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Monterey Design Conference: 1 Mile of Beach. 3 Days. 20 Speakers. 50 Hours. 100s of Conversations. 1,000s of Ideas

The Julia Morgan-designed Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, CA, will be abuzz at the biennial event September 27-29, 2013.

By Julie D. Taylor, Hon. AIA/LA
September 6, 2013

I’m kind of a conference junkie. Indeed, nothing makes me happier than listening to terrific speakers share their ideas on design, architecture, business, and culture. After I went to my first Monterey Design Conference (MDC) 10 years ago, I was hooked on this biennial gathering of architects. Set along a beautiful stretch of the Northern California coast, it’s the one event I can’t imagine living without.


As always, MDC takes place at the Asilomar Conference Grounds, designed 100 years ago by Julia Morgan, who was the first female architect to work in California. It’s put on by the American Institute of Architects, California Council (AIACC), and Robert Ivy, FAIA, AIA National Executive Vice President and CEO, has been the long-time moderator. The balance of speakers always includes architects and designers – some known globally, others only to architectural cognoscenti – as well as a mid-career California architect and an esteemed éminence grise. I’ve also seen landscape architects, industrial designers, filmmakers, and other creative thinkers.


This year’s international speakers are Parisian designer Odile Decq, Brazilian architect Marcio Kogan, Hon. FAIA, and Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, Hon. FAIA. U.S.-based architects presenting their works and ideas are Marlon Blackwell, FAIA, from Fayetteville, AR; Anne Fougeron, FAIA, of San Francisco; John E. “Jack” MacAllister, FAIA, from Tiburon, CA; Thomas Phifer, FAIA, from New York City; and Jennifer Yoos, FAIA, of Minneapolis. New York City-based architect, journalist, and architectural raconteur Michael Sorkin rounds out the speaker roster. A film about artist Doug Aitken’s “Song 1” installation at the Hirshhorn Museum is the featured movie. A special tribute to Los Angeles architect Thom Mayne, FAIA, is also on the busy schedule.


Carrying on a tradition started by MDC founder George Bissell, FAIA (1927-2010), MDC 2013 gives emerging talent a platform to discuss their work. Two firms from Northern California (Price Studio and Future Cities Lab) and two from Southern California (FreelandBuck and Oyler Wu Collaborative) will present their work in the popular and fast-paced Pecha Kucha format.


For those needing Continuing Education Units, you can get up to 17 CES points in programs about BIM, accessibility, and façades, among other topics. Even though I don’t need credits, I’ll be attending the session with Chris Downey, RA, from Architecture for the Blind.


One of the pure delights of the conference is the opportunity to not only listen, but to talk with fellow MDCers about the ideas presented. In addition to architects from all over California (yes, there are architects in Fresno!), I hear this year MDC will welcome attendees from as close as Utah and as far away as Australia. Communal mealtimes, receptions, and walks along the beach set the stage for impromptu engagement.


The conference organizers consider MDC “the Renaissance Weekend for design,” and an instigator of “intellectual tourism.” Although it does not yet enjoy the global cachet of the TED Conferences, MDC pre-dates that intellectual confab. Begun in 1980, one of MDC’s inaugural speakers was Richard Saul Wurman, who – four years later – launched the first TED conference.


For information and registration, visit



Julie D. Taylor, Hon. AIA/LA, is West Coast correspondent for, editor of Society of Architectural Historians/SCC News, and principal of Taylor & Company public relations and marketing for the design industries.


Also by Taylor:


The Blob That Could Eat Los Angeles
The history of our ill-fated Los Angeles County Museum of Art is told in "The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA": I'm a fan of Zumthor, but this building could be cool almost anywhere else.


Overdrive: L.A.'s Future is Present in its Past
Simultaneously hopeful and wistful, The Getty Museum's exhibition is about the evolution of a modern city seen through its architecture, confirming the truly layered nature of Los Angeles.


Report from IDSA 06: Elements of Change (and architecture)




(click on pictures to enlarge)

John Scourkes

Pristine ocean view from the Asilomar Conference Grounds.

Rebeca Mendez

John Scourkes

Merrill Hall designed by Julia Morgan

John Scourkes

Merrill Hall detail

John Scourkes

One of many outdoor gathering spots

John Scourkes

A Common Room