AIA Convention organizers set a high bar for themselves last year after president Bill Clinton kicked off the annual architecture conference.
The logical follow-up for this year’s summit in Philadelphia? Inaugurate Kevin Spacey, an actor who has also served two presidential terms, as the ruthless Frank Underwood in Netflix’s House of Cards and as Richard Nixon in this year’s Elvis & Nixon. But Spacey left the AIA scrambling for a speaker after he abruptly flaked on this year’s conference, apparently due to a scheduling conflict.
“I had visions of pushing someone off a subway train,” AIA president Russell Davidson—referencing a scene in House of Cards in which Underwood pushes a meddling journalist in front of a Metro train—told an audience of 8,500 people at this morning’s welcome address. “But I am not as mean as Frank Underwood.”
So the AIA moved on to another presidential speaker: actor Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the star of HBO’s Veep (and a much better choice, said Davidson, “than the other guy”).
Attendees seemed to agree. Louis-Dreyfus took the stage with Terry Gross, the award-winning host of the radio show Fresh Air, for a lively question-and-answer style interview, covering the actor’s career from SNL, to Seinfeld, to her current show.
On working with Jerry Seinfeld, the actor said, “It felt like inmates running the asylum—but in a good way.”
Louis-Dreyfus also spoke out about the sexism she has encountered in television. “There are parallels between trying to be a successful woman in Hollywood and being a successful woman in D.C.,” Louis-Dreyfus said of the similarities between real life, and her Veep character Selina Meyer. The comparison doubtlessly resonated with the women architects in the male-dominated audience.
The conversation verged into architectural territory only once when Gross asked Louis-Dreyfus, who is currently working with firm Marmol Radziner on a new house in Los Angeles, about the challenges of building a home. Louis-Dreyfus, who is on the leadership council for the advocacy group Natural Resource Defense Council, said she is keeping the building’s footprint small, utilizing solar energy, and employing drought-appropriate landscape strategies. “It’s scary to build a house, but it’s also thrilling,” she said. “I wish I could win the lottery to finish paying for it.”
Louis-Dreyfus and Gross weren’t the only guests of honor at the opening keynote. Seattle-based LMN Architects accepted their 2016 Architecture Firm Award at the convention’s opening keynote. Architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, the recipients of the Gold Medal, the AIA’s highest honor were not present this morning. But Davidson said he delivered the award personally to their house. When Davidson fawned over Venturi’s influential book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, Venturi, 90, apparently joked, “You know, I’ve never read it.”