Monterey Design Conference
Photo © John Scourkes
The Dodge Chapel Auditorium at Asilomar, designed by Julia Morgan and built in 1915.

An eclectic mix of international stars, leading American architects, and emerging voices will present their work at the Monterey Design Conference (MDC) from September 27 through September 29. Held at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, California, where Julia Morgan designed many of the rustic buildings in the early 20th century, the event offers a camp-like setting on the Monterey Peninsula for a rambling examination of the state of design both in California and around the world. The California chapter of the American Institute of Architects organizes the conference every other year, alternating it with one on practice. Architectural Record is a media sponsor.

Monterey Design Conference
MDC logo by Rebeca Mendéz
The Monterey Design Conference will be held Sept. 27-29.

This year, headliners will include Kengo Kuma from Tokyo, Odile Decq from Paris, Marcio Kogan from São Paulo, Jennifer Yoos from VJAA in Minneapolis, Anne Fougeron from San Francisco, Thomas Phifer from New York City, Michael Sorkin also from New York, and Marlon Blackwell from Fayetteville, Arkansas. The program combines talks by architects, with special features such as a tribute to AIA Gold Medal winner Thom Mayne, an interview with John E. “Jack” MacAllister, and a screening of the film Song 1, an artwork by Doug Aitken that was projected onto the exterior of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., in 2012. It also includes short presentations by young California architects: Price Studio, Future Cities Lab, FreelandBuck, and Oyler Wu Collaborative.

What makes MDC different from most other conferences, says Lawrence Scarpa, a principal at Brooks + Scarpa and a member of the event’s organizing committee, is that most speakers stay for the entire two-and-a-half days, seduced by the beautiful setting and the relaxed atmosphere. “There are lots of casual conversations between speakers and attendees,” he says. It’s “as if you are having them over to your house for dinner or drinks.” Brian Dougherty, a principal at Dougherty + Dougherty Architects and the vice president of the AIA California Council, remembers walking in the tidal pools at Asilomar after hearing Stewart Brand, the founder of The Whole Earth Catalog, talk about design and time. “It helped me place my own design efforts in the context of their meaning for future generations,” he recalls.

The bracing mix of simple stone-and-wood buildings and salt-water breezes makes it hard for anyone to be pretentious at MDC, says Karen Lesney, a senior associate at Jerrold E. Lomax, FAIA, Architect, and a committee member. “I call it ‘design dialysis,’ ” because it cleanses your mind “so you can move forward,” she says.

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