Fifty-six years after her death, the Board of Directors of the AIA voted today to honor the AIA Gold Medal to Julia Morgan, FAIA (1872-1957) — the first woman to ever receive the award. Considered as the AIA's highest honor, the Gold Medal recognizes an individual's work that has majorly influenced the theory and practice of architecture.
Morgan's most famous works include Hearst Castle; Asilomar YWCA in Pacific Grove, CA; and St. John's Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, CA.
Morgan will be honored at the AIA 2014 National Convention and Design Exposition in Chicago.
"Morgan 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. The first woman admitted to the prestigious architecture school at the Ecoles des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Morgan designed comfortably in a wide range of historic styles."
"Exceptionally bright from a young age, she was one of the first women to study civil engineering at the University of California-Berkeley, where she caught the eye of AIA Gold Medalist Bernard Maybeck, who taught there. He gave Morgan what he would give the best and brightest of any gender: a recommendation to apply for the Ecoles des Beaux-Arts, the most prominent architecture school of its day.
But there were two problems: She was a foreigner, and subject to unstated, but strict quotas, and a woman. No female had ever been admitted. She failed the first entrance exam; her second exam was discounted for no other reason than her gender. She was finally admitted after her third try. She completed the entire program in 1902."
"Back in Berkeley, Morgan went to work for architect John Galen Howard, designing buildings for her undergraduate alma mater. In 1904, she became the first women licensed to practice architecture in California, and opened her own firm."
"An early project was an open air Classical Greek theater; the first such structure in the nation. After the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, much of the city was leveled, but her greek theater survived, providing her with a level of unprecedented credibility. In addition to this project solidifying her reputation, the project also brought her closer into the orbit of Phoebe Apperson Hearst, a university booster and mother to publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.
Word of Morgan’s skill with reinforced concrete spread across California. She began to take advantage of the material’s groundbreaking plasticity and flexibility in imaginative, new ways, savoring opportunities to clamber through scaffolding at buildings sites to inspect the work."
"What stands out most is the vast array of architectural styles she employed: Tudor and Georgian houses, Romanesque Revival churches, and Spanish Colonial country estates with an Islamic tinge. Her late-period Beaux-Arts education gave her the ability to design in these historicist styles, gathering up motifs and methods from all of Western architectural history to select the approach most appropriate for each unique site and context."
"Morgan joined the AIA in 1921 as only the seventh female member. She is the 70th AIA Gold Medalist and joins the ranks of such visionaries as Thomas Jefferson (1993), Frank Lloyd Wright (1949), Louis Sullivan (1944), Le Corbusier (1961), Louis I. Kahn (1971), I.M. Pei (1979), Santiago Calatrava (2005), Glenn Murcutt (2009), and Thom Mayne (2013)."
"Some of Morgan’s most notable projects include:
St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, an excellent example of First Bay architecture. An intimately scaled church, its interior is entirely clad in redwood, including open cross-strut beams that create a sense of humble grace and wonderment.
Asilomar YWCA in Pacific Grove, Calif., this YWCA conference center (Morgan designed approximately 30 YWCAs) is perhaps the largest Arts and Crafts campus complex anywhere, according to Sara Holmes Boutelle’s book Julia Morgan Architect. Its palette of rich natural materials and fluid mix of indoor and outdoor spaces suits its pleasant Northern California climate.
The Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Calif., William Randolph Hearts’ seaside retreat, 165 rooms across 250,000 acres, all dripping with detailing that’s opulent bordering on delirious. The style is generally Spanish Colonial, but the estate seems to compress Morgan’s skill at operating in different design languages: Gothic, Neoclassical, as well as Spanish Colonial, all into one commission."
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