Julia Morgan, FAIA: California’s Gold

in: Relevance / 2 Comments

On the occasion of Julia Morgan, FAIA Gold Medal Conferral

Sandhya Sood, AIA, has studied, conducted research and written extensively on Julia Morgan’s, FAIA, work with a focus on sustainability. As the sustainability expert, Sood’s work was included in the nomination materials presented to the AIA Gold Medal Selection Committee and contributed to the success of the nomination.

On the occasion of Julia Morgan’s 2014 AIA Gold Medal conferral which will take place this week at the AIA National Convention in Chicago, AIACC invited Sood to present a tribute to Morgan. She graciously accepted the invite with the following essay:

Julia Morgan’s true light is far more Californian than has often been portrayed. Morgan, America’s first eminent woman architect dedicated her career to the development of California in the first half of the 20th century, contributing to its glorious heyday.

Born in 1872 in San Francisco and raised in Oakland, Morgan graduated with a degree in engineering from UC Berkeley, where she met Bernard Maybeck, FAIA. An architect and mentor, Maybeck encouraged Morgan to set eyes on the renowned architecture school at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1898, after plowing through the gender bias of the academy, Morgan became the first woman to be admitted to the program. Back on home turf with architecture certificate in hand, Morgan furthered her scintillating achievements to be the first licensed woman architect of California.

In 1904, Morgan established her practice in the heart of San Francisco, producing working drawings, specifications, artistic renderings, massing studies and full size details from the helm of a bustling atelier. Her astounding output of more than 700 buildings of various types, mostly built in California, included academic, healthcare, residential, religious and institutional, (YWCA’s) designed over a successful career of five decades.

Her civil engineering background, education in Paris and early experience as assistant supervising architect of the Greek Theatre (1903 with John Galen Howard) fueled her exploration of the aesthetic qualities and material properties of concrete. When reinforced, as in the El Campanil (Bell Tower) at Mills College in Oakland, it stood tall in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake when many buildings had collapsed and burnt. Clearly, her expertise as an architect combined with life-saving engineering skills was indispensable at a critical time in the history of California.

Historic view of the William R. Hearst Greek Theatre, UC Berkeley dated 1903. (Photo ©: Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley) The classical design of the Greek Theatre was adapted from the amphitheatre at Epidaurus, Greece. Built in cast-in-place concrete replete with a skene, (scene) columns in the Doric order and Prohedria in stone, (front seats) the theatre was envisioned to cultivate California as the cultural emblem of the west.

Historic view of the William R. Hearst Greek Theatre, UC Berkeley dated 1903. (Photo ©: Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley) The classical design of the Greek Theatre was adapted from the amphitheatre at Epidaurus, Greece. Built in cast-in-place concrete replete with a skene, (scene) columns in the Doric order and Prohedria in stone, (front seats) the theatre was envisioned to cultivate California as the cultural emblem of the west.

While some of her contemporaries were drawn to the exploration of built form and liberation of space, Morgan focused on climate responsive design, material conditions and spatial efficiency. In her mind, this approach could facilitate essential qualities that make buildings work, adapt and endure.
Even though Morgan cross-pollinated architectural styles, her regional sensibilities enabled her to integrate industrial and native materials to respond to the variations in site, program and climates of California. She sought to moderate climate to improve comfort by use and location of thick walls, openings, shading devices, building form and orientation to sun and wind, among other passive strategies. By incorporating passive design, Morgan created sustainable spaces that benefit human lives through wellness, good indoor environmental quality and adaptability to changes in use.

Asilomar’s YWCA conference center in Pacific Grove (1913-1928) was initiated by the YWCA with gifts from patrons including Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the famed philanthropist and with Julia Morgan’s selection as its architect. Morgan’s careful placement of sixteen buildings (eleven remain) on thirty acres of coastal topography cradles stabilized dunes while conserving the natural environment of the ocean front site. Reminiscent of a settlement with ‘the circle’ as its symbolic center, the focal green facilitated camaraderie and community for the girls visiting the campus. Sinuous paths embrace the cultural landscape of this National Historic Landmark, leading to accommodations and facilities nestled in the woods.

Merrill Hall at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, CA (Photo Peter Nichols © California State Parks) A chimney rises from its robust base, flanked by gothic arched clerestory and redwood boards, camouflaging Merrill Hall in the forest dusk. The iridescence of natural stone at sunset illuminates the west facade while nature sleeps.

Merrill Hall at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, CA (Photo Peter Nichols © California State Parks) A chimney rises from its robust base, flanked by gothic arched clerestory and redwood boards, camouflaging Merrill Hall in the forest dusk. The iridescence of natural stone at sunset illuminates the west facade while nature sleeps. (1928)

Morgan’s contribution in propelling early Bay region architecture from the Arts and Crafts movement into a distinctive language is significant. At Asilomar, Morgan’s unique rendition displays her ingenious building techniques that combine the strength of industrial materials with the beauty and low embodied energy of indigenous materials. Quarried stone set in cement mortar juxtaposed with native wood shakes, rustic redwood boards and split tree logs (now wood panels) protects the structure of Merrill Hall from sand and salt-laden winds of the ocean. It is not surprising that Morgan’s buildings have been resilient to the ravages of adverse climatic conditions and natural disasters because of her responsible designs and durable material assemblies.
If we were to look at Morgan’s work with our contemporary lens of sustainability, it will be evident that early in her career, she espoused principles of sustainability.

The stunning diversity in style, clients and scale of Morgan’s projects can present complexities and contradictions, inspiring some critics to label her work as overtly ornate or just ordinary. However, it is Morgan’s ordinary that manifests itself as extraordinary in its timeless qualities. As far as the lavish mansion at San Simeon goes, it displays Morgan’s tremendous professionalism in satisfying the requirements of her client, the spirited media tycoon William Randolph Hearst for a challenging project with an inaccessible site and shifting program.

Neptune Pool at San Simeon, CA (©  Sandhya Sood)  Rare image of Neptune pool drained, revealing the striking marble tile pattern on its floor. An Egyptian style Mashrabiya on the guesthouse window looms above the terrace.

Neptune Pool at San Simeon, CA (© Sandhya Sood) Rare image of Neptune pool drained, revealing the striking marble tile pattern on its floor. An Egyptian style Mashrabiya on the guesthouse window looms above the terrace, naturally ventilating the room through it’s perforated wooden screens that also conceal the interior.

So many architects thwart their client’s passions by an inability to sustain collaborative alliances. But Julia Morgan, by virtue of her sincere persona and impeccable professional service, endeavored to guide and fulfill her clients’ seemingly impossible dreams.

Needless to say, Morgan’s work improved the quality of lives of a vast spectrum of clients, including forward-thinking women, immigrants, benefactors, orphans, and the aged (even animals!). Because of her values of inclusivity, she did not turn away the frail or terminally ill, designing infirmaries with ‘fresh-air therapy’ to ease their pain. Many sought out Julia Morgan, the accomplished architect with empathy, to be their agent of change.

Modest, quiet, unassuming women do not make history, they say. And now, as the first woman to receive the AIA Gold Medal Award, Morgan (1872-1957) has once again shattered a barrier, welcoming others of her kind to follow suit.

Let us honor Morgan’s golden legacy that shines through America and still breathes life into California’s communities, architectural heritage and built landscape.

Below, a slideshow for your viewing pleasure. Remember, this is just a glimpse of Morgan’s portfolio.

Historic view of the William R. Hearst Greek Theatre, UC Berkeley dated 1903. (Photo ©: Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley) The classical design of the Greek Theatre was adapted from the amphitheatre at Epidaurus, Greece. Built in cast-in-place concrete replete with a skene, (scene) columns in the Doric order and Prohedria in stone, (front seats) the theatre was envisioned to cultivate California as the cultural emblem of the west.

Merrill Hall at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, CA (Photo Peter Nichols @ California State Parks) A chimney rises from its robust base, flanked by gothic arched clerestory and redwood boards, camouflaging Merrill Hall in the forest dusk. The iridescence of natural stone at sunset illuminates the west facade while nature sleeps. (1928)

Stuck up Inn at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, CA (Photo © Sandhya Sood) Floating on the cusp of a dune, the Inn’s strategic orientation protects the enclosed courtyard from chilly winds. Tree logs extend as rafters to support eaves and canopies that link the Inn seamlessly to the forest. (1918)

Social Hall at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, CA (Photo Peter Nichols © California State Parks) Morgan’s restrained palette of industrial and indigenous materials lightly holds interlocking gable roofs perched upon a porous built form that anchors the focal green. (1913)

Historic image of Social Hall at Asilomar, Pacific Grove, CA (Photo © California State Parks) Timber trusses, redwood board and batten and wrought iron chandeliers (designed by Julia Morgan) define the meticulously handcrafted interior of Social Hall. It has sustained a century of being the social hub of Asilomar with a café at the south end adapted from a previous use as the post office.

House at Berkeley, CA (Photo © Jeff Anderson) Early Bay Tradition (1907) house is sparingly embellished with vivid redwood trims that contrast plaster walls. Sliding wood panels connect the hallway axially to adjacent rooms, enhancing the livability of this small home.

Phoebe A. Hearst Gymnasium at UC Berkeley by Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck (Photo © Sandhya Sood) Built in reinforced concrete and designed in the Beaux-Arts style, a series of landscaped courtyards filter daylight into the first floor. 1925

Hearst Castle gardens at San Simeon, CA (Photo © Sandhya Sood) Morgan’s scope of work included the design of terraces, gardens, pools and forecourts at ‘The Enchanted Hill’. The variety of planting in the gardens perhaps rivaled the variety of stylistic ornaments at Casa Grande.(1920’s)

Neptune Pool at San Simeon, CA (Photo © Sandhya Sood) Rare image of Neptune pool drained, revealing the striking marble tile pattern on its floor. An Egyptian style Mashrabiya on the guesthouse window looms above the terrace, naturally ventilating the room through it's perforated wooden screens that also conceal the interior. (1930s)
Neptune Pool at San Simeon, CA (Photo © Sandhya Sood) Rare image of Neptune pool drained, revealing the striking marble tile pattern on its floor. An Egyptian style Mashrabiya on the guesthouse window looms above the terrace, naturally ventilating the room through it's perforated wooden screens that also conceal the interior. (1930s)

Neptune Pool at San Simeon, CA (Photo © Sandhya Sood) Rare image of Neptune pool drained, revealing the striking marble tile pattern on its floor. An Egyptian style Mashrabiya on the guesthouse window looms above the terrace, naturally ventilating the room through it's perforated wooden screens that also conceal the interior. (1930s)

10. Roman Pool at San Simeon, CA (Photo © Sandhya Sood) Exquisite gold accented mosaic glitters in the sunlight, wafting through glass blocks embedded in the reinforced concrete slab above the wading pool. (1930s)

avatar

Sandhya Sood, AIA

Sandhya Sood, AIA, is an author and founding Principal of Accent Architecture+Design based in Berkeley, Calif. Accent’s work includes sustainable design and historic preservation in residential and mixed use projects. Sood is a graduate of the Master’s in Architecture program and visiting critic at UC Berkeley.

More Posts

 

  1. avatar
    Michael F. Malinowski AIA

    Thank you for this thoughtful and timely essay.

    This award has resonated with me on many levels. I could not be more proud to have been an active participant in the process which led to this outcome (so unexpected by many)’; even more deeply as an architect immersed in that incessant cloud of demands and issues that accompany the creating of buildings, which makes me marvel all the more at the astounding achievements of Julia Morgan FAIA.

    I am certain that it was most fitting to correct this oversight now; and in doing so creating yet another astounding achievement to add to Ms Morgan’s legacy – first woman to be recognized by the AIA’s highest award.

    To those budding future Julia Morgans out there now – I hope this medal rings like a bell inspiring each of their own missions to shape the world.

  2. avatar
    Heather Marquard

    Excellent article and slideshow!

    Our Monterey Bay AIA Chapter is planning a Julia Morgan celebration for September.

    Ms. Sood, if you’re available and interested in presenting on Julia, please contact me.

    Thanks!
    Heather M Marquard
    (AIA-MB Vice President)

2 Responses to Julia Morgan, FAIA: California’s Gold

 

Leave a Reply

Join the discussion!