Milka Tcherneva Bliznakov, professor emerita of architecture in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech and a trailblazer for women in architecture, died Thursday, Nov. 4 at age 83.
[Nov. 18 Editor's Note: A memorial service for Bliznakov will be held at the University Club on the Virginia Tech campus on Dec. 4 at 10 a.m. to noon and is open to all who knew her.]
A native of Varna, Bulgaria, Bliznakov received her master’s in architecture from the State Polytechnic of Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1951 and spent the next two decades practicing architecture in Bulgaria, France, and the United States, where she immigrated to in 1961.
After receiving her Ph.D. in architecture from Columbia University in 1971, Bliznakov embarked on what would become a distinguished academic career, first at the University of Texas, where she helped establish the Institute of Modern Russian Culture.
In 1974, Bliznakov joined the architecture faculty at Virginia Tech in 1974 and continued her research and teaching in advanced design in urban environments. During her tenure at the university, Bliznakov established a solid reputation as one of the most effective and respected scholars of her generation and was a recognized authority on Russian constructivism and the avant-garde movement.
Frustrated by the lack of primary research materials on women architecture, Bliznakov founded the International Archive of Women in Architecture in 1985, which documents the history of women's contributions to the built environment. It continues to collect and archive the professional papers of women architects, landscape architects, designers, architectural historians and critics, and urban planners, as well as the records of women's architectural organizations.
As an instructor and colleague, Bliznakov is remembered as both a gifted and inspirational teacher and a caring individual who passionately supported the cause of human rights as well as music and the visual arts. Bliznakov was granted the title “professor emerita” upon her retirement in 1998, and remained active in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and broader university communities.
Bliznakov received many honors and awards throughout her academic career, including the Parthena Medal for excellence in architecture from the Bulgarian government, two Fulbright Hays Fellowships and two International Research and Exchange Grants. She was also given a National Endowment for the Arts Grant and was named a Wilson Center of the Smithsonian Institution Scholar in 1988.
Bliznakov was predeceased by her husband, Dr. Emile Bliznakov. She is survived by her brother, Dimiter Ivanov Tchernev of Chestnut Hill, Mass.; nephew John Martin Tchernev of Columbus, Ohio; niece Joy Adelle Tchernev of Brookline, Mass.; and cousins, Lubomir Boshnckov, Lubka Boshnckov, and Marina Nitova of Sofia, Bulgaria.
In lieu of flowers, her family requests donations be made to the Milka Bliznakov Prize Fund of the International Archive of Women in Architecture, c/o Donna Dunay, Chair, International Archive of Women in Architecture, School of Architecture + Design, Virginia Tech, 201 Cowgill Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061-0205. Arrangements for a memorial service will be announced at a later date.
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