Former First Lady Michelle Obama will give a keynote speech at the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Conference on Architecture taking place from Thursday, April 27 to Saturday, April 29 in Orlando, Florida. Obama’s addition to the program of keynote speakers comes after a protest over the lack of female speakers at the conference when the initial lineup was first announced earlier this year.
Of the seven speakers announced in January for the rebranded annual conference, only one keynote, Amy Cuddy, was a woman. Fifty architects, firms, and students protested the imbalance by signing and submitting a letter to the Architect’s Newspaper that urged the AIA to advocate more meaningfully for gender equality in the architecture profession. The signatories highlighted the fact that Cuddy, a social psychologist and Harvard Business School professor, is not even an architect.
The AIA responded by adding a special keynote panel titled “Anticipate Change: What’s Next in Architecture” featuring Nóra Demeter of Demeter Design Studio, Michael Ford of BRANDNU DESIGN, and Cheryl McAfee of McAfee3, and moderated by Frances Anderton of the weekly radio show DnA. Other female speakers have also been added: Diller Scofidio + Renfro co-founder Elizabeth Diller, Perkins+Will associate Eve Edelstein, and architect Cheryl McAfee.
The original lineup included 2016 Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena, architect Francis Kéré, MASS Design Group co-founder and executive director Michael Murphy, designer and Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, and two visual strategists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, David Delgado and Dan Goods.
Obama’s keynote has been billed as “A Conversation with Former First Lady Michelle Obama.” In her eight years in the White House, the former First Lady launched initiatives to tackle childhood obesity, support and rally around service members, veterans, and their families, encourage students to aim for college, and help young girls around the world go to school.