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Julia Morgan

Women in architecture

by Douglas Eby

 "Harmony and admirable proportions bring 
pleasure to the eye and peace to the mind."

 That is part of the acclaim given to architect Julia Morgan [above] by the University of California, Berkeley, in awarding her an honorary doctorate in 1929. The statement also noted she was an "artist and engineer; designer of simple dwellings and of stately homes, of great buildings nobly planned.."

Morgan [1872 - 1952] built many projects including sororities, women's schools, social and community clubs, and designed Hearst Castle at San Simeon. Her work on such a large project may be unusual for anyone, but shows the range of talents that can be called on as an architect. 

She reportedly supervised the purchase of everything from Spanish antiquities to vacuum cleaners to Icelandic moss to feed the estate reindeer. She also designed the main building (Casa Grande) and guest houses, the grounds, indoor and outdoor pools, animal shelters, and workers' camps, and was responsible for overseeing the loan of unused Hearst antiquities to San Francisco museums.

A contemporary architect, Karin Payson, declares on her website: "Design must always meet the needs of comfort and utility. But once these requirements are satisfied, it is delight which promises so much more. To create delight is to weave personal taste - the selection of what one finds rare and wonderful in life - into all aspects of a solution... As an architect, I merge function with imagination."

A New York Times article noted that only eighteen percent of all architects are women, and that no woman has the name recognition of males in the field. The author wrote, "Only Maya Lin comes close, but many regard her as more a sculptor than an architect." ["Erasing the Ceiling: Women as Architects" by Lisa Marie Dirks, December 27, 1998.] 

Lin's design for the Vietnam War Memorial was chosen from among more than 1400 submissions, but was controversial, "not only because of the non-traditional design but because the designer was both a woman and an Asian-American" according to one writer.

Despite ongoing prejudice against women, there are many in this creative field. The Times article above said that in 1997, almost a third of the graduates of architecture schools were women, up from 25 percent 12 years earlier. 

Frances Halsband, principal of her own firm in New York, was quoted, "I think that now it's easier to be a woman architect than in any other period."

Architect Lois Davidson Gottlieb noted in our interview that she attended an international conference of women architects in Budapest a few years ago, and found there were women from all over the world who are doing huge projects such as city planning. 

Gottlieb worked as an apprentice with Frank Lloyd Wright some 50 years ago at Taliesin West, Wright's winter headquarters near Phoenix.

At 73, Gottlieb is still very active as an architect, and has designed more than 100 residential projects. She recently completed work on a new home for her son and his family in Virginia. Saying she has "a missionary spirit" about her field, she gave tours of the house to engineers from the company that produced support beams, and to about a hundred architects. 

She's also working on commercial projects in the San Francisco area, and has "redesigned to the inch" the new apartment she shares with her husband, Robert Gottlieb, an ethnomusicologist and retired professor.

At Taliesin, Gottlieb recalled, "if you wanted something, you made it." Now, she says, her family are "the original do-it-your-selfers." She has also been creative about using new methods and materials, such as decking made from melted trash bags and sawdust, and blocks made from recycled plastic bottles as forms for concrete walls, camouflaged with brick veneer.

She is one of the leaders in the field whose work and writings are documented in collections of The International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA).

Gottlieb also designs furniture, and says that working on that smaller scale is "all part of the same thing" and likewise demands a devoted attention to detail. One of the IAWA newsletters notes the range of creative work that can be associated with architecture, such as furniture design and construction, industrial design, and developing new building materials. 

For example, a young woman, Molly DeGezelle, invented a commercial building material composed of recycled paper and glue. Another woman, Monika Pia Jauch-Stolz, works in jewelry design in addition to architecture.

The Times article also mentioned the work of Lea Cloud and Victoria Rospond, classmates at the Rhode Island School of Design, who started their own architectural firm, something they encourage other women to do. 

"Get out there and do it," Rospond said. "There aren't enough women in architecture who are in the position of being the boss."

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IAWA / International Archive of Women in Architecture

Deborah Johnson and Wendy Oliver.  Women Making Art: Women in the Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts since 1960 [includes some material on architects]

Melvyn Bragg. Vision: 50 Years of British Creativity, 
A Celebration of Art, Architecture and Design

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