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Morgan Wins AIA Gold Medal

Monday, December 16, 2013

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More than 50 years after her death, Julia Morgan, FAIA, has become the first woman to receive the architecture profession's highest honor.

The American Institute of Architects has posthumously awarded its 2014 Gold Medal to Morgan, anointing the architect of the Hearst Castle and 700 other structures “unquestionably among the greatest American architects of all time” with “remarkable breadth, depth and consistency.”

The Gold Medal honors an individual “whose significant body of work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture” AIA said in Thursday’s (Dec. 12) announcement.

Julia Morgan
Sara Holmes Boutelle /

Julia Morgan (1872-1957) was the first woman honored by AIA with a Gold Medal. Morgan designed more than 700 buildings during her career.

The institute also named Eskew+Dumez+Ripple of New Orleans, LA, the 2014 recipient of the AIA Architecture Firm Award.

Both Morgan’s legacy and Eskew+Dumez+Ripple will be honored at the AIA 2014 National Convention, set for June 26-28 in Chicago.

Morgan’s Legacy

Morgan, who died in 1957, was “a building technology expert [who] was professionally adopted by some of the most powerful post-Gilded Age patrons imaginable,” AIA said its announcement.

She practiced for nearly 50 years and designed more than 700 buildings of almost every type, including houses, churches, hotels, museums and commercial buildings. She was also the first woman admitted to the prestigious architecture school at the Ecoles des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

“Julia Morgan is unquestionably among the greatest American architects of all time and a true California gem,” said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in her recommendation letter.

“Morgan’s legacy has only grown over the years. She was an architect of remarkable breadth, depth, and consistency of exceptional work, and she is widely known by the quality of her work by those who practice, teach, and appreciate architecture,” Feinstein wrote.

Early Career

Born in 1872, Morgan grew up in Oakland, CA. 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 at the school.

Morgan design
Courtesy of Joel Puliatti; Julia Morgan, Architect of Beauty.

Morgan's portfolio includes the Asilomar YWCA Campus in Pacific Grove, CA.

Maybeck "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,” AIA said.

However, there were two problems: She was a foreigner, and subject to unstated, but strict quotas, and a woman. Despite the challenges, she was accepted and completed the program in 1902.

When she returned to Berkeley, Morgan worked 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.

Early in her career, she designed America’s first open air Classical Greek theater in San Francisco. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, much of the city was leveled, but the theater survived, providing her with a level of unprecedented credibility, AIA relates.

Morgan design
Courtesy of Mark Anthony Wilson; Julia Morgan, Architect of Beauty

Morgan designed William Randolph Hearst’s seaside retreat165 rooms across 250,000 acres which features detailing that’s "opulent bordering on delirious" in San Simeon, CA, AIA said.

In addition, 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 the state, and she began to experiment with the material’s groundbreaking plasticity and flexibility in imaginative new ways, the institute noted.

She was said to have enjoyed the opportunity to climb through scaffolding at building sites to inspect the work.

Range of Historic Styles

Morgan employed a vast array of architectural styles throughout her lifetime, including Tudor and Georgian houses; Romanesque Revival churches; and Spanish Colonial country estates with an Islamic tinge.

Morgan design
Courtesy of Mark Anthony Wilson; Julia Morgan, Architect of Beauty.

Her portfolio includes many churches, including St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, CA.

“She designed buildings to fit her clients, blending design strategy with structural articulation in a way that was expressive and contextual, leaving us a legacy of treasures that were as revered when she created them as they are cherished today,” wrote AIA Gold Medalist Michael Graves, FAIA, in a recommendation letter.

AIA says some of Morgan’s most notable projects include the following:

  • St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, an 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 (Young Women's Christian Association) in Pacific Grove, CA, a 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.
  • The Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA., William Randolph Hearts’ seaside retreat, 165 rooms across 250,000 acres, which features 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.

Morgan joined the AIA in 1921 as only the seventh female member. She is the 70th AIA Gold Medalist, joining the ranks of such iconic designers as Thomas Jefferson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, Renzo Piano, Santiago Calatrava, and last year’s winner, Thom Mayne, FAIA.

Firm Award: ‘Bittersweet’

Eskew+Dumez+Ripple (EDR) was recognized for “rigorously crafting Modernism to repair, restore and enhance the exceptionally unique cultural and historic context of New Orleans,” AIA said in its firm award announcement.

The Architecture Firm Award is the highest honor the organization bestows on a design firm “and recognizes a practice that consistently has produced distinguished architecture for at least 10 years."

Founded less than 25 years ago by Allen Eskew, FAIA, Steven Dumez, FAIA, and Mark Ripple, AIA, EDR’s success is derived from their commitment to build their firm’s culture around mentorship and the development of the next generation of architects, according to AIA.

Eskew passed away just two days before the firm award announcement, at age 65. His obituary is posted here.

“This is incredibly bittersweet,” said Dumez. “Allen was tremendously proud of this nomination. We are grateful that we can reflect on what we have been able to accomplish.”

Notable Projects

A few of the firm’s most notable projects, as described by the AIA, appear below.

  • Reinventing the Crescent: New Orleans Riverfront Development Plan, a 2012 AIA Honor Award recipient that adds a series of public spaces and residences to a six-mile stretch of the Mississippi River, re-urbanizing it, and re-connecting it to the city.
  • The Louisiana State History Museum in Baton Rouge, a faintly distorted cube that welcomes visitors with a large covered porch entry pavilion, framing exquisite views of Louisiana’s Art Deco state capitol.
  • 930 Poydras Residential Tower in New Orleans, which groups public programs and amenities for this sleek, Modernist monolith together midway through the building in a “sky lobby” that cantilevers out over the French Quarter.
  • The Make It Right L9 Prototype House in New Orleans, a breezy Modernist house that recalls vernacular shotgun bungalows, updated with solar water heaters, solar power collectors, a rain water cistern, and other energy efficiency systems that can reduce operating costs, increasing affordability for low-income residents.

Eskew+Dumez+Ripple is the 51st AIA Architecture Firm Award recipient. Previous recipients of the AIA Firm Award include, VJAA; BNIM; Pugh + Scarpa; Kieran Timberlake; and Venturi, Raunch, and Scott Brown.


Tagged categories: AIA Gold Medal; American Institute of Architects (AIA); Architects; Architecture; Awards and honors; Color + Design

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