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Popular Architecture Forum Launches in New York

It’s architecture’s version of speed dating. At Pecha Kucha, an event born in Tokyo in 2003 and introduced to New Yorkers in September, architects are allowed 400 seconds to show 20 images of their work. “There’s no saying ‘back’ to the projectionist,” explains Klein Dytham Architecture principal Mark Dytham, who began organizing the events with partner Astrid Klein. Indeed, the projectionist changes the slide every 20 seconds, ready or not.

The first Pecha Kucha New York was held, incongruously, in a beer garden in Queens. While competition from a dozen other architecture-related events the same September evening portended a low turnout, more than 500 people, mostly young professionals, filled the outdoor space to overflowing. “Zaha Hadid must be speaking to an audience of three people tonight,” said an ebullient Dytham.

Sarah Oppenheimer, a conceptual artist, presented a “piece” in which sculptural objects were classified according to the Dewey Decimal System, while landscape architect Kate Orff of New York’s SCAPE did a brilliant riff on the tension between answering emails and actually working. Other presenters offered more conventional, if speedy, slide shows: Dytham, whose firm is based in Tokyo, showed a narrow house constructed as part of a billboard in that city; New Yorkers Ben Aranda and Chris Lasch showed the 10 Mile Spiral, a traffic interchange-cum-casino for Las Vegas; Eric Bunge and Mimi Hoang of nArchitects, also a New York firm, presented “Wind Shape,” an installation they completed this summer in Lacoste, France.

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ShoP Architects’ Gregg Pasquarelli announced that he was going to show “illicit images”—ones the clients had never released—that included rejected proposals for the East River Park, a building in Little Italy that brilliantly skirts the historic-district requirement that the facade be made of bricks, and renderings of a new Rector Street Bridge to replace the temporary bridge the firm designed shortly after 9/11. He added that if there were any reporters present, he would “deny the whole thing in the morning.” It’s exactly that kind of subversion that defines Pecha Kucha, Dytham says: “We try and get the better-known designers to show something they couldn't normally show at a 'real' lecture. We all know what they do—show us something unexpected.”

The tack seemed to appeal to Reed Langhofer, a 26-year-old architectural designer at Perkins Eastman, who said he would attend the next Pecha Kucha while sharing a pitcher of Hoegaarden with a group of friends from Tulane’s architecture school. “We've had fun, and the presenters seemed to have fun, too," he said, adding that the format meant “we got to see a lot more work than in a normal lecture.” Check pecha-kucha.org for news of the next event. 

Fred A. Bernstein

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