – Serves on Montgomery Co. Advisory Committee on Postwar & County Plan

1945 – Project: Ceres Restaurant Reconstruction receives 1st Place USA Best Planned & Designed Restaurant by Institutions Magazine

1947 – Marries Rudolph William Ficken who met while at GWU; Firm name becomes Katherine Cutler Ficken, Registered Architect

1948 – Father dies on December 19 at 65 years of age after a long illness

1956 – Adopts 4 month old son, Rudolph Ficken, Jr, at age 45 years

1966 – Project: Proposed Renovation to Lucker Residence, Silver Spring

1966 – Cancer no longer in remission; At some point prior to death, puts together portfolio album of her projects and newspaper clippings

1968 – Passes away on October 14  in Bethesda at age 57

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