April 2, 2016

Turncoats: a New Debate on Architecture in Vancouver

Last night I attended the first Turncoats event in Vancouver (and saw a few of the Price Tags community there) – the first of what I hope to be many. For those unfamiliar with the Turncoats format (which included most people in the room last night), it was inspired by a series of events in London where a panel of four take two sides (two people per side) of a ‘fundamental issue facing contemporary (architecture) practice’. That said, the real intent of the format is to provoke a playful but combative debate and discussion, something many feel is missing in today’s Vancouver. To that end, no recording, tweeting, or other social media-ing is allowed to permit the participants full scope to speak freely without consequence (we all need to have a discussion in Vancouver about the state of discussion and dialogue – are we able to be critical in today’s city?).

Vancouver’s Architectural debates are rubbish.
We’ve all been there: a panel of similar designers with similar views taking it in turns to talk at length about their similar work – too polite, too deferential, too dull. At best they are lukewarm love-ins, critically impotent, elitist and stuffy. Turncoats is a shot in the arm. Framed by theatrically provocative opening gambits, a series of debates will rugby tackle fundamental issues facing contemporary practice with a playful and combative format designed to foment open and critical discussion, turning conventional consensus on its head.
– from the Turncoats website

Following a profoundly funny introduction on the importance of unimportance (I think?), there was a feisty debate on the question of originality versus style. Key arguments included the impossibility of originality (we live in a culture and context that situate even the most brazen attempts for true novelty will be seen, in time, as part of a distinctive style) and the primacy of process over iterative style as key to problem-solving and authenticity. The panel was exemplary: Clinton Cuddington of Measured Architecture, Fernanda Hannah of Monzu and Hannah Design, Javier Campos of Campos Studio (and President of Heritage Vancouver), and Alicia Media Laddaga of the Laboratory of Housing Alternatives and  Marianne Amodio Architectural Studio (one of my most favourite design firms). Kudos to the organizing team of Tony Osborn and Kees Lokman, not only for making Turncoats happen (the first export of the format outside of London), but for choosing a panel of folks beyond the ‘usual suspects’ but all sharp, smart, witty and insightful.
In the end, it was one of those events that reaffirms my optimism about Vancouver. There is a tremendous bounty of smart and engaged young(ish) people ready and willing to take on the difficult debates we need to have to advance our city forward. All we need are the right platforms and opportunities to have those debates and discussions. Turncoats can be one of them and I both look forward to the next iteration and recommend all Price Tags readers to check it out (I found out about the event through the also wonderful Urbanarium).

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  1. I shall go next time.
    Very British, the debate style of folks taking a side each. It is part of the average high school training in the UK. Unlike Canada where conflict is usually avoided and consensus is sought.
    Hence I feel this blog here is very relevant as only a multitude of conflicting or opposing opinions can educate folks rather than always agreeing.
    Please see my commentaries in this light ! Academia and civil servants especially have lost their ability to speak their mind and/or free speech in Canada due to far too much political correctness and group think.
    Humans are a diverse lot, with diverse educations, diverse wealth, diverse languages, fierce cultural practices, diverse preferences, diverse backgrounds and diverse belief systems that all must work together as we all live together in one city ( MetroVan in this case ).
    One size indeed does not fit all !

    1. “The Canadian Student Debating Federation is the umbrella organization for student debate at the high school level in Canada. We sponsor the annual National Student Debating Seminar, promote debate throughout the country, and tie the various provincial debate organizations together in a national community.”

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