Pioneer. Architect. Artist.
These are just a few words that describe Sylvia Grace Holland – the first woman to become a registered architect with the Architectural Institute of British Columbia. March 8 is International Women’s Day, and today we are going to share her story with you.
Sylvia was born on July 20, 1900 in England, where she spent most of her early life. She attended the Architectural Association in London for five years, graduating in 1924 and joining the Royal Institute of British Architects shortly after. After graduating, Sylvia worked as an assistant to Howard Robertson, a partner in the architectural firm of Easton and Robertson. During her time at the firm, she worked on notable projects such as the British Pavilions for the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris.
After several years working in England, Sylvia and her husband, Frank Holland, who was also a fellow architect, moved to his hometown of Victoria, British Columbia. Here, they established the architectural partnership of Holland & Holland. One of their first projects was designing their own home.
In 1933, Sylvia became the first woman to register with the Architectural Institute of British Columbia. She established an office in Victoria, and continued to practice, even after her husband’s sudden death.
Sylvia’s Canadian architectural career was cut short when in 1937, she moved her family to California to be in a drier climate for her sickly child. Since Sylvia did not have a degree recognized by the American Institute of Architects at the time, she was unable to practice architecture in Los Angeles.
Following her architectural career, Holland continued to use her artistic and creative ability and became one of the first women story artists at Walt Disney, working on critically acclaimed films such as Fantasia and Bambi.
Sylvia had a true passion for art and design, and lived in California until her death in 1974. She was a leader, pioneer and trailblazer.
The AIBC is committed to a vibrant, inclusive, active and engaged membership. Over the past several years, we have been seeing an increase in the proportion of women as registered architects, leading to more balanced gender representation in the profession.
Architectural Institute of British Columbia Archives
Constructing Careers: Profiles of Five Early Women Architects in British Columbia – 1996. Vancouver: Women in Architecture Exhibits Committee, Architectural Institute of British Columbia
For the Record: The First Women in Canadian Architecture – 2008. Joan Grierson