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Pecha Kucha

Klein Dytham's Billboard Building in Tokyo—just 36 feet long, two stories high and a little over eight feet wide.

The Pecha Kucha (Japanese for “chit chat”) craze is spreading. Originating in Tokyo, Japan, and spreading from Shanghai, China to Los Angeles, young architects and designers come together to showcase their work in a unique manner: Each person presents only 20 slides, and each slide is presented for only 20 seconds. The latest Pecha Kucha in London drew more than 1,000 people. New York City will hold its first very own Pecha Kucha on Wednesday, September 20.

No worrying, however, over missing New York’s Pecha Kucha. Mark Dytham, one of the co-visionaries of Pecha Kucha and co-founder of Klein Dytham architecture, will be coming to Buffalo.

Mark Dytham, along with Astrid Klein, studied architecture in the UK at the Royal College of Art. A three-month trip to Japan in 1988 prompted both to stay in Tokyo. In 1991, they established their practice and have since intertwined their fanciful vision within Tokyo’s extreme and bustling culture and cityscape. Their practice continually thrives off the energy, the consumerism and the kitsch of Tokyo.

Klein Dytham architecture’s approach consistently reinvents everyday materials within everyday spaces. One example is the Green Green Screen, an approximately 900-foot construction screen made of 13 different types of living plants in intricate patterns. Started in 2003, the screen, located in Omotesando, Tokyo, is shielding the view of construction and development of Tadao Ando’s mixed-use apartments.

In sharp contrast to the chipboard boarding used to traditionally hide construction, the Green Green Screen is an elegant metaphor to the growth of a building. In an interview by Alex Wiltshire in the magazine ICON, Dytham describes the plants in relation to the seasons: “It dies in the winter, gets green in the spring…everybody enjoys it and talks about it.”

This beautiful simplicity of the Green Green Screen is also evident in Klein Dytham’s Billboard Building. Completed in 2005, the building is tiny, even for Tokyo, a city where no nooks and crannies are left untouched. The building is approximately 36 feet long, two stories high and a little over eight feet wide on one side that then tapers to a point. The project is what Tokyo-based architect Toshiharu Tsukamoto refers to as “pet architecture.”

The building faces a well-trafficked road. Combined with the building’s slim nature, the façade was conceived of as an “inhabitable billboard.” Playing with the relationship between façade and image, a bamboo forest was translated to the building. The billboard transitions from a sheer white finish on one half to a bamboo print on the other half. By day, the bamboo forest shades the structure and by night the interior illuminates and animates the façade.

A wedding takes place in the firm's Leaf Chapel, in Kobuchizawa.

The Leaf Chapel is one of the firm’s most recent and fanciful projects. The Leaf Chapel, a wedding chapel, floats on the grounds of Risonare hotel resort in Kobuchizawa, a beautiful green setting with views of southern Japanese Alps, Yatsugatuke peaks and Mt. Fuji.

The chapel is formed by two leaves, one glass and one steel. The steel leaf is timed to lift at the moment when the groom lifts the bride’s veil. This exaggerated sentimental gesture is balanced by the breathtaking details of the leaves themselves. The steel leaf, weighing 11 tons, lifts silently in one motion and reveals the natural backdrop. The steel leaf, perforated with 4,700 holes in a floral pattern, creates beautiful natural lighting inside and also glows elegantly at night.

For more than a decade now, Klein and Dytham have created their own niche in Tokyo. Yet cultural differences still cast Klein and Dytham as outsiders. In the interview by Wiltshire, Dytham pinpoints the differences in culture: “I was definitely the odd one out, and in a way we blithely expose it. The carefully crafted image of Japanese designers is slowly breaking down but they still won’t be quite as open with the commercial side, the manga, the kitsch—the stuff we thrive on.”

Still, Klein and Dytham have brought a little of English culture to Japan. SuperDeluxe, an extension of Klein Dytham’s main office Deluxe, is an arts and performance space. The space, named by Time magazine as one of the best arts spaces in Asia, holds different events and transforms into a gallery, a bar, a kitchen, a jazz club and more. As Klein reveals in the Wiltshire’s interview, “If you can’t categorize it then SuperDeluxe will have it.”

In a lecture at Kuwasawa Design School in Japan, Dytham revealed another, broader use of SuperDeluxe: “We wanted to create a place that had something of a London art school, with creative people from all kinds of genres meeting and exchanging. On our Web site it says, ‘Thinking, drinking people.’ Well, first comes the thinking, then the drinking!”

Mark Dytham’s lecture is hosted by the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning and will be at 4:30pm on UB South Campus in Crosby Hall Room 301.

Design Matters is presented in association with the UB School of Architecture and Planning and supported by a fellowship endowed by Polis Realty.