Turncoats New York: Buildings Don't Matter

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Turncoats New York: Buildings Don’t Matter

June 13, 2017 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm EDT


Cheeky UK Import Shakes Up New York’s Design Dialog

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.

Buildings Don’t Matter?

Great architects don’t make buildings, they make brands. From Aravena to Zaha, the power of images transcends the impact of built reality. Even the most globe-trotting paid critic will visit a fraction of the new buildings which form architecture’s cultural zeitgeist. Renderings are our barometer of taste, Instagram is our King Maker.

What: Turncoats New York Inaugural Debate

When: Tuesday, 13 June, 7:00-8:30pm

Where: Cooper Union, Frederick P. Rose Auditorium

41 Cooper Square, NYC


Anne Quito, Design Reporter,, Moderator; James Biber, Founder, Biber Architects; Matt Shaw, Senior Editor, The Architect’s Newspaper; Iben Falconer, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Columbia University GSAPP; Jesse Seegers, Associate Editor, Digital Projects, Columbia University GSAPP; and Hugh Scott Moncrieff, Student/Junior Architect, The Cooper Union for Advancement of Science and Art.

Robin Cloud, Comedian/Opening Act

Sponsored by The Architect’s Newspaper

More About Turncoats

Architecture debates are rubbish. We’ve all been there: a panel of similar people 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 free debates will rugby tackle six fundamental issues facing contemporary practice with a playful and combative format designed to ferment open and critical discussion, turning conventional consensus on its head.

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.



June 13, 2017
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm EDT
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Cooper Union Rose Auditorium
41 Cooper Square
New York, NY 10003 United States
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