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Steven Cox: the Cause+Affect behind Vancouver Pecha Kucha

I wrote down 'cause and effect' on a piece of paper,” says Cox. “But 'cause and effect' is just like action and reaction – so we changed it to 'cause and affect', which is action with a purpose.” VO's newest thing: Download the interview.

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Pecha Kucha is a hybrid of social and cultural events and alcohol: “thinking and drinking”.

Cox's pet peeve is that the branding of Vancouver is not focused on the city itself, even though Vancouver is more than just beautiful landscapes of ocean and mountains. Pecha Kucha helps loosen those boundaries. And Cox was the man to see that possibility.

At his office at Cause + Affect in Gastown, Cox is dressed simply, in a red plaid shirt and black “Downtown Eastside” T-shirt. A single copy of Kalle Lasn's Design Anarchy book lays like a giant brick on the shelf.

Easy-going and younger-looking than his 38 years, Cox – like his company – is impossible to pigeonhole. An architect by training, Cox made his name in design, branding, and strategic marketing.

“There are no boundaries to what you do. You’re not your job description,” says Cox. “I graduated with a masters in architecture, and I am a registered architect ... but I worked on music videos...designed restaurants, worked on museums.

“You just become a creative hub within a creative city.”

Cox was born in Winnipeg in a comfortable, upper-middle-class neighbourhood. His father was the Dean of Architecture at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, his mother a high school teacher. He was raised in a comfortable and stable environment at River Heights, a liberal stronghold in Manitoba.

His family history is noteworthy. His great-grandfather, Charles William Gordon, was a best-selling novelist and activist who published under the name Ralph Conner. According to Cox, his great-grandfather was one of the wealthiest men in Canada at the turn of the century, and also the founding minister of the United Church of Canada. But things changed for Cox's great-grandfather during the tumult of the First World War.

“He lost all his fortune during the war. He gave it to someone to put it in a land deal in the States, and things went south,” Cox explains. “He also lost his entire congregation's money, so he was later working and trying to pay people back.”

“I was a good kid,” Cox replies without missing a beat when asked what kind of a child he was.

He describes both parents as the “ultimate liberals” -- which is interesting, considering that his older sister is married to Hugh McFayden, the former Manitoba Progressive Conservatives leader who resigned earlier this month.

Cox can't recall a specific transformative “moment” in his life that altered his way of thinking, but refers to his growth as “one big, slow evolution”.

He says he grew up in a peaceful "bubble" until he went to university, entering the architecture department that was headed by his father.

In his second year, he met his life and business partner, Jane – a freshman design student who was a year younger than Cox. He describes her as “passionate,” “open” and “hot”, and right away, he says, she caught his attention.

“I had to chase her for about a year-and-a-half,” he recalls with a smile. “The last thing she was going to do was date the Dean's son. I think she said that to me quite literally.”

Cox insists that until that moment, he hadn't realized how influential his father was within Manitoba's architectural community.

“I thought nobody knew who the Dean was, but that was not the case ... my dad was actually very well known in the program,” he says. “It was not easy for me to be there with the other kids, and it did not go over that well with potential girlfriends.”

From an early stage, Steve and Jane lived and worked as a team. Jane completed her bachelor degree in Interior Design, while Steve went on to finish his Masters in architecture. One thing they both knew for certain was that they were going to leave Winnipeg for a larger urban setting, somewhere beyond Canadian borders.

“We decided we were going to somewhere,” Cox says. “New York, San Francisco, London ... London was booming at the time. The dot-com boom was just coming to Europe, and there was a lot of money there.”

With a list of just three people to call in London, the pair headed across the Atlantic in 1998. Starting off in a “classic horrible basement flat that had mould on the floor”, just a few blocks away from Arsenal's football stadium, both found themselves employed within two weeks. Jane found a job with U.S. interior design giant Gensler, while Steven worked with Canadian architect Alison Brooks.

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