Ideas into Action

By partnering with Autodesk, Pecha Kucha hopes to propel great projects from presentation to reality.

If you’ve ever had to endure an architect droning on about his or her latest project, you know why some call Microsoft’s presentation program “PowerPointless.” Not so with Pecha Kucha, the 20-slides-for-20-seconds format conceived by Klein Dytham Architecture five years ago. Nicknamed “design karaoke,” Pecha Kucha (Japanese for “chit chat”) began as a way to help designers show off their projects and network at the Tokyo firm’s multimedia event space, Super­Deluxe. During the past year, the concept has exploded globally; at last count, 135 cities—from Melbourne, Australia, to Portland, Oregon—have hosted concertlike gatherings for as many as 500 attendees. “We thought it would be a bit of PR for us since we were only going to have it in Tokyo,” Mark Dytham says. “Had we made a business plan and decided to run it around the world, none of this would have happened.”

Pecha Kucha (PK) is now leveraging that international enthusiasm to expand its scope: last month, the group announced that it is teaming up with Autodesk to sponsor the Pecha Kucha Foundation. The goal is to jump-start some of the hundreds of innovative ideas that are introduced at the events. Dytham first appreciated PK’s potential to raise funds after a photographer in Tokyo presented his raw pictures of tsunami-ravaged Indonesia. A bucket was passed around, and several thousand dollars were raised. But it was the feasibility of an idea out of Atlanta—for a bicycle co-op that would bridge one neighborhood’s racial divide by having blacks and whites learn repair side by side—that inspired Dytham to find a way to award money. “We kept seeing so many of these ideas,” he says. “We felt that if someone could get just $10,000, they could actually take their project into production.”

Toward that end, the organization will award $5,000–$15,000 seed grants to the 20 presenters with the best “pro-city, propeople, prosustainability, procommunity” proposals spanning the full range of creative disciplines that are represented in PK. “They can be an out­reach program for an AIDS clinic, a piece of architecture, or a graphic-signage program for an environmental-restoration project,” says Paul Jamtgaard, a cofounder of PK San Francisco. Cameron Sin­clair, a co­founder of Architecture for Humanity and a PK advisory-board member, believes that the program is significant because there is simply no R & D money for humanitarian design. “I’ve met designers interested in peace reconciliation in former war-torn countries, but it’s really hard to write a grant saying how architecture can help create peace—with this foundation you can really be on the cutting edge,” he says. “What’s nice about these grants is that for groups like ours it’s a big amount of money.”

Late this year, applicants will be able to post digital versions of their 20-slide presentations on the PK Web site to be judged by an advisory committee from the design and nonprofit worlds. Details are still being finalized, but Jamtgaard expects the first winners to be announced next summer. Recipients will be required to submit presentations outlining the results of their endeavors, though Dytham says that he’s not primarily concerned with the outcomes. “We tend to learn more from failures than from successes.”

This attitude reflects Dytham’s ultimate objective: galvanizing designers to think in broader terms. “Just being a designer isn’t good enough these days,” he says. “We don’t need another extreme chair or light. The world’s in a mess, but perhaps we can use design to pull us out of that. That’s what we’re trying to do with the foundation.”

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