The Donald Olsen Collection has been fully processed! You can now browse the Project Index and Finding Aid on our website.
This has been a wonderful collection to organize. I have come across many amusing notes on drawings from Olsen (see below) as well as a myriad of truly beautiful sketches and presentation drawings, some of which are currently on display in the Environmental Design Library exhibition cases.
One of the biggest challenges in developing any exhibit is deciding what to include. This was particularly true of this exhibit. The Donald Olsen Collection contains materials for almost 200 projects both built and unbuilt.
Space constraints required me to make difficult choices about what to omit. This panel of previously unseen drawings, sketches, and renderings highlights a fascinating chapter in the architect’s dynamic and productive architectural career.
We understand that at this time many may not have been able to visit the physical exhibit. The EDA is happy to announce that we have created an online exhibit bringing the digitized materials to you! Follow this link: http://exhibits.ced.berkeley.edu/exhibits/show/donald-olsen-modern-master.
Who was Donald Olsen?
Donald E. Olsen was born in Minneapolis in 1919 to Clarence Edward and Thea Olsen. He married Helen Ohlson in 1944 and had one son. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Architecture from the University of Minnesota in 1942 and his M.Arch from Harvard University in 1946. He continued his education doing post-graduate work in England, studying civic design at the University of Liverpool in 1953, and the philosophy of Science at the London School of Economics, 1962-63.
HHe worked with a number of recognized firms including Saarinen, Swanson & Saarinen (Bloomfield Hills, MI 1946), Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (San Francisco, 1948), and Wurster, Bernardi, & Emmons (San Francisco 1949-1951). He opened his own practice in Berkeley in 1954, the same year he began teaching in the Architecture Program at the University of California. When the new College of Environmental Design was established in 1959, Olsen was a founding member of the Department of Architecture.
The Donald Olsen Collection spans the years 1941-1997 (Bulk dates 1952-1989) and includes files created by Olsen while working with Vernon DeMars and Joseph Esherick on Wurster Hall. The collection is organized into five series: Personal Papers, Professional Papers, Faculty Papers, Office Records, Project Records. The collection is extensive, 57 Linear Feet, and contains a wide range of materials documenting Olsen's long career as an architect and professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Olsen designed commercial and industrial spaces, but his career focused on designing residences; of which many are well documented in this collection.
Olsen’s white-painted, clean-lined houses have stood the test of time and continue to be admired today. The drawings and artifacts featured in the exhibit show the incredible variety of the Donald Olsen Collection.
Check out the article by Dave Weinstein that was featured on the CA Modern website in March: https://www.eichlernetwork.com/blog/dave-weinstein/was-olsen-norcal%E2%80%99s-coolest-modernist
2020 marks the 150th anniversary of women at UC Berkeley. The 150W History Project is an online portal celebrating the many accomplishments, watershed moments, and contributions of women at Berkeley illustrated by archives! Many departments across campus are participating in this initiative by submitting archival documents, memorabilia, and photographs to tell the stories of the women that came before them. The Environmental Design Archives (EDA) is excited to be contributing to this amazing project by showcasing some of the collections that we currently hold including the Julia Morgan Collection.
During the week of February 17-21, the EDA was invited to “take over” the UC Berkeley Instagram account. This weeklong take over emphasized the importance of Morgan’s contributions to architecture in the Bay Area and beyond. The EDA took viewers on a journey from Morgan’s education as a student in the College of Civil Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley where she also studied drawing with architect Bernard Maybeck (the architecture program would not be created for another six years) and followed her through a lifetime of “firsts”.
Following her graduation in 1894, with Maybeck’s encouragement, Morgan went to Paris to attend the École des Beaux-Arts and in 1901, where she became the first woman to graduate with a certificate in architecture.
Returning to the Bay Area, she worked for John Galen Howard, the UC Berkeley campus Architect and became the first woman in California to earn her architectural license, opening her San Francisco office in 1905.
Fun fact: It was the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco that launched Morgan’s career. With her background in Civil Engineering and knowledge of reinforced concrete, she was sought after for her expertise. Many of her buildings survived the disaster while the rest of the city crumbled and burned. One of these projects was the bell tower on the campus of Mills College in Oakland!
Morgan is well known for her residences, but she also designed numerous institutional buildings such as churches, schools, hospitals, university buildings, swimming pools and a series of YWCA buildings.
On Sunday, March 1 Curator of the EDA, Chris Marino, joined the Annenberg Community Beach House to present "The Many Firsts of Julia Morgan: A Look at the Environmental Design Archives' Collection" for their annual Julia Morgan Legacy Event. Chris presented a look at Morgans’s life and career by showing the materials within the EDA’s collection. Following the talk, guests were able to visit the Morgan designed Guest House with the Santa Monica Conservancy docents. The Beach House pool is one of the remaining elements from the historic Marion Davies Estate. During the summer months, visitors can pay a small fee to use the pool and layout in the summer sun!
One of Morgan's largest commissions was William Randolph Hearst's La Cuesta Encantada, popularly known as Hearst Castle, in San Simeon. In 1919 she began work on the lavish and enormous compound, a project that continued for nearly twenty years and was never fully completed. Other designs for Hearst included a commercial building in San Francisco, his Wyntoon estate in Siskiyou County, the unbuilt San Francisco Medieval Museum, a residence for Marion Davies in Santa Monica, and the Babicora Hacienda in Mexico.
Although the exact number of Julia Morgan projects is unknown, during her career she is believed to have designed more than seven hundred buildings, most of which were constructed. She closed her office in 1951 at the age of seventy-nine. In 2014, more than 50 years after her death, Morgan was awarded the AIA Gold Medal for Architecture, the first woman to receive the prestigious honor.
Julia Morgan continues to be a source of inspiration for students, designers, historians, and those who simply appreciate architecture. She designed many buildings for institutions serving women and girls, including YWCA buildings and buildings for Mills College. Ivan Natividad, of Berkeley News, writes about this in his just-published article “Berkeley’s Julia Morgan collection shows alumna designed spaces for women” which can be viewed on the Berkeley News website.
While many of us might pass by a Morgan designed home or building on our daily commutes the EDA is excited to share the many contributions of Julia Morgan to those across the country and even the world. Our social media take over was viewed by more than 450,000 people! If you missed it, we have added it to our Instagram highlights for your viewing pleasure. The EDA is also a contributor to Calishpere, an online gateway to digital collections from California's great libraries, archives, and museums, where you can view many of the Morgan projects that have been digitized as well as browse our other collections.