words Anna Bates
Pecha Kucha has gone viral.
Invented in Tokyo in 2003, the networking and showcasing format has now spread to 11 cities around the world. From London to San Francisco, Stockholm to Sydney, events are selling out as people queue to see architects and designers presenting their work, their ideas and even their holiday snaps.
The architecture and design show-and-tell, which allows up to 20 speakers to show 20 slides for 20 seconds each, is the brain-child of Mark Dytham of Tokyo-based Klein Dytham Architects (KDA). “Architects and designers talk too much,” says Dytham. “If you’ve ever had to listen to an architect’s speech you’ll know that it’s really slow and boring. So we set up some rules: you get six minutes and 40 seconds to talk, and then you’re off.”
Meaning “chit chat” in Japanese, Pecha Kucha is an informal and slightly anarchic concept, especially when both speakers and audience have had a few drinks. With an eclectic mixture of speakers, and famous names appearing back to back with complete unknowns, the contrast with the traditional lecture could not be greater.
“Within a city there are very few spaces for creative people to show their work,” Dytham adds. “Galleries are expensive. There’s nowhere for young designers who’ve done a small interior or designed a dress collection, so we decided to create a show-and-tell.”
“You can just go to graze other people’s thoughts,” says Times journalist Damian Barr, who attended his first Pecha Kucha in London last year and has since become something of an evangelist for the format. “If you’re into something you can go and talk to them afterwards. If not, it’s only a short sharp pain to listen to them.”
It all started when Dytham opened SuperDeluxe, a basement club in Tokyo’s infamous Roppongi district, to hold informal gatherings of creatives that were growing too big to host in KDA’s offices. “We had to invent an event to fill the space we had,” says Dytham. The first Pecha Kucha was held on 2 February 2003. Although it was a low-key affair with friends and contacts of KDA giving presentations, it still managed to draw an audience of 150 people.
Dytham continues to host monthly Pecha Kuchas at SuperDeluxe but the concept has now taken off around the world as people who have heard about the format hold their own events.
Los Angeles was the first city outside of Tokyo to hold a Pecha Kucha. Then London caught the bug – bi-monthly events are held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and organised by icon, Max Fraser and the ICA’s Iram Quraishi.
The format has also spread to Bern, in Switzerland, where a tenth event is currently being planned, Hobart in Tasmania, Groningen in the Netherlands and Berlin. Glasgow’s first Pecha Kucha in March was a sell-out, as was the inaugural event in Stockholm the same month, which attracted 500 people and was covered on national TV. In March, a Pecha Kucha in Rotterdam saw a hundred people queuing around the block unable to get in, with 250 people finally managing to.
This January Pecha Kucha was taken to San Francisco by architect Paul Jamtgaard and industrial designer Alberto Villarreal. “The format is perfect to cultivate the kind of cross-fertilisation that can inspire designers, and hopefully help get San Francisco out of its funk,” says Jamtgaard. “It’s a perfect way to engage an audience, especially as we hold to SuperDeluxe’s motto: think and drink.”
Almost all these events have relied on word-of-mouth recommendations, email and web-based dissemination – the London events are never advertised, yet the last one sold out within half an hour of tickets going on sale.
“It’s just crazy,” says Iram Quraishi at the ICA. “It’s really clear that London needed this.”
The night has provided a platform for students and young designers to introduce themselves to the big names and even pick up jobs. People go to be inspired and network, but for many it is also becoming something of a social club where you can go to be entertained, or just meet up with friends. And the events have started to include presentations from people outside the architecture and design world.
“People who come feel like they’re part of a new club,” says co-organiser Max Fraser. “I like the feeling that a global network can start, and people feel like they’re part of something bigger.”
Back to back with young designers and student presenters have been superstars such as Toyo Ito, whose Tokyo presentation consisted of all the architectural competitions that he’d lost to Rem Koolhaas.
“If the internet is accused of making people stay in,” says Dytham, “this sends people out. Instead of people gathering in a virtual space, you get people into a proper space.”
Dubai, Paris, New York and Prague are all set to hold events. Dytham, who owns the Pecha Kucha copyright, is drawing up a set of guidelines for organisers to follow and has just created a website (www.pecha-kucha.org) with links to the global outposts.
Dytham says: “People have started saying to me, ‘Forget designing buildings, this is much more important!’”
For information on how to hold a Pecha Kucha in your city, contact Mark Dytham at email@example.com
The next London Pecha Kucha – the biggest ever held – takes place at Sadlers Wells theatre on 25 June as part of the London Architecture Biennale.