Monterey Design Conference 2011, Part One

Nature, Machines, and Robotics, Oh My!

The 20th Monterey Design Conference, sponsored by the California Council of the American Institute of Architects, took place last weekend. The two days of lectures and seminars by architects and landscape architects from across the country, Canada, and Spain offered up a superb architectural feast. There was the usual architectural jargon — overuse of words like “aperture,” meaning window or opening, and “iteration,” meaning version — and sometimes you just want a clear declarative sentence explaining the purpose of a  particular design — but all in all this was a wonderfully stimulating experience.

Of course the setting at the Asilomar Conference Grounds – a California state park on the ocean at Pacific Grove near Carmel — sets a high design standard. The marvelous serpentine boardwalks that wind through the dunes (to protect them) aren’t just useful as a kind of palette cleanser between the high intensity talks,

but  also act as a powerful metaphor for the journey of discovery that a good conference makes possible.

In addition the original Asilomar buildings designed by California’s most famous woman architect, Julia Morgan (who also designed Hearst Castle), like “The Lodge” shown above from 1917, set a high architectural standard by deftly using natural materials to make buildings that seem indigenous.

And inside, the cinnamon-hued, redwood board and batten walls and stairway have a visual and tactile power that is unforgettable.

All the large lectures took place in another Julia Morgan building, called Merrill Hall (above), a rustic-elegant barn on a hill. In other words, at a place like this, any design talk better be good!

This conference succeeded because it offered  a strong cross section of contemporary work. Here are first impressions –  more reporting on the conference will follow in a subsequent post.

Newly anointed MacArthur Genius Grantee Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang — whose most famous building is the Aqua skyscraper in Chicago, shown below and described in an earlier Eye On Design post

spoke about how nature, context, and materials research inform her work in the US and India. How appropriate for a lecture in a sand dune by ocean waves!

Tom Kundig, of Olson Kundig Architects in Seattle, designs seductive modern buildings with vividly expressed mechanical systems and hot rod elements like super scaled cranks and rollers, as in his famous Chicken Point Cabin (photo by Benjamin Benschneider, courtesy Olson Kundig Architects)

or his Rolling Huts — guest cabins on giant steel wheels (photograph by Tim Bies, courtesy Olson Kundig Architects).

Tom has been influenced by the painter and kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely, whose most famous work, titled “Homage To New York” and shown below,

(image courtesy New York Times) was a machine that was designed to self destruct. It was easy to see how Tom’s fascination/obsession with machines has lead to an architecture that becomes kinetic sculpture.

Part of the conference was devoted to “Emerging Talents” and one of these talks showed how architects are embracing new tools and techniques, like Andreas Froech of Machineous, who is adapting industrial automotive robotic systems to fabricate not buildings, but polymorphic structures that might be used in buildings, like this screen

or this extraordinary table (both images courtesy Machineous).

I wondered about the practical application of some of this work but now thinking back on the talk I see how “natural” it is — though a nature that has been rethought through the computer. The table is a table unless it is a tree — sounds like Gertrude Stein! More about MDC in my next post.

Drawing from Frank 

The latest book from the vast and ever expanding publishing engine that runs on a fuel known as the imagination of Frank Lloyd Wright is a splendid collection of his conceptual sketches and presentation drawings, just published by Rizzoli. They are selected and explained – with some fascinating anecdotes — by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer, longtime director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.  For anyone interested in Wright it is a must-have because it lets you follow his mind at work.  The cover image

is for an unbuilt project in San Francisco’s Sea Cliff neighborhood – it’s the house as sculpted cliff and monumental exclamation point. The book shows just how lucky Wright was to have such super-natural sites to work with but also how brilliantly he rose to each topographic occasion. It would have been fun to see what he could do next to Julia Morgan at Asilomar — then again maybe that wouldn’t have worked…

One Response to Monterey Design Conference 2011, Part One

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