British architect Norah Aiton founded the architectural practice of Aiton & Scott in conjunction with her business partner Betty Scott in 1930. Norah and Betty designed the building for the Aiton & Company manufacturing business. It was one of the first to exhibit modernist industrial architecture. Scott had a more eclectic style and let Aiton function as the sole pioneer for modernism. Since only a few females worked as architects at the time, this effort still counts as an impressive feat.
Norah Aiton was born in 1903 to Adriana Wilhelmina Stoop and John Arthur Aiton in London. She had two siblings. Her mother was a Dutch citizen, and her father was a prominent engineer. He eventually became Sir Arthur Aiton and established a successful steel pipe manufacturing company when he moved his family to Derby. Norah was related to the industrialist Dolf Kessler and was the niece of Adriaan Stoop, a Dutch oil explorer.
Norah attended the all-female Girton College in Cambridge. In 1923, she passed the first part of the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos. However, she never finished the course because she won a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) scholarship. This allowed her to continue her studies at the newly established Cambridge School of Architecture between 1924 and 1926.
Until 1929, Aiton studied at the Architectural Association School (AA) and received her RIBA diploma. At AA, she met her future business partner, Betty Scott. Since the AA curriculum did not include continental modernist design at that time, Aiton picked up her knowledge of that particular style during a summer job at PJH Kuypers in the Netherlands. Her love for modernism and its avant-garde use of glass and steel was enhanced by several trips to that country. She especially appreciated the Dutch design school De Stijl.
In 1933, she became Norah Tollenaar upon her marriage to an insurance broker named Nicolaas Tollenaar. Although he was Dutch, he acquired British citizenship in 1934. However, Norah continued to use her last name of Aiton professionally.
The business of Aiton & Scott was based in London. After the duo designed a house for Betty’s parents at Stoke Poges, they created offices for the factory of Aiton’s father. This Derby plant manufactured technologically advanced products, including high-spec pipework for power stations and warships. The design this partnership implemented followed the De Stiijl color scheme with jade green interior walls, blue brick, red floors, white cement, and grey stucco and window frames.
Other projects of this partnership included a private zoo with fish tanks and monkey cages, a crematorium, a church, printing works, and numerous private houses. While these architects have been omitted from mainstream histories of modernist designs, they were featured prominently in the press, at a RIBA exhibition, in trade journals and in books.
Norah’s career ended by World War II, but her interest in design and art never waned. She amassed an impressive collection of decorative art and remained affiliated with the Contemporary Art Society. She passed away in the summer of 1988 in Jersey while on holiday.