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Turncoats is a series of punchy debates that aims to turn the typical architectural discussion format on its head. Founded on the premise that mainstream architectural discourse is often so boringly well-mannered as to be “like watching dog owners compliment each other’s pooches,” Turncoats aims to ditch the platitudes and archi-jargon for a punchy, playful and provocative exchange of ideas that allows people to speak more freely and take more risks. Conceived in London and operating now in multiple cities, Turncoats New York launches with a bang on 13 June, addressing the topic Buildings Don’t Matter.
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Each debate is framed around a theme encapsulated in a polemical opening statement, meant not to express the views of the debate hosts but purely to spark conversation. Turncoats is about creating an atmosphere where critical issues are confronted in a way that is permissive, effective and fun. It is an experiment in how the profession debates key issues, bringing together leading figures from the field and beyond, who are often asked to argue a viewpoint they don’t hold. To create an off-the-record atmosphere where anything goes, the event is not recorded, and attendees are asked to seal their phones away in specially provided envelopes upon arrival.
The evening begins with an opening act, comedian Robin Cloud, to help loosen the crowd and create a buoyant atmosphere. Further signaling that Turncoats is about playful provocation, every debate kicks off with the panel taking a communal shot of vodka with the lights off (a proverbial “shot in the dark”). Each speaker then has 3-5 minutes to state their opening argument before the moderator facilitates the debate. Once the speakers have had a chance to bat their ideas around, the audience is encouraged to provoke further discussion. The debate ends with each speaker playing devil’s advocate by presenting a 2-minute closing argument for the opposition.
Turncoats was conceived in London by Architecture Foundation deputy director Phineas Harper, former director of Studio Weave Maria Smith and Robert Mull, former dean of the Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture, and Design.