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Recharging the Batteries in Monterey

Posted on: Nov 10, 2011

There has always been a magically quality about California’s Monterey Peninsula.  It was the first place that I saw and waded in the Pacific Ocean when I came to California as a college kid.  Over the years my fondness for Monterey developed into a loyal client base of architects and interior designers many of whom I continue to work for. The California A.I.A. holds a biennial design conference here eponymously named the Monterey Design Conference.  The conference is held at the Asilomar Conference Center, a historic former YWCA camp designed by Julia Morgan in the 1920s and now part of the State Park system.  Located almost exactly in the middle of the California Coast, Asilomar has become a meeting ground of north and south not to mention old and new.

Walking on to the conference grounds early on a clear warm fall Saturday morning, I felt somewhat intimidated.  I was interested in getting the pulse of the world of architecture, but I did not want to be an outsider looking in.  That fear was quickly dissipated.  A warm pat on the back arrived at the first coffee break.  It was one of several dozen clients that I would connect with over the course of the weekend.  Virtually every architect that I had worked with in the past two years was at the conference and most were in good spirits.  The conference committee had scoured the country and put together an amazing group of speakers who talked about architecture, the environment, how things are built, how our cities will evolve.  I was impressed by the breath of disciplines they corralled in one weekend.  I thought the best way to tie this together is just to write about three presenters.

Studio Gang, The Taipei Pop Music Center

Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects, Chicago

Jeanne Gang is really quite amazing. She is a multi-disciplinary architect who thinks and acts BIG, from high rise towers in Chicago to redesigning whole cities from Cicero to India.  What makes her work interesting are the questions she asks.  Putting people first in her designs seems to be her overarching design principle. She was just awarded a MacArthur Genius Fellowship, only the fourth architect to be so honored.

Matsys Design, S_Window, London

Andrew Kudless, Matsys, Oakland, CA

Kudless is a conceptual artist who studies organic forms and builds large constructs based on these forms.  His work ranges from collapsible paper lamps to designs for vast underground cities all based on an organic morphology.  His objects are very scalable and have the potential to be integrated into large building components.  He is definitely and “outside the box” thinker.

celluar forms, London

Matsys: Manifold Installation at the AA Projects Review, London

Dr. Dickson Despommier, PhD., Columbia University

Despommier is a parasitologist who has wandered afield and become a leading researcher and advocate for indoor farming.  Modern plant research has discovered that plants actually only require about 5% to 10% of the visual spectrum of light to grow.  This can be provided economically by LED lighting opening up the possibility of true indoor farming in urban environments.  Old factories in rust belt cities can be turned into productive indoor farms producing 10 times the crop output of their land based cousins. By consolidating labor and transportation, these new farms offer up exciting possibilities for dormant urban space and could solve food shortage problems later in the century.

For anyone interested in design solutions and visionary views to solve the world’s problems, the Monterey Design Conference put a lot on the plate for one weekend.  I often think  of us who went to architecture school thirty years ago holding out the hope that we could, through good design, solve some of the world’s problems, or at the very least, not fill it up with ugliness.  It is encouraging to know that a handful of visionaries are actually trying to do just that from a multi-disciplinary approach.

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