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Publication Date: 2018-05-15
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Inside the ICAA's Julia Morgan Awards & Efforts to Advance Classical Architecture

Coburn Everdell, president of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art's (ICAA) Northern California chapter, sat down with Dering Hall to explore the organization's commitment to advancing classical architecture through initiatives, including its biennial Julia Morgan Awards, which is taking place on May 21.

The ICAA’s National Summer Studio trains students in the art of classical architectural design.

Q: Can you share about the importance of The Julia Morgan Awards, which began in 2014 and works to advance the classical traditions in architecture and the allied arts throughout Northern California?

A: It’s surprising, but classical architecture is not really taught in even the best schools. Many think it is required as a prerequisite to modernist design, but that’s not true either. Only Universities of Notre Dame and Miami have full curricula in classicism. Therefore, the purpose of the Julia Morgan Awards is to call attention to classicist design going on in our region by celebrating worthy projects. 

In addition to Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Design, and Restoration, we award in the Artisan category – an ancient alliance with classicism. Our chapter has been highlighted as one of the only awards programs that identify wood-workers, stone-carvers, metalworkers, glass designers and decorative painters as awardable – and there are many, many excellent artisans in our region. This year out of a dozen submittals, the jury chose a pair of beautiful wood inlaid pier tables by Tony Smith. We also awarded a student project, part of our mission to support classical design education. That award also carries a scholarship with it.

Q: The awards are named after Julia Morgan, who was a Bay Area architect and classicist. As a Bay Area architect and president of ICAA’s Northern California chapter, how are you carrying on her legacy?

A: Julia Morgan was a remarkable designer from Oakland. Twice rejected in applying to the 250-year-old École des Beaux-Arts in Paris (despite her ever-higher scores); she was finally admitted on the third try and graduated the first woman architect in Beaux-Arts history. (The EBA was shut down in 1968 after 300 years). She went on to design significant buildings in Oakland and Berkeley and worked many years with W.R. Hearst in creating San Simeon. 

Our chapter is committed to teaching the skills Julia Morgan learned at the Beaux-Arts. We teach courses on Moldings, the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian Orders, and Ink Wash Rendering. We also teach an eight-hour course on proportion. Again, you’d think proportion would be taught in schools. I went to two elite East Coast schools of architecture and never had a course in proportion. Also, like Julia Morgan, we teach by hand drawing, not CAD. And we teach using proportion, not dimension and using accuracy, not precision. Today’s CAD techniques reward dimensional precision and bias the mind towards solution, not process. We believe young designers are starved for the techniques Julia Morgan used. They wanted to be designers because they liked to draw and design by hand. In modern offices, they don’t get to do so. Sometimes modernism is bleak and empty, hard-edged and without detail. Classicism is an antidote to that. Sometimes, instead of “less is more,” less is just…less.

Coburn Everdell, president of the ICAA's Northern California chapter.

Q: How does this year’s Julia Morgan Awards compare to those in the past? 

A: This year we had over 35 submittals for the awards, and the jury gave five awards. The eminent jurors, who all came from outside our region, wanted to feature vernacular and traditional structures – different from the more formal classicism. The Architecture award went to Gil Schafer of New York who worked with Chambers and Chambers of Mill Valley on the renovation of a stick-style house. James Marzo Design received the Interior Design and Decoration award for a contemporary apartment renovation full of fine sculpture. Ed Westbrook of Quarryhouse was awarded the Historic Restoration Award for his work on the Hibernia Bank where he used original stone to revive an old San Francisco landmark. And for the first time, they awarded a student project and scholarship to University of Notre Dame graduate, Calla Chang. This represents a new effort to broaden the awards.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the nature of submissions this year and how the jury settled on the winners? 

A: This year the Board has voted to give a Patronage Award to Lindsay and Peter Joost whose generosity to the arts institutions in our region is legendary. The Board is also awarding a Stewardship Award to Martin Chapman, Curator of European Decorative Arts & Sculpture of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, for his amazingly innovative restoration of the Salon D’Ore.

Q: Education is an important part of the ICAA’s mission. What are some of the educational programs you currently offer on classical design for students and design professionals and what plans are in place to expand the reach of your programming?

A: Across its 15 regional chapters, the ICAA mission is to educate professionals, young professionals, designers, and students. To that end, our chapter offers a six-unit curriculum in classicism leading to a certificate. We also provide scholarships to attend the New York Intensives and the Sketching Tours. We provide at least four essential lectures a year usually associated with new books. To raise the money we hold two major fundraisers a year – the Fall Arts and Antiques Show Lunch, and the Legacy Awards honoring an important design professional in our community. In alternate years we present the Julia Morgan Awards. The National Office has developed three wonderful drawing tours: England, Paris, and Rome for which students can receive credit. 

New Heights students at Stanley Middle School.

Q: How does the ICAA inspire students and design professionals to apply the principles of classical design to the way we live now? 

A: The National Office created the traveling curriculum, but our regional chapter tailored it to fit the local history teacher’s lesson plan and funded it. It was the first public school coed program the Institute has executed. This kind of enrichment is not common in the public schools, and they were excited to have our support. The money we raise in our events is put to good use. After the course, we collected the student sketchbooks and awarded the best ones. The program was the subject of a front-page article in the East Bay Times. We hope to repeat the program next year. Through hard work by the Northern California Chapter Board and support from our Executive Director, Nancy O’Connor, we have continued to expand our offerings.

Q: What can we expect from the ICAA moving forward? 

A: San Francisco is chock-full of wonderful classical houses and buildings. ICAA seeks to expand awareness and support restoration and preservation efforts. We offer a rich program of education, scholarships, lectures, and events, which together support the better appreciation of the classical tradition. We now hope to interest corporate boards in supporting our goals to educate young people. Our program may be the first contact younger students have with architecture and classicism, representing 5,000 years of history and beauty. We seek to impart visual literacy, leading to a richer life.


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