San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Pecha Kucha Design Showcase Hits San José

Simple ideas have always been the best, and Pecha Kucha, a Tokyo-originated design showcase with a twist, has certainly proven this true. The event has spread like a virus through 60 cities and counting, and last Thursday San José was the latest to catch the bug.

Its simplicity is in the format, for which the event’s authors, Tokyo-based architects Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, created a quick and spunky style. Each presenter has 20 slides and 20 seconds to show each one.

That’s just six minutes and 40 seconds to get your point across. It’s a win-win situation. If the presentation is great, everybody has fun and is inspired. If it’s awful, well, it’s just six minutes until the next one.

The success of the Tokyo functions proved there was a need for a space for designers, or anybody with an idea really, to show and discuss their work. San José is no different. A staggering 350 people showed up to the event’s debut in Costa Rica at the newly opened Rapsodia bar on Paseo Colón, and they were treated to an eclectic mix of 15 presenters showing work ranging from ecofriendly house designs to a photographic exploration of the human body and relationships.

Architect Javier Salinas played with the Pecha Kucha concept by flashing hundreds of visuals at rapid-fire speed, with music to match the pace, stopping only occasionally to give an explanation. Diego Vargas showed his electronic art that made you feel you could jump right in. Jewelry designer Julieta Odio presented her intriguing ring collection, while Oliver Schutte and Marije Van Lidth de Jeude combined an architectural and anthropological view of San José over a decade.

“It was very successful for a first time,” said Mauricio Herrera, the organizer of the event, a Costa Rican architect recently back from a five-year stint in Tokyo. “The country needs to open up to a different type of thinking that runs against the establishment, where only certain figures or artists pop out, as opposed to the potential that flexibility brings.”

So how did it all begin?

In 2003, Klein and Dytham noticed more and more young talent stopping by their Tokyo studio just to brainstorm or test out ideas, and it got them wondering why, in that vast city, there was nowhere for young designers to show their work. You had to be either famous or rich with a backlog of work to be able to rent out a gallery. It just didn’t seem right when there were so many motivated people. Having just opened up a new bar in the city, the British and Italian-German duo decided that they would provide the space; at the very least they figured it might bring a few people to their bar. But how would designers present their work? No one’s idea of a fun night out was watching someone drone on for hours. Architects are the worst for microphone hogging, Dytham is the first to admit.

Klein and Dytham decided they needed a fast-paced, to-the-point approach for the presentations, and came up with the 20 x 20 format. More designers would be able to present if each presentation was short, and more people would want to come and listen. Anyone could speak, inexperienced or famous; the point was to mix it all up.

And the name? Pecha kucha means chitchat in Japanese, which is what the event is all about: design for everyone to discuss.

“The surprising thing is the different types of people who came to the event,” said Odio, the jewelry designer, of the May 10 event.

“Normally these people don’t mix, and we need to, to get ideas from each other.”

Today, as many as 1,000 people turn out to support the event in cities from Bogotá to Beijing, and apparently more than 100 cities are preparing to join in the fun. It’s put punk into presentations and design culture in general, by giving everyone the chance to express their ideas on a level playing field. At a time when the Internet seems to be the only space that promises equality and a breakdown in hierarchies, Pecha Kucha is bringing the real and physical back to networking and socializing. People are coming back out from behind their screens and e-friends.

“When we format the images for a Pecha Kucha Night, without the person presenting them live they are so dead and flat,”Dytham said in an e-mail from Tokyo. “But when the presenters stand up – whether pumped up, nervous, hilarious, entertaining – the work comes to life. This is compounded by standing in a room with a drink in hand (there are no seats), chatting to your friends, heckling or picking up the person next to you. This makes the work real, makes it come alive, just like in real life. This is a real social network.”

Dytham, whose day job is designing imaginative buildings with Klein as Klein Dytham Architecture (KDa) – they organize Pecha Kucha for love – said he is happy to see the event arrive in San José. At one of the Tokyo nights, he showed his photos from his trip to Costa Rica for an architecture conference in 2003. The presentation was a huge hit with the audience, who got to see Costa Rica from an architect’s eyes, and their host swinging through the rain forest thousands of miles away in an amusing helmet.

The San José crowd seemed to love the event, and organizers say it’s here to stay. For information on the next event, check out the San José Pecha Kucha Web site at For the main Web page, see


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