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.