Julia Morgan, AIA Gold Medalist

On the occasion of the 2014 AIA Gold Medal being awarded to Julia Morgan (1872-1957), below is an Ideabook I wrote at Houzz on "Design Icon Julia Morgan."

Julia Morgan (1872 to 1957) was a prolific California architect who produced more than 700 buildings in her long career, most in her home state. Nevertheless, one project overshadows them all: the California hilltop estate for William Randolph Hearst that goes by its place name, San Simeon, as well as La Cuesta Encantada ("The Enchanted Hill") or simply Hearst Castle. As we'll see, her talents extended to simpler dwellings too, not to mention schools, churches and many buildings for benevolent organizations like the YWCA.

With an interest in architecture from a young age, Morgan pursued an engineering degree from the University of California at Berkeley on the advice of her brother. After receiving that undergraduate degree in 1894 (the first woman to do so) she received more advice, this time from mentor Bernard Maybeck, who encouraged her to attend the esteemed École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. She failed the entrance exams twice but learned that the school had failed her because it did not want to encourage young girls. Undeterred, she went through the process again and was accepted two years later, becoming the first female graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts upon receiving the certificate in 1902. In a bit of foreshadowing, Phoebe Hearst, mother of W.R., offered to pay for Morgan's schooling in Paris, which Morgan graciously declined.

Upon returning to California the same year, Morgan worked in an architect's office but ventured out on her own in 1904, after getting registered to practice architecture in the state. This made her the first female architect in California, following similar firsts at UC Berkeley and the Beaux-Arts. Her status as a woman in a man's profession has defined much of her legacy, but the way in which "all her life was work — morning, day and night," as described by one employee, is really how she should be remembered. This blend of talent, love of architecture and untiring work ethic is what enabled her to produce so many buildings and to work on one of the largest residential commissions of any time and any place.