Julia Morgan Becomes The First Woman To Receive An AIA Gold Medal

The American Institute of Architects has awarded its prestigious prize posthumously to the influential 20th-century architect.

Julia Morgan Becomes The First Woman To Receive An AIA Gold Medal
[Image: Hearst Castle via Shutterstock]

For the first time in 70 years, the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal will recognize the work of a female architect. Julia Morgan, a prolific architect who died in 1957, will receive the 2014 Gold Medal in honor of her work’s lasting influence on the field.


Morgan designed more than 700 buildings over her nearly 50-year career, including Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst’s grandiose seaside estate in San Simeon, California. She was the first woman to graduate with a degree in civil engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and shortly after became the first woman to attend the École des Beaux-Arts architecture school, graduating in 1902. Two years later she would become the first female architect licensed to practice in California.

Image: Courtesy of Landmark Heritage Foundation

She worked in a wide variety of styles, designing everything from Tudor houses to Spanish Colonial estates and Romanesque Revival churches. She helped establish the First Bay Tradition of architecture, a style influenced by nature and focusing on the use of locally sourced materials and craftsmanship.

“Julia’s work is prolific, enduring, and continues to enhance the lives of those who experience it,” Helene Combs, the 2014 AIA president, said in a statement.

In letters of recommendation for the award, Frank Gehry called Morgan “an architect’s architect,” and Denise Scott Brown referred to her buildings’ “modest monumentality and tender gravitas, beautifully executed.”

Image: Asilomar YWCA Campus in Pacific Grove, Calif. Image courtesy of Joel Puliatti; Julia Morgan, Architect of Beauty.*

Morgan is the 70th architect to receive the Gold Medal, but only the first woman to be chosen since the contest began in 1907. She’s the seventh person to receive the award posthumously, but “she deserved the Gold Medal in her lifetime,” as Scott Brown noted, raising the question of why it’s so hard for women in architecture to have their work acknowledged.

Morgan’s long-delayed recognition, more than half a century after her death, highlights the broader struggle women still face in attaining recognition for their work. The prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize faced controversy earlier this year when the organization refused to revisit Scott Brown’s role in the work of her partner and husband, Robert Venturi, who won the Pritzker in 1991. By comparison, the Gold Medal committee’s decision to recognize one of the AIA’s most influential members 56 years after her death seems positively progressive.


[*The article originally misidentified this building as the Mills College Library.]

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.