On Dec. 12, the American Institute of Architects posthumously awarded the 70th Gold Medal to California architect, Julia Morgan, FAIA. Morgan is the first woman to receive this honor. Below are some thoughts from Julia Donoho, AIA, Esq., who worked arduously on this Gold Medal endeavor. And this is only the beginning, as Donoho’s work does not end here. As you will read, there is much more to come.
On Julia Morgan Becoming a Gold Medalist
This is a thrilling moment, for women architects, for California, for the legacy of Julia Morgan, FAIA, to now be honored with the highest honor of the American Institute of Architects. Many architects in California who I told I was submitting Julia Morgan to be the first woman to win the AIA Gold Medal, said “Of course, that makes so much sense.” From some other architects across the country, I heard “Who is Julia Morgan?” From the younger generation, I heard a few say “Why bother with Julia Morgan, she is in the past.”
What I found through the process of diving into her work is that she is extremely relevant to contemporary architects. She was a cool architect in her day and speaking through her buildings, she left us many lessons that we can learn from. With her engineering degree from UC Berkeley, she went to Paris at the most wonderful time to learn about new materials of construction. She was the first woman to study architecture at L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and she brought the lessons of traditional design back to America, with a suitcase full of modern technology.
As an Emerging Professional, Julia Morgan was extraordinary. In her first job out of graduate school, Julia Morgan quickly became the Supervising Architect on the Greek Theater. Visiting the job site in her long black skirts, she learned to work with Contractors while directing the placement of 6,000 yards of concrete. The General on that job asked her to design him a reinforced concrete house, the first on the West Coast, that is still standing today. How many of us have our General Contractors asking us to design their own home?
Immediately, she applied for her license to practice architecture and opened her own office. Her next couple of jobs really set the stage for a non-stop career, and allowed her the confidence to boldly demonstrate the principles of structural rationalism, using the structural expression as decorative ornamentation in most of her assembly spaces. Miss Morgan designed over 700 buildings most of which are still standing, and she was asked to design buildings for over 100 women and women’s organizations, making her the “Architect of the Women’s Movement.”
Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, FAIA, who presented the nomination to the AIA’s board, tells us that “Julia received many glamorous commissions, but she continued to devote a large part of her talent to empowering the poor and vulnerable. This and many of the other themes in her work and practice make her a powerfully relevant model for contemporary architects.”
The process of nominating Julia Morgan for the Gold Medal was a group effort. The AIACC was the backbone of this nomination. Our 2013 President Frank Bostrom, FAIA, and Vice President Brian Dougherty, FAIA, gave encouragement and helped garner letters from politicians like US Senator Dianne Feinstein. Our Executive Director, Paul Welch, Hon. AIA, (and all the staff at AIACC) made resources available and brought our effort center stage to be successful. Regional Directors Nick Docous, FAIA, and Mike Malinowski, AIA helped at every step to focus and direct energies for greatest effect. Other letters of support came from Maria Shriver, Frank Gehry, FAIA, Michael Graves, FAIA, Denise Scott Brown, RIBA, US Representative Barbara Lee, US Representative Mike Thompson, Richard Guy Wilson, and Mimi Morris, CCHE.
In addition to everyone at AIACC, I had a whole committee of Julia Morgan devotees. Our Steering Committee included:
Julia Donoho, AIA, Esq. – Chair
Karen McNeill, Ph.D. – Editor
Kimberly Perette, Assoc. AIA
Schuyler Bartholomay, Assoc. AIA
Diane Favro, FAIA
Frederic Knapp, AIA
Ginger Wadsworth, Author
Inge Horton, Architecutral Historian
Joel Puliatti, Photographer
Karen Fiene, FAIA – Campus Architect at Mills College
Lynn Forney McMurray, Daughter of Julia Morgan’s Office Manager
Mark Anthony Wilson, Author
Mark Parry, AIA
Monica Lee, Photographer
Richard Longstreth, Architectural Historian
Roxann Jacobus , Retired Asilomar
Russell Quacchia, Architectural Historian
Sandhya Sood, AIA
Sara Holmes Boutelle (In Memoriam)
Taylor Coffman , Author
Victoria Kastner , Architectural Historian
This story is not complete, we have some events planned for this year:
- Toast – at the Berkeley City Club on Saturday, December 21, 2013, 5:00 PM
- Tea – at the Fairmont Hotel (in period costume as desired) on Friday, April 18, 2014, 2-4:00PM
- AIA Convention – Come to Chicago to see the conferral of the Award June 26-28, 2014
- Celebration at the Merchant’s Exchange with AIACC, CAF, LHF, LPF, RMHF, and etc. in October, 2014.
Finally, we will be starting a BLOG about the buildings of Julia Morgan. Morgan said her buildings would speak for her long after she was gone. We are in the long after. In the movie Julie and Julia, the modern Julie decides to prepare all the recipes in Julia Childs oeuvre. Similarly, we will make a list of Julia Morgan’s buildings, and go to them and listen to what each one has to say, then blog about it. At then end of the year, hopefully we will have the makings of Julia 2 Julia, and the opportunity to bring architecture to Hollywood in a powerful way and really reach many Americans. The AIACC will forward the address for the BLOG when it is up and running.
Hope to see you at one of these events!