• 2024 Design Matters Conference
    Association of Architecture Organizations

“AMEND” exhibition and performance series by artist Chris Emile at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, Los Angeles, 2020. Digital photograph. Photo: Tag Christof

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 2024 Conference will take place in Los Angeles. Through keynote lectures, facilitated conversations, site tours, gallery walks, and topical inquiries commissioned by AAO, attendees investigate how communities are enhanced by design excellence. Conference programming is designed to cover a range of areas from topical built environment issues, with an emphasis on discussions and case studies connected to the host city, to strategies for program development and organizational management. The program also includes discussion of issues of universal importance to the profession and the field, such as mentorship and early career development, engaging BIPOC designers and underrepresented perspectives, and the role of architecture organizations in promoting climate action.

Michael Wood became the Association of Architecture Organizations’ 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 18 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, and again in 2021, 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 110 members that operate in 43 cities across the United States and nine countries.

Jia Yi Gu is a designer, scholar, and curator working at the intersections of art and architecture. Over the past decade, Gu has developed a pedagogical and curatorial practice centering on research-based exhibitions and the production of situations and environments, alongside the critique and transformation of institutional practices. She is director and curator of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture. From 2014 to 2020, she served as director of Materials & Applications, a Los Angeles-based project space for experimental architecture. In 2016, she cofounded the architecture studio Spinagu with Maxi Spina. Gu holds a bachelor’s degree in visual arts from the University of California San Diego with honors and a master’s of architecture degree from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) where she graduated with distinction and received the Alpho Rho Chi medal. She is currently completing her dissertation in the UCLA Critical Studies in Architecture department.

Sarah Lann is the director of education at the Los Angeles Conservancy. During her tenure, Lann has created innovative educational initiatives for Los Angeles Unified School District, as well as place-based partnership programs for local organizations and neighborhood communities. Her career in nonprofit management reflects a passion for collaborative, creative leadership, as evidenced in the many legacy programs she institutionalized at The Groundlings School, which she directed prior to the Conservancy, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where she managed all on-site educational efforts. She currently serves on the Board of the City of Los Angeles’s Sunset Square Preservation Overlay Zone, the Southern California Neoclassicists, and Open House Los Angeles.

Mimi Zeiger is a Los Angeles-based critic, editor, and curator. She was cocurator of the United States Pavilion for the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale and cocurator of the 2020–21 Exhibit Columbus entitled New Middles: From Main Street to Megalopolis, What is the Future of the Middle City? She has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Architectural Review, and Metropolis, and is a former West Coast editor of The Architect’s Newspaper. She has curated, contributed to, and collaborated on projects shown at the Art Institute of Chicago, the New Museum, Storefront for Art and Architecture, pinkcomma gallery, and the AA School. She holds a bachelor’s of architecture degree from Cornell University and a master’s of architecture degree from SCI-Arc, where she currently serves as visiting faculty. She is also a past president of the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design.

The Association of Architecture Organizations (AAO), founded in 2010, connects, supports, and advocates for organizations and individuals around the world devoted to advancing the role of architecture, planning, and design in service to society. AAO’s vision is to create platforms and share ideas that support the growing diversity of architecture organizations and increase their impact. AAO is a portal for connecting with a worldwide network of leading individuals and organizations working in the field across a breadth of practices; our programs investigate the art and science of public engagement and effective means for communicating the value of design.