• 2021 Design Matters Conference
    Germane Barnes
    Keynote Speaker
    Aric Chen, Fabrizio Gallanti, and Jia Yi Gu
    Dec 02, 2021 to Dec 03, 2021
    Association of Architecture Organizations

Germane Barnes and CEPODS LLC, Pop-Up Porch, Delray Beach, Florida. Courtesy the artist

The Association of Architecture Organizations (AAO) Design Matters Conference is the largest annual gathering for staff of nonprofit architecture organizations and interested designers dedicated to enhancing public dialogue about architecture and design. The 2021 Conference is a two-day virtual convening for networking, professional exchange, and sharing of best practices related to organizational management and development of programs, exhibitions, and publications geared to public audiences. Through keynote lectures, facilitated conversations, and topical inquiries commissioned by AAO to advance the field, attendees investigate how communities are enhanced through design. Conference programming is designed to support architecture organizations over a range of areas from strategic planning to program innovation to effective outreach, and includes discussion of critical issues such as mentorship and early career development, engaging BIPOC designers and under-represented perspectives, and the role of architecture organizations in promoting climate action.

The opening day plenary for this year’s conference includes a presentation from and interview with designer and educator Germane Barnes, as he focuses on the evolution of his work and the opportunities (and challenges) when working with various architecture organizations, from storefronts to established museums, after school groups to major universities. The closing day plenary, meanwhile, brings several new leaders of architecture organizations to a shared conversation under the title “New Directors/New Directions.” Here we consider the big ideas and relevant issues facing Aric Chen and Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, Frabrizo Gallanti and arc en rêve centre d’architecture in Bordeaux, and Jia Yi Gu and the MAK Center in Los Angeles.

Germane Barnes, keynote speaker, investigates the connection between architecture and identity, examining architecture’s social and political agency through historical research and design speculation in his research and design practice. Mining architecture’s social and political agency, he examines how the built environment influences black domesticity. He believes strongly in design as a process, and approaches each condition imposed on a project as an opportunity rather than a constraint. Architecture presents opportunities for transformation–materially, conceptually and sociologically. Barnes is an assistant professor and the director of The Community Housing & Identity Lab (CHIL) at the University of Miami School of Architecture. In 2021 Barnes was awarded the Wheelwright Prize by Harvard University Graduate School of Design and the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome.

Aric Chen recently completed his tenure founding director of the Curatorial Lab at the College of Design & Innovation at Tongji University in Shanghai. In September 2021 he moved to Rotterdam to assume the role of general and artistic director at the Het Nieuwe Instituut ("The New Institute"). Chen was born and raised in Chicago, before his curatorial practices took him around the globe. He received his BA in architecture and BA in anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, and received an MA in history of decorative arts and design from Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and the Parsons School of Design. In addition to leading the Curatorial Lab in Shanghai, Chen has also served as the curatorial director at the Design Miami fairs in Basel and Miami, lead curator and curator at large at M+, and several other exhibition programs.

Fabrizio Gallanti is the director of arc en rêve centre d’architecture, in Bordeaux. He holds a PhD in architectural design from the Politecnico di Torino (2001) and a MArch from the University of Genoa (1995). He was the first Senior Mellon Fellow at Princeton University in 2014. Since 2014 he has been a visiting professor at the Architectural Association, London within the Master in History and Critical Thinking program. In 2003, together with Francisca Insulza, Gallanti founded the Montréal-based architectural research studio FIG Projects (2003–present), which has curated international exhibitions, such as The World in our Eyes for the 2016 Lisbon Architecture Triennale and edited journals such as Harvard Design Magazine's issue titled "No Sweat" in 2018.

Jia Yi Gu is an architectural historian, curator, and designer who works on, thinks about, and occasionally writes about institutional spaces, ethics of care, and media-based practices in architecture. She is director of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, codirector of the architecture research and design studio Spinagu with Maxi Spina, and serves as visiting faculty in architecture at the California College of Art. Before her role at the MAK Center, she was executive director and curator of Materials & Applications.

Michael Wood became the Association of Architecture Organizations' (AAO) first executive director in 2010, bringing to the position 13 years of experience in the nonprofit arts sector, as well as an interest in and commitment to architecture, design, and social innovation as strategies for addressing issues of civic engagement and education. Since joining AAO, Wood has curated 16 conferences and successfully transformed an annual Chicago convening into a traveling event, effectively bringing AAO members into deeper contact and familiarity with the programs and ambitions of architectural organizations in other cities. The transition to a virtual conference format in 2020 has extended AAO’s geographic reach and made the opportunity affordable to a broader spectrum of prospective attendees. Under Wood’s leadership, the AAO Network has grown from 16 founding members to more than 100 members that operate in 29 US states (44 US cities) and eight countries.

The Association of Architecture Organizations (AAO) connects, supports, and advocates for organizations and individuals around the world devoted to advancing the role of architecture and design in service to society. Founded in 2009, AAO’s vision is to create platforms and share ideas that support the growing diversity of architecture organizations and increase their impact. AAO provides a portal to connect with a worldwide network of leading people and organizations working in the field across a breadth of practices to learn about the art and science of public engagement and communicating the value of design.