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Q and A with John Nourbakhsh and Toby Witte

by Mark Peres

December 6,2007

Tell us about Dialect Night.

Dialect Night is a place and time where people with artistic, political and social views vent. All kinds of people from all walks of life gather to talk and share ideas and ask questions. It’s open to everyone. Sometimes over 100 people will connect. We meet the second Friday of every month in our studio-gallery space in No Da. There is plenty of wine that lubricates the discussion. We provide a little bit of programming to make it happen, but not too much to make it boring. We have prominent and aspiring artists who present, and from there everyone gets into it with questions and conversation. This month, on December 14th, Linda Brown, a former artist at the McColl Center for the Visual Arts, will share her abstract paintings, inviting critical feedback from those in the gallery. Many of the artists who have presented have told us that they consider Dialect Night a life line – that there is no other venue where they can present art that might be politically charged or non-commercial and share it with an actively engaged and curious audience.

You two always appear together. Why?

When we collaborate, the sum is always greater than the parts. We do a better job and think more critically when we are together, and that has become a pattern. It is how we do our work and how we run and promote our business. If you come to our studio, you’ll see that we share one table at work. We are on opposite sides facing each other. Our work product is in between. Through this dialectic approach Dialect has become an entity on its own with its own persona.

How did you two connect?

We came from different occupations and parts of the world, and met at the UNCC College of Architecture. (John is from Iran and Toby is from Germany). We were similar in that we overcame cultural and life changing issues, and we shared the same design sensibility. We worked on as many projects as we could together at UNCC, and there was a natural progression to launching our own firm. We started Dialect while we were still at UNCC.

What is your design sensibility?

We don’t like to take anything at face value. Conventional thinking about space, structure and use is not sacred to us. We look at the situation in terms of client needs, challenges and issues, and from there we try to leave behind preconceived notions and social precepts and think unencumbered. The greatest solution doesn’t always show itself until we get past convention and our own preconceptions. We strive to redefine and expand how to build and how to create multifunctional spaces.

How do you manage to make that work?

We have to be somewhat romantic about our ideals. Builders and architects like everyone else measure success by monetizing results. We try to shed ourselves of status symbols and to redefine what the discipline of architecture and building considers success. We concentrate on our power to change the physical environment and create beautiful surroundings. Art and function do not have to be diametrically opposed.

What are you working on?

One project is a modern residence that is in the preliminary design stage. It is a 900 square foot jewel box of a home in which the space can switch and change by opening and closing doors and panels. The flexibility allows you to reallocate space for different uses. Space can be either autonomous or integrated. A bedroom or a bathroom can give itself back to a living space. We are also applying a sensible approach to age-old building techniques, such as passive solar gain, airflow, alternative building materials and the right insulation – all aspects that inform the design of the house and render it “green” before applying new technologies.

Who is your ideal client?

Our ideal clients are those who demand the same from space as they do from their technology. They appreciate the amount of energy and thought that goes into creating space that is useful and efficient.

Both of you have international backgrounds. Why Charlotte?

Charlotte is an infant city that allows us to be involved on a grassroots basis in the cultivation of culture. We can spearhead something and be part of the solution. The city allows us to be imbued in the cultivation of the arts as opposed to being on the fringe of it. Charlotte is somewhat of a melting pot. People who move here want to change things for themselves and the city. There’s a lot of positive energy here. People are hungry and just about willing to do anything to make something happen. What we do can reverberate instantly.

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