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The Architect’s Mentor Series – 02 Julia Morgan

by Gary Johnson, AIA

Julia Morgan

Julia Morgan is an architect and one whom I have gained inspiration from. She became the first licensed woman practicing architect in California in 1904, and until she retired at age 79, was prolific on the west coast of America, designing and building some 700 structures.  Best known for the complex and heroic Hearst Castle, her better work in my opinion was for the many YWCA’s that she designed throughout California, her bell tower at Mills College, and various structures on the University of California Berkley campus.  Trained in the Beaux-Arts, she was a versatile designer and manipulator of many stylistic approaches of her day.

Julia Morgan’s famed Hearst Castle

She designed with an intuitive desire to find fresh ideas that evoke a California, or more accurately, a Bay Area aesthetic.  While she was trained in the classical, she showed a love for the Arts and Craftsman Movement resulting in successful designs of the large to small including cottages made of wood, and structures of simplistic beauty. She had no fear of larger more demanding commissions. Her designs pioneered the use of concrete structures in California which have proven superior in value for their ability to withstand seismic events.  Her designs remain important today as reflected by the award of the AIA Gold Medal in 2014, some 57 years after her death.  Her work is worth studying for its complexity of form, use of materials, approach to site planning, and contextual expression.