October 07: Pioneer

2016/10/07 § Leave a comment

During this month in 1898 Julia Morgan was admitted as the first female student to study architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

Morgan (1872-1957) was born into wealth and it would have been very easy for her to make a life as a full-time fancy lady, professional party-goer and candidate for marriage.  Instead she had the radical notion of attending college and getting a career–not just any career, one dominated by men forever.  Morgan started at Berkeley, the only woman in her class of engineering majors.  While there she attended lectures by Bernard Maybeck, who encouraged Morgan to seek the same training he had enjoyed in Paris, so off she went.  On the third try–spread across two years during which she sought additional architectural training with a Prix de Rome winner–, she was granted admittance to the prestigious program.

After returning to San Francisco, Morgan worked for a local practitioner and prepared for the licensure exam.  In 1904 she passed the test, the first woman in California to do so (in 1894 Marion Mahony Griffin became the country’s first female licensed architect; her license was issued by the state of Illinois).  Surely Morgan’s fine drawing skills design acumen are to credit for her long successful career, but just like the men with whom she competed, she benefited from extensive social connections through her family.  Most famously, it was through her mother that she met William Randolph Hearst, who commissioned the house that is now known as Hearst Castle, as well as dozens of other private and commercial structures for the newspaperman.  She also designed many buildings for her alma mater, the YWCA and Mills College.

With over 700 projects to her credit, Morgan was, and is, esteemed for her handling of diverse architectural styles, selected with sensitivity to client preferences and cultural settings: from this Maybeckian church to this wonderful house (Wyntoon, let’s call it Neo-HanselundGretl) and this YWCA in Chinatown to Hearst’s own Spanish-Imperial fantasy.  It’s an amazing portfolio, revealing the great power of Morgan’s skill as a designer and her deep wells of imagination. It only took until 2013 for the AIA to honor her with its highest award, the Gold Medal. In doing so, it finally presented the award to a woman for the first time in the 106 years of the award.

Image: Julia Morgan  (from this source)

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