William Wilson Wurster (1895-1972)


Wurster, William Wilson

Personal Information

Birth/Death:    deceased
Occupation:    American architect
Location (state):    CA

This record has not been verified for accuracy.

AIA Affiliation

Member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 1928-decease
Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) 1954
Recipient of the AIA Gold Medal 1969

Biographical Sources

American Architects Directories:
Biographical listing in 1956 American Architects Directory
Biographical listing in 1962 American Architects Directory
Biographical listing in 1970 American Architects Directory
Biographical Directories:
Entry in Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects (New York: Macmillan, 1982)
Entry in Richard Guy Wilson, The AIA Gold Medal (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984)
Biographical information:
Contributed by the Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley:
William Wilson Wurster, born in California in 1895, earned his degree in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1919. After obtaining his license in 1922, he worked briefly in firms in Sacramento and New York, then opened the firm William W. Wurster in 1924. He gained national recognition early in his career with an award-winning design for the Gregory farmhouse (Scotts Valley, 1927), and became the most well-known modernist architect in the Bay Area.
Wurster's work, primarily residential during this time, was widely exhibited and published. The Colby house (Berkeley, 1931) and Voss house (Big Sur, 1931) were included in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. At the same time, Wurster was developing friendships with landscape architects Lockwood deForest and Thomas Church. Though he worked with both men, his collaborative relationship with Church was particularly strong, and he designed a house for the landscape architect in 1931. During a 1937 trip to Europe, Wurster and Church met and befriended Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, who became an influence on both men's work.
In 1939, Wurster met the public housing and community planning expert Catherine Bauer, and the two were married the following year. At this point, the firm was involved in the design of numerous defense housing communities. Defense housing, administered initially by the Federal Works Agency and later by the National Housing Agency, was necessary to accommodate the manufacturing and production workers who had come to California to work in shipbuilding and aircraft industries. Often working with Church, Wurster completed defense housing projects that encompassed over 5,000 units in Vallejo alone.
In 1943, Wurster closed his firm so that he could study planning at Harvard. Both Yale and MIT invited him to teach, and by 1944 he had become Dean of Architecture at MIT, a post he held until 1950. Catherine Bauer Wurster taught planning at Harvard University during the same period. In 1944, Wurster formed a partnership with former employee Theodore Bernardi, and with the addition of Donn Emmons, also a former employee, in 1945, the firm became Wurster, Bernardi, and Emmons (WBE). During his years at MIT, Wurster spent only vacations in San Francisco and Bernardi and Emmons effectively ran the firm.
Wurster returned to the Bay Area in 1950 to become Dean of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, a position he held until his retirement in 1963. In 1959 he brought the departments of architecture, landscape architecture, and city and regional planning together to become the College of Environmental Design. WBE incorporated in 1963 and continued to produce award-winning designs, receiving the American Institute of Architects' Architectural Firm Award in 1965. All three partners had been named Fellows of the AIA by this time, and Wurster was later honored with the AIA Gold Medal Award for lifetime achievement in 1969.
After Wurster's death in 1973, the two younger partners continued running the firm until the mid-1980s. As of 1999, WBE continues to exist without the original partners.
Sources: Montgomery, Roger. "William Wilson Wurster and the College of Environmental Design," in Inside the Large Small House: The Residential Design Legacy of William W. Wurster. Berkeley: The Regents of the University of California, 1995.
Peters, Richard C. "WWWurster." The Journal of Architectural Education. 33 (1979): 36-41
Treib, Marc, ed. An Everyday Modernism: The Houses of William Wurster. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Related Records

Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons (firm)

Archival Holdings

The American Institute of Architects Archives
      Membership file may contain membership application, Fellowship nomination, related correspondence. The AIA Awards files contain further information about Gold Medal recipients. Contact the AIA Archives at archives@aia.org for further information.
Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley
      See holdings under Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons (firm)