Morgan’s work caught the attention of publisher William Randolph Hearst, who asked her to design a simple bungalow for family gatherings. After 25 years of construction, the bungalow would become Hearst Castle. (Surfside/freeimageslive)

Julia Morgan, FAIA

Technological expert with an unparalleled eye for design

One of the early 20th century’s most prolific and versatile designers, Julia Morgan, FAIA, established a new precedent for architectural achievement. A building technology expert with a list of powerful patrons, Morgan practiced for nearly 50 years and designed more than 700 buildings of almost every type—from houses and hotels to churches and museums. The first woman admitted to the prestigious architecture school at the Écoles des Beaux- Arts in Paris, Morgan proved adept in an impressive range of architectural styles.

 

Born in 1872, Morgan was one of the first women to major in civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, studying under AIA Gold Medalist Bernard Maybeck. With the support of Maybeck, she would attend the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the most prominent architecture school of its time.

 

Returning to Berkeley and working with architect John Galen Howard on building designs for the university, Morgan soon became the first woman licensed to practice architecture in California, and opened her own firm in 1904. When one of her early projects survived the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Morgan’s reputation as an expert in reinforced concrete spread across California. She began to take advantage of the new material’s plasticity and flexibility in imaginative, groundbreaking ways, savoring opportunities to clamber through scaffolding at buildings sites to inspect the work.

 

Morgan’s skill eventually caught the attention of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, who asked her to design a simple bungalow for family gatherings. After a quarter century of non-stop designing, the bungalow grew to what is today Hearst Castle—a 56-bedroom mansion that would become Morgan’s magnum opus. The architect developed an erudite scheme that accommodated Hearst’s enthusiasm for historic architectural styles as well as a cinema, airfield, and what was reportedly the world’s largest private zoo.

 

In 2014, Morgan was posthumously awarded the AIA Gold Medal. “She designed buildings to fit her clients, blending design strategy with structural articulation in a way that was expressive and contextual,” wrote AIA Gold Medalist Michael Graves, FAIA, in his nomination letter. “[She left] us a legacy of treasures that were as revered when she created them as they are cherished today.”