Asilomar Architecture

Asilomar Architecture

A Living Architectural History

A Living Architectural History

The Arts & Crafts architectural style exemplified in the buildings at Asilomar by noted architect Julia Morgan, who was part of a movement that influenced architects, designers, and craftspeople. The movement had its roots in late 19th century Britain, where architects wanted to reform design and bring back the quality craftsmanship of the work itself.

They viewed the builders and craftspeople of the late Middle Ages as enjoying the freedom of expression that was so contrary to the cold and sterile machine-oriented world that was Victorian England, and they sought to regain that individuality in artistic creation during a time when the nation's industrialization was creating an expanding gap between the designer and the finished product. The goal of the Arts & Crafts movement was to establish a harmony between the architect, the designer, and the craftsperson – and to enable them to create well-designed, expertly crafted, affordable furnishings and other items. In America, the Arts & Crafts movement was readily embraced, and buildings – commercial and residential – were being constructed of local materials and designed to blend in with the landscape.

These structures and their furnishings were simple and elegant, and left unpainted to reveal the natural beauty of the wood. As the machine came to be used as a viable tool for craftspeople, machine-made textiles, ceramics and metalwork joined the media being reformed by the Arts & Crafts movement.

The goal was not only an aesthetic one but also a healthy one: bring people back in touch with nature and restoring balance, health, harmony, and happiness.

In California, the Arts & Crafts architectural style was sweeping the state, again as a direct reaction to the toll that industrialism was taking on the quality of life.

Julia Morgan was true to the California Arts & Crafts style when she designed Asilomar. Here, the buildings were designed from the inside out, with the main character and expression found in the interiors. Open spaces and natural light dominated, with the craftsmanship of the structures becoming the art of the building.

The use of local wood and stone was fundamental. Weaving patterns together out of lines, colors and textures, the result was a lovely rhythm and harmony. Repetition of form was created throughout each building, echoing its character. A fireplace was often the centerpiece of a room, as Morgan felt that it represented the soul of the structure.

The Arts & Crafts movement also promoted the idea of a social reform of sorts (which to many meant merely a change in the working conditions) primarily along the lines of the restorative powers of the "simple life" of art and craftsmanship.

This led to workshops, which were held in rural surroundings where arts and crafts were promoted as being the key to that "simple life." Unfortunately, although the Arts & Crafts movement was based on high ideals and a desire to bring art into the most ordinary items, it couldn’t flourish without the age of prosperity into which it was born. An over-dependence on wealthy clients eventually led to its demise during the Great Depression.

Today, as the world experiences the intervention of computers into the industrial manufacturing process, designers have turned their attention to the Arts & Crafts movement of a century ago for inspiration in recreating the clean lines and fine craftsmanship of that era.