Football Farming, Conceptual Cities, Robots, Tattoos, and an Architectural Critique of Dualism: Highlights From Pecha Kucha

Last night at the Wyly Theater, I experienced my first Pecha Kucha, the event imported around the world from Tokyo whose name comes from the Japanese for “chit-chat.” The idea is simple: presenters speak with the support of twenty slides, each slide remaining on screen for twenty seconds. This means a night of rapid-paced presentations, each lasting a little over six minutes, offering a smorgasbord of ideas, concepts, biographies, stories, and, for the first time since the Dallas edition launched, a little music.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the night, especially given how diverse the program was. By the “beer break” intermission that split the evening, my head was spinning. Pecha Kucha manages to jam a dense concoction of ideas and inspirations into a single night. It feels like intellectual speed dating, and by the end of the evening I had all-out crushes on many of the presentations and presenters. But like a night of first dates, the end of the evening left me with a melancholic feeling: where do we go from here?

After the jump, a little information on the presenters that I would ask on a second date.

Elizabeth Wattley – Food For Good Farm

I think everyone in the Wyly Theater was ready to jump in their car and head to Paul Quinn College after Elizabeth Wattley’s presentation. That’s where the professor and community activist has spearheaded an effort to transform the school’s football field into an organic farm. Although it only started in May, the farm, which is tended to by students as part of a social entrepreneurship class, has produced over a 1000 pounds of food, providing healthy eats to the cafeteria, area restaurants, and food banks. The initiative began because Wattley was dissatisfied with the grocery store and restaurant offerings in the Highland Hills neighborhood of Oak Cliff. In short, this idea needs to be replicated 1000 times in the region.

Mark Gunderson – Architect

Mark Gunderson’s presentation was the kind you wish you got a transcript of on the way out. It was a dense meditation on the nature of architecture as an extension of the dualistic relationships that arise from the structures of human language and reason. Racing through a history of the built form – from prehistoric huts via Brunelleschi’s Duomo in Florence to Frank Lloyd Wright – it was Gunderson’s final slide the served as the intellectual tease of the evening, briefly hinting at a new language for describing space and form that allows our conception of the built environment to correspond more closely to natural organic forms. What a flirt.

Jessie Zarazaga – Landscape Urbanist and Architect

Zarazaga’s presentation demanded a Q&A session. The urban theorist and architect is currently studying on a Fulbright grant in Chile where she is involved with the Catholic University of Valparaiso’s urban project called “The Open City.” I’m not going to do a good job explaining what exactly The Open City is, but from what I gathered, it is a project built in the dunes in between the Pacific Ocean and some coastal mountains that tries to rethink architectural forms and how they relate with the shape and structure of the natural landscape. In addition to architects and planners, the project enlists poets who articulate and contribute to the shaping of the built environment through language. Zarazaga said this work is helping her rethink how to approach the landscape in Dallas, but, unfortunately, she didn’t have time to get into specifics. I want to know more.

Steve Rainwater – Geek

The most ingenious visual of the night was a circle graphic that self-proclaimed geek Steve Rainwater put on screen depicting three large, intersecting circles. I can’t remember exactly how the circles were labeled, but it was something along the lines of “intelligence,” “social inadequacy,” and “obsession.” The zones where the circles intersected were labeled “geek,” “nerd,” “dweeb,” “dork,” etc. For example, a geek is someone who is both intelligent and obsessed. A dweeb is a social misfit and obsessed. Hilarious stuff, but it was there to illustrate the growing vibrancy in a community of local dorks, dweebs, nerds, and geeks who are seeking to form a “hackerspace,” to give them a place to practice their non-commercial technical wizardry – anything from making robots, to restoring vintage cameras and flying kites with digital cameras. “Dallas needs to become more weird,” Rainwater argued, and I’m now convinced that that should become the next mayor’s number one priority.

Other highlights: Bill Holston made us all cry with his stories about working with immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. Rawlins Gilliland made us all laugh with his brilliant recounting of his reluctant foodie childhood. Cathey Miller is a super woman from another planet. And Bruce Lee Webb made Waxahachie my next weekend destination so I can visit his gallery where he sells the rare folk wares he finds on his many road trips through the Deep South.