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William Wilson Wurster


William Wilson Wurster, Architect [1895-1973]

William Wurster was born in Stockton, California in 1895. He was trained in the classical Beaux-Arts tradition at the University of California. His San Francisco-based architectural firm Wurster, Bernard & Emmons was formed in 1945. He designed more than 200 homes, primarily in the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's, which emphasized the relationship between indoors and outdoors, locating windows to intentionally capitalize on views, simplifying and reducing both interior and exterior detail, using indigenous materials, and exemplifying a sensitivity to site. Utilizing these relationships, one particularly influential residential building was the Gregory Farmhouse, which is a rustic, one-story ranch house in Scotts Valley, California.

Wurster was responsible for creating the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley, which was interdisciplinary in its approach to design, and included Landscape, Planning, Architecture, and Design Arts. He became the College's dean. The building which houses the College of Environmental Design was named for Wurster and his wife Catherine Bauer Wurster, a notable planner, although he did not design the building as commonly thought. Wurster was designing houses during a period of national economic downturn. The characteristic lack of ostentation in his designs was especially attractive to wealthy Bay Area residents, who commissioned him to build homes from Lake Tahoe to Big Sur. His designs were warm in comparison to the austere International style of architects, such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier and have been referred to as "soft modernism." Wurster won the prestigious Gold medal from the American Institute of Architects.

† Janice Thomas and Fredrica Drotos, Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, Panoramic Hill, Alameda California, nomination document, 2004, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.


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