For the first time since the American Institute of Architects (AIA) began giving the prize in 1907, a woman has been awarded the Gold Medal—even though the woman is no longer alive. Julia Morgan (1872-1957) is the first woman to receive the medal, considered the profession’s highest honor, and the eighth architect to receive it posthumously. The Gold Medal is awarded to an individual whose work has had a lasting influence on the theory and practice of architecture.
It is no accident Morgan won this year, but rather the result of an orchestrated campaign. Julia Donoho, a northern California architect and lawyer who is on the California Council of the AIA, first proposed Morgan’s name. California Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote the Gold Medal Selection Committee in support: “Julia Morgan is unquestionably among the greatest American architects of all time and a true California gem.” Maria Shriver, ex-wife of the former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, also wrote the committee, noting that Morgan “through the buildings she created… influenced the world of architecture, the woman’s movement and our notions of hospitality.” And Chicago architect Jeanne Gang, of Studio Gang, presented the nomination to the AIA’s board. “Julia Morgan was a true superstar,” said Gang. “Julia received many glamorous commissions, but she continued to devote a large part of her talent to empowering the poor and vulnerable. This and many of the other themes in her work and practice make her a powerfully relevant model for contemporary architects.”