• questions for Joe DAY

    Joe DAY.
    los angeles CALIFORNIA

    Joe DAY on his recent teaching, precedent as pretext, “entropy” as opiate, the cross-pollination of academia and practice, and much more.



    suckerPUNCH: Could you tell us a bit about the recent studios and seminars you have taught?

    Joe DAY: I taught a cinema-related studio and a seminar on contemporary art and architecture at Yale last spring. The cinema studio was sited in Los Angeles, and the most recent studio I taught at SCI-Arc was for a housing complex sited in the Bowery neighborhood of New York City, so both involved students trading East and West Coast frames of reference.

    sP: What positive and negative baggage do you see current students bringing to the table?

    JD: The students in my last few studios have been really sharp and thoughtful, and remarkably level and robust in their technical proficiency, but the economy casts a long shadow over their mood and prospects. Many seem worried about being able to pursue architecture as a career at all, much less via the rarefied offices, high starting salaries, and compelling projects that graduates closer to the millennium saw as entitlements.

    sP: What do you see as the role of precedent and history in architecture education today?

    JD: Same as it ever was: pretext. Actually, at SCI-Arc precedent is making something of a comeback (though we’ll likely keep History at bay). At Yale, the relevance of both is more of a given, and student projects sometimes proceed in the manner of a favored architect, but modes of digital investigation and generation are so prodigious that design in academia quickly eclipses its points of departure. And that’s great.

    sP: Are there any strange or interesting precedents you see students or professors putting into the mix lately?

    JD: The Whitney [Museum] is still everywhere. And I’m starting to see some Frank Lloyd Wright again (which I consider a marker, like the color purple, for a full fashion cycle). There’s a closer race between my favorite utopian citations: Archigram’s “Walking City” (a perennial frontrunner) is now trailed closely by Superstudio’s “Endless City,” and then by Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis’s “Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture.” I keep pulling for my favorite, Constant Nieuwenhuys’s “New Babylon.” From the dot-com era, students cite Greg Lynn and Preston Scott Cohen, but lionize François Roche. “Entropy” is an opiate.

    sP: What do you see as the role of (professional) practice in architecture education today?

    JD: Sadly, I think the study of professional practice in school is having to stand in for actual office experience for many students right now, who struggle to even land unpaid summer internships. Professional practice is an important component in architectural education, but I still suspect that most of the business of architecture and design is much easier to absorb in an office than it is to teach.

    That said, I encourage students to work for architects whose work they love, not architects who (necessarily) run good businesses. This isn’t just idealism—you can almost always step down the culture ladder later, but not always back up. Spend a couple years cookie cutting and it’s hard to remember the time, energy, and touch it takes to make a soufflé. At least, that’s what a hiring chef will assume.

    sP: How do you see your teaching influencing your practice?

    JD: A, maybe the, major factor is simply cross-pollination. I try to help my students develop a framework for their ambitions, and in return I always reap an incredible array of techniques, and questions, for reassessing and furthering my own point of view as a designer and theorist. Recently, a lot of that exchange involves the modeling of visual, perspectival, or “-scopic” relationships.

    sP: What significant differences do you see from when you were in school, either in the pedagogy of your generation compared to that of the generation above you or in topics of discussion?

    JD: Pedagogically, things are a few worlds away from the involuted discussions of the early ’90s. Globalization, the digital turn, 3-D printing and scripting, 9/11, Occupy . . . Clinton, Bush, Obama. I’m not going to sink to a platitude about how, as much as things change, they stay the same. They don’t. Architecture is a far more potent cultural force now than when I was in school, but so are a lot of other products and disciplines.

    sP: Are there any weaknesses or tendencies at schools today that you would like to see shift, or anything you hope comes into focus in the near future?

    JD: If the field has changed, the schools and their graduates seem to be reverting to type. Columbia and Princeton grads still fill faculty rosters, and in Los Angeles the practices pulling out of the recession fastest are Harvard-led: Michael Maltzan, Johnstone Marklee, and Neil Denari.

    Right now, both Yale and UPenn (University of Pennsylvania) both seem strong in ways that echo their salience 30 to 40 years ago, when they were the schools defining American vanguard practice: American postmodernism as opposed to European modernism then; American postmillennial explorations as opposed to global, millennial generalities now.

    But the momentum is on the West Coast and has been for a while. L.A. has more (and better) architecture schools than the whole of New England, and three of the top five art schools as well. Entertainment is one of the few growth industries in the US, driving everything from fashion to software development—and they’re adventuresome clients. So come west, but go away first. My best students in the last few years have been from the Midwest and the Middle East: Illinois and Ohio, Turkey and Egypt. Young Americans really need to get out more, and at least those from flyover country know it.



    [Deegan Day Design LLC]

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    • Ryan Says:

      Yea, let’s all work for architects whose work we like and travel the world while were at it. Another out of touch, condescending, and aloof academic.

    • joe day Says:

      Sorry, Ryan. I was asked questions about teaching, and flattered to be asked.

      I’ll grant you “aloof” and “condescending” (and prove your point by pointing out that it’s slightly redundant to call someone both), but think “out of touch” and, actually, “academic” are a stretch.

      I don’t teach that much, and it took me 15 years to finish a book, Corrections & Collections: Architectures for Art and Crime, which has a lot to do with what is and isn’t Ivory Tower, and why. (And I’ll cop to some cynicism in replying to yours in part to plug C&C – it was a long time coming.)

      My advice wasn’t out of thin air. When I teach, I ask my students what they want to do, and a lot of them want to see more of the world and do interesting work, neither of which seems misguided to me, if certainly harder options to secure these days. Boom-year graduates between 1997-2007 would have taken both opportunities as rather modest givens, but they were entering a much easier world, with less extortionate loans to pay back. It seems.

      I’m replying mostly because your dismissal of those goals as hopelessly unattainable, and what I take to be the anger and frustration behind it, sound pretty familiar. I finished college in 1990, into the trough of a recession, and grad school in ’94, not realizing what was about to happen to the field and the economy. We killed a lot of time lamenting how insignificant architecture had become and how meager our prospects were. We collaborated with friends on small projects and tried to land teaching jobs – which rarely went to recent grads before the digital turn – to bide time.

      I like the life that’s led to, but my braver contemporaries went where there was work happening – in Asia and Europe mostly – or spent the lull figuring out how computers were going to alter the field. My friends and I presumed that we were a lost generation, but in hindsight there were options I missed by not seeing enough of the world, and not knocking hard on the doors of architects whose work I was intimidated by. So I’ll stand by my advice, as I regret not taking it more myself in my 20s and 30s.

      Hope things are working out for you, one way or the other. May I ask, what/who does ring true for you these days?

    • ken Says:

      If anything, Mr. Day’s sympathy towards students and recent grads in the current economy shows his understanding of the situation.

      His advice on working for someone whose work one admires, although not always possible to everyone, is valid advice for students nevertheless. Sadly and obviously, it is not always possible because working at offices with widely admired works tend to not be financially viable route for many—big industry-wide problem, I’d say. Otherwise, a young student/recent grad is generally the most able to absorb knowledge/skills and weather through the environment—difficult to absorb after going through different kind of firms. Hence, I believe he brought up the soufflé simile.

      On the academic side, its problematic that many professors advocate free (and illegal) labor—which, mixed with the “cup half empty” nature of academic critiques and training—seasons students to undervalue their work, both mentally and financially. This has a ripple effect throughout the industry, as the industry as a whole undervalues itself from the bottom up.

    • Melissa Says:

      I really enjoyed the interview and the comment. I wish the interview would have been longer.

    • quirkdee Says:

      Dear Ryan,

      The lonely only make more loneliness. The years I have come through this field place idea theory wrapped in architecture I have found it to be humbling yet rewarding. I find it as a mind altering tissue to bend a lot of the knowledge that I swallow harness loose fall down the hill.

      The work world is something. The academia is another. Architecture is an idea that can dwindle down into design slip through film tumble into science and end up on your plate for breakfast. If this is not the case, the architecture is hibernating for you. Wake it up!

      A breath of fresh air is always great in pollution.

      Joe you are quite a fellow. And have my attention.


      P.S. First names are like pennys. No one uses them. But we don’t throw them in the trash. Mind the name BRO!