Posted September 6th 2012 at 4:18 pm by
in U.S. Elections 2012

An Architect's Review of Michelle Obama & the DNC Stage

The DNC Convention—Charlotte September 5th

The crowd served as Michelle Obama’s backdrop, rather than her stage. Photo credit:

Barack Obama on Flickr

Michelle Obama on the DNC stage. Photo credit: ZAP2it

The stage at the Democratic National Convention doesn’t impress the viewer with any immediate verdict. It is a sea of blue, even with the frequently fluttering flag on screen. The overall impression is benign, if not banal. As I watched Michelle Obama deliver her speech, with a mind to analyze the stage design, I perpetually forgot my purpose. What could I discern in that symbol-free blue zone? Clad in warm woods and old photos, the Republican Convention Stage taken by Ann Romney last week had a clear, insistent message: family. The candidate himself honed this image towards the end of his acceptance speech: “President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise… is to help you and your family.”

People seated in boxes on stage flanked the first lady. Photo credit: EPA

As I continued to watch Michelle Obama’s speech, I realized that, visually, I was most struck by the audience: the close-ups, the two boxes of people on stage flanking the first lady – figuratively part of the action, and, especially, the framing of the audience when the camera panned behind the First Lady. The message was clear: togetherness. Michelle Obama spoke about sharing sacrifice and success throughout her speech:

“We learned about gratitude and humility – that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean … and we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.”


The audience itself – visibly more diverse than the Republican Convention crowd – is the symbol used to emphasize the message of inclusion. Ostensibly, viewers at home can easily imagine themselves as audience members.

The framing of the audience when the camera panned behind the First Lady. Photo credit: Boise Weekly

The location of the stage at the Time Warner Cable Arena facilitates the televised view of the audience:

“The Arena lends itself to an end stage configuration. The set up allows the speakers to be surrounded by delegates on three sides and helps visually display the convention theme of Americans Coming Together.”


If the people at the convention embody the Democratic message of togetherness, the stage space itself remains abstract. In analyzing the relationship between form and meaning, sometimes the most persuasive form is the blank slate ready to receive the viewer’s own projections.

We all know both conventions are incredibly orchestrated. The spaces for these performances successfully communicate their respective messages. While the Republican message is to retreat inside – to a safe place, in the home, by the hearth with your nuclear family, the Democrats push the perceived boundary of inclusion as far out as it will go. The symbolic public participation is effective: the stage is not the ideal home, the stage is an open platform for inclusion.

Post by Claudia Paraschiv. Claudia also reviewed Ann Romney and her RNC Stage.

One response to “An Architect's Review of Michelle Obama & the DNC Stage”

  1. Amy says:

    Claudia, Really appreciated these analyses. Thanks for reminding us that our visual experiences are hyper-designed, especially our televisionary experiences. I have to say that, as a liberal, I was pretty pleased with the DNC stage design. I think it successfully hammered home that message of “togetherness.” By keeping the stage void of any clear style (no reference to any specific Americana), viewers like me were free to imagine ourselves in the crowd. The lack of cultural references meant there was nothing in the way of my developing a sense of belonging.

    Though the Ann Romney visuals may have meant to evoke a feeling of “family” – I think they also evoked a feeling of “past” / 1950s nostalgia. While this certainly appeals to some segment of society, those sepia toned images were pretty repellant for me. They underscore the message of “going back” to a time that never was for me and many others. But then again… those images weren’t designed for my engagement.

    Thanks again for your posts!