This week I had the great pleasure of meeting Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, the most celebrated foreign architects in Tokyo and founders of Pecha Kucha, a monthly public get-together where young designers from every field are invited to present 20 slides for 20 seconds each (a total of 6 minutes, 40 seconds). Pecha Kucha is now in 198 cities around the world, and KDa architecture has just celebrated its 20th anniversary with a retrospective at Gallery Ma in Roppongi.
Klein and Dytham’s office is on the second floor of a low-slung 1960s office with a terrazzo stairwell and unremarkable exterior. From the outside, it could hardly be further from the playful and modern buildings and interiors that they create for their clients.
Their work as designers and community-builders is very inspiring for me. Klein and Dytham through boom and malaise have made a success in Tokyo by both adapting to local culture and being outsiders who use displacement to their advantage. Their work includes ordinary objects in unexpected contexts: the circular mirror on a stick at small intersections is repurposed as a delightful viewing mechanism for a top of Roppongi Hills museum cafe, and they used the garish, dancing light sign posts favored by soba and massage shops to frame photos of their work at the retrospective. I also like how they fit bold designs in cramped urban spaces overloaded with conbinis (convenience stores) and other clutter.
Their philosophy centers on fun, delight and feeling alive. They have done some interesting green projects in the past, including a temporary green wall in the early 00s outside of Ando Tadao’s Omotesando Hills. I think their work would be a great fit with the green design of Tase Michio, who also conveys a sense of being alive by surrounding human life with an exuberance of plant, animal and soil life.
One thing Astrid told me sticks with me. She admires the nonchalance of Tokyo people doing cool things and making things without remark or requesting recognition. So do I.