The Monterey Design Conference, held last week in Pacific Grove, California, once again lived up to its reputation for creating an inspiring and memorable weekend-long conversation on design.
Set against the bucolic backdrop of the Asilomar Conference Center, a former YMCA camp designed by Julia Morgan in the early part of the 20th century, the biennial event, hosted by the AIA California Council, has made a name for itself by using its rustic backdrop as a portal for showcasing innovative work across the globe and the personalities behind it.
Emceed by the unstoppable architecture critic and consultant Reed Kroloff and attended by a crowd of 800, the weekend revolved around a lineup of diverse presentations in Morgan’s awe-inspiring wood and stone Merrill Hall. Maybe the informal camp like environment teases out the personal here. Rand Elliott of Oklahoma City, began his presentation with a drawing he made as an eight-year-old boy, punctuating his lecture with his own poetry, which has inspired and been inspired by his work. Presenting her sublime projects in Latin America and Spain, Barcelona architect Carme Pinós, compensating for her lack of fluency in English with a sharp wit and warm disposition, illustrated how she abstracts large scale projects without ever losing the human scale. Atlanta-based Merrill Elam presented a trippy montage of hundreds of images, doodles, sound tracks, and film clips, with a narration that included a heartfelt condolence letter from her partner Mack Scogin to Italian architect Benedetta Tagliabue when she lost her husband, Enric Miralles.
Many presentations presented the quotidian in a new light. LA-based Clive Wilkinson showcased a number of office projects, underscoring the imperative to go beyond supporting more than just pragmatic needs by elevating the workplace to the level of theater. Artist Pae White demonstrated how she transforms the plain into the magic: bringing life to crumpled foil, building with glass blown bricks that resemble Jolly Ranchers, CNC milling marble into a giant piece of popcorn that functions as a bench. “My dream is when these works become architecture,” she said. Bernard Tschumi, with offices in New York and Paris, lectured into the starry Saturday night on “architecture as a materialization of a concept. Architecture as space, events, and movement.” Japanese wunderkind Junya Ishigami wowed the audience with a parade of projects with which he aims to “create new environments”—from a razor-thin aluminum table to a mountain like passenger ship terminal—each one more fantastical and impossible-seeming than the next. And the Berlin-based American Frank Barkow answered his question, “how do you appropriate or exploit technology?” by showing diverse work, from the Fellows Pavilion at the American Academy in Berlin to the Trutec Building in Seoul, with its kaleidoscope like façade.
Woven in and about this template of lectures were continuing education sessions held across the campus, beachside bonfires and marshmallow roasts, movie screenings, sing-alongs, and socials. Tschumi took a stroll down the beach, stopping to marvel at a scattering of rocks, magically balanced atop boulders. Pinós dined family style in Crocker Hall, and some of the more ambitious architects donned wetsuits and snuck off for a bit of surfing. On Saturday night, Architectural Record, media sponsor for the event, hosted a party honoring AIA Firm of the Year Award winner, Ehrlich Architects, whose founder, Stephen Ehrlich had brought his whole team of 37 with him to celebrate. A crowd of hundreds crammed into one of Morgan’s smaller buildings to fete the firm. For those who stayed long enough, the party morphed into another gathering for emerging architects. The reveling carried on into the wee hours.