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AIA Honors Julia Morgan, California Architect

Jan 21, 2014
By Catherine Calvert, Director
VIA Architecture

In December, the American Institute of Architects announced that its Gold Medal will be awarded to Julia Morgan in recognition of her contribution to the profession. This is the first time in the 70-year history of this award that a female architect has been chosen for the honor:

“The Board of Directors of The American Institute of Architects (AIA) voted today to posthumously award the 2014 AIA Gold Medal to Julia Morgan, FAIA, whose extensive body of work has served as an inspiration to several generations of architects.

The AIA Gold Medal, voted on annually, is considered to be the profession’s highest honor that an individual can receive. The Gold Medal honors an individual whose significant body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture. Morgan’s legacy will be honored at the AIA 2014 National Convention and Design Exposition in Chicago.

Morgan, who died in 1957, won a litany of firsts she used to establish a new precedent for greatness. A building technology expert that was professionally adopted by some of the most powerful post-Gilded age patrons imaginable, Morgan practiced for nearly 50 years and designed more than 700 buildings of almost every type, including houses, churches, hotels, commercial buildings, and museums.”

See full announcement here.

In my junior year of high school at San Francisco’s University High School, I attended a talk by the author Sara Holmes Boutelle, who was in the area researching buildings designed by the architect Julia Morgan. As it turns out, the oldest part of our school, located at 3065 Jackson Street, was an undiscovered Morgan building.

3065 Jackson Street

3065 Jackson Street, San Francisco — image copyright Google

Until that time I had just thought of it as a gorgeous old structure, U-shaped and opening onto a south-facing courtyard, with giant interior transom windows above all the classroom doors and flooded constantly with sunlight:

3065 Jackson Street

3065 Jackson Street Courtyard: Image copyright SFUHS

Classroom interior

Classroom interior: image copyright

As an aspiring architect at the time, learning about Julia Morgan’s career and the beauty of her work made a strong impression on me. Ms. Boutelle is credited with rediscovering Morgan and creating the definitive monograph on her work: “Julia Morgan, Architect,” published in 1988 by Abbeville Press, is a lush visual love letter that exhaustively documents the breadth of Morgan’s portfolio:

Morgan was a reclusive and prolific genius who destroyed all her records prior to her death; she had great skepticism for publicity-seeking architects, leaving a legacy of buildings that had to be rediscovered in order to be recognized. Although Morgan’s Hearst Castle project at San Simeon is best known and most closely associated with her historicist style, she was incredibly skilled at creating great small institutional projects such as this building on Jackson Street. These are projects that make great “background architecture” – humble, yet sensitive in scale to their urban context, gracious with their internal spaces, and carefully detailed from a technical and craftsmanship perspective.

Julia Morgan (1872 – 1957) was the first woman to graduate from the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris (1902) the first to be licensed to practice architecture in California and, along with Louise Bethune, was one of the first female architects in the United States. Both of these women were told that they could not become architects and persevered despite overwhelming resistance from our still male-dominated profession – even today, less than a quarter of registered architects in the US are women:

View the ArchDaily Women in Architecture infographic here

VIA strongly supports AIA’s recognition of Julia Morgan for the 2014 Gold Medal – well done.