MDC On the Road – Save the Date!

The Monterey Design Conference (MDC) has long been revered as a gathering of the country’s—and the world’s—leading architects and design thinkers. This intellectually vibrant and inspirational event will be held virtually October 21-22, 2021. While we are all hungry to gather and connect, we recognize many are still uncertain about gathering in large numbers.

From the start, this shift to a virtual event was seen as a design challenge, acknowledging the constraints and identifying the most important elements of MDC – the 40-year legacy of curating a faculty that engages and inspires, a program that refreshes and recharges the spirit, and a commitment to create opportunities for connection (with speakers and each other) – and reimagine the conference in a unique way.

MDC On the Road will take an intimate look into the personal spaces that are significant to the faculty, and present using a creative and personal approach. MDC On the Road will give you a glimpse into the places that inspire them, with the people in the studio that enable them, to create projects that sustain them. We promise – this will not be the typical virtual meeting. Instead, it will allow you to connect to the important elements of MDC, to reset your thinking and inspire your design spirit. We are also imagining ways small groups can gather for viewing parties, how you can interact with other attendees, industry partners, and speakers, and how we can make MDC accessible for many who have not been able to attend in person.

And while we all miss the wonderful Julia Morgan designed meeting rooms and foggy sea air of Asilomar, rest assured, we will return next year with an in-person program, October 21-23, 2022 – MDC two years in a row!

Planning is well underway – speakers have made commitments – and registration will open in June. So, block this out on your calendar now – MDC On the Road – October 21-22, 2021


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A Brief History of the Monterey Design Conference

By Tim Culvahouse, FAIA, with thanks to Shelly Kappe, Hon. AIA; Paul Welch, Hon. AIA; David Meckel, FAIA, and Robert Ivy, FAIA

Entering its fourth decade, the Monterey Design Conference (MDC) brings together the country’s—and the world’s—leading architects and design thinkers for an intellectually vibrant weekend at Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, California. It emerged out of the 1978

AIA California Council Annual Meeting in Orange County, which the AIA California Council president, the late George Bissell, had dedicated to the theme of “design.” Bissell, “the father of MDC,” anointed a dynamic trio of co-chairs—Ray Kappe, FAIA, Timothy Vreeland, FAIA, and Bernard Zimmerman, FAIA, who conceived an ambitious format that anticipated today’s Pecha Kucha events: Groups of invited architects gave four-minute talks on their work in parallel sessions; each session had a designated recorder; and, at the end of the day, everyone got together and shared the results in a common “wrap-up” session.

Spurred by the excitement of that meeting, the AIACC inaugurated its first dedicated design conference the following year. Conference Chair Richard Saul Wurman—who went on to found the TED Conferences—dubbed it “Design 101,” inviting architects from the three states served by Highway 101 (California, Oregon, and Washington) to gather at the Monterey Convention Center. Held annually for its first few years, Design 101 soon outgrew its downtown facilities and in the mid-1980s moved to Asilomar, gaining both generous space and a glorious bayside setting amidst the buildings of Julia Morgan and John Carl Warnecke.

Designed by designers for designers, the now biennial MDC brings together a virtual Who’s Who of the design world in the remarkably intimate space of Morgan’s Merrill Hall, where every session is a plenary session. Presenters and participants alike comfortably span the generations. Around the turn of the millennium, David Meckel introduced a “Tribal Elders” session, which has since featured Pierre Koenig, Sym van der Ryn, Ray Kappe, Warren Callister and Jack Hillmer, William Krisel, and Paffard Keatinge-Clay. At the other reach of the career trajectory, the conference features “Emerging Talent,” future leaders of the profession. A film focused on some aspect of design culture, sometimes accompanied by the maker or the subject, provides an additional dimension to festivities. Shared meals and after-hours gatherings carry the discussion deep into the night.

AIA Executive Vice President Robert Ivy, former editor-in-chief of Architectural Record and long-time MDC master of ceremonies, sums up the remarkable fellowship that is the Monterey Design Conference: “Asilomar’s unique location—adjacent to the Pacific in a grove of trees, where wood smoke mingles with the salt spray—invites casual conversation, relaxation, and stimulation in a natural setting that encourages friendship and expansive thought.”


Julia Morgan in 1898 in her Paris apartment. She studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, then the world’s most prestigious architecture school.CreditCreditJulia Morgan Papers, Special Collections and Archives, California Polytechnic State University

“In 1913 Phoebe Apperson Hearst, whom she had met through Maybeck, hired Morgan to transform 30 acres on the Monterey Peninsula into the Y.W.C.A. conference center, renamed Asilomar, or “refuge by the sea.” Over the next 16 years Morgan would add 16 buildings, most in a rustic Arts and Crafts style featuring dramatic exposed wood trusses, redwood walls and stone fireplaces. Asilomar became a state park in 1956, and in 1987 Morgan’s buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places.”

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    More About MDC

    MDC 2021

    MDC is dedicated to design. It is an open forum to a broad range of ideas and critical thinking people that shape our built environment. MDC is interested in being part of the conversation but not dictating it. The event is open to the voice of speakers, participants and those who attend. MDC is led by a dedicated committee of volunteers who spend countless hours in guiding and planning the event over the course of the year.

    2019 Past MDC Photos »

    2017 Past MDC Photos »

    2015 Past MDC Photos »

    View the 2021 MDC Conference Committee list here. »

    OUR SPONSORSSponsor/Exhibitor Questions? Contact Hillary Krek at Hkrek@aiacalifornia.org or (916) 642-1710.

    Become a Partner Today!

    We are committed to supporting you with the same level of quality, attention, and diligence to which you are accustomed. We are excited to expand industry engagement, offering new and innovative ways for architects to share best practices, discuss new products and services, and immerse themselves in current architectural trends through our interactive virtual platform.

    While we know creating an exact replica of the intimacy and legacy of MDC is near impossible, the spirit of MDC will be felt through and through. Join us as we create a unique virtual experience to set MDC apart once again from every other virtual conference.


    Hillary Krek

    AIA CA Director of Programs

    @ 2021 MDC and AIA CA