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Pecha Kucha events go global to help quake-hit Japan


Once English architect Mark Dytham starts talking so passionately about what he does, you fear he may never stop.
So, you wonder how Dytham, who is based in Tokyo, dreamed up "Pecha Kucha," an event that gives young designers a chance to show off their work to an audience, but forces them to be concise.
Twenty people give presentations consisting of 20 slides, each lasting for 20 seconds, meaning that every presentation lasts for six minutes and 40 seconds.

"If you can't say it within that time, it's not worth saying," says Dytham, who cooked up the idea in 2003 with his associate Astrid Klein, of the architectural firm Klein Dytham.

Since its first incarnation in a Tokyo club, Pecha Kucha has spread to more than 400 locations around the world, raised money for disaster relief and built a school in Haiti, been instrumental in urban redesign, and provided an outlet for thousands of creative people to share their ideas. It's now about to fund rebuilding efforts in tsunami-stricken Japan, too.

Pecha Kucha takes its name from a Japanese onomatopoeic word meaning "chit chat."

As a monthly event at SuperDeluxe in Nishi Azabu every month, the event started to spark interest around the world, with designers from California and Switzerland asking if they could put on a Pecha Kucha of their own. Now it's gone truly viral, with 403 participant cities as far-flung as Xalapa, Katmandu, Novi Sad and Lagos.

No longer restricted to architects or designers, presenters can now talk about any topic they like, giving the event an egalitarian, fun atmosphere. It also teaches people to engage more deeply with subjects they might not know about: "It's all about look, listen, learn," says Dytham, who emphasizes the event is as visual as it is aural.

The response has been incredibly positive, with many participants saying it's changed the way they do business and the way they connect with their community. Even the mayor of Bogota, the capital of Colombia, e-mailed to say that it had transformed his city, because it "exposed the hidden creativity in the city."

Last year, the first Pecha Kucha Global Day was held to raise money for Haiti after the country was devastated by an earthquake. Some $80,000 was raised for Architecture for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that reconstructs disaster-stricken areas, to build a school.

Yet while it's been exported successfully all over the world, Dytham believes it was Japan's unpretentious and "horizontal" culture that allowed the idea to be cultivated here first.

"Pecha Kucha could have only started in Japan because everyone treats each other with the same respect, even street cleaners," he says. "Everyone listens intently to what other people have to say. If we'd tried it in London first it probably wouldn't have worked."

The event's popularity also soared because of the perceptions of Japan as a hip, creative and exotic country.

"Japan has given designers so much--from Issey Miyake and Comme de Garcons to architectural features like shoji," says Dytham, referring to the paper windows with wooden grids. "Now it's the designers' turn to give something back."

That's exactly what they will be doing for the Pecha Kucha's "Inspire Japan" event on Saturday, taking place simultaneously in more than 100 cities around the world to raise money to reconstruct the areas in northeastern Japan devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Donations at the door and online will go to Architecture for Humanity's reconstruction projects in Tohoku, to which over 100 Japan-based architects and engineers have already offered their services.

"It's about telling people in Japan that there's hope and reason to rebuild even if we rebuild in a different way," says Dytham. "The whole of the world is watching and trying to inspire you."

The event will take place in the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo's Roppongi district from 5 p.m. on Saturday, and more than 100 locations worldwide. More details and live streams on the day of the event can be found at http://global-day.pecha-kucha.org/

By AS on Apr 26, 2011
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