Joe Day (on the left)

We checked in with Joe Day, the principal of deegan-day design llc, a practice based in Los Angeles. Joe Day is one of the creative directors and curator for the Tokyo/LA Houses: Micro-Environments for Mega-Cities, an exhibition of forty new homes by Japanese and Californian design practices that explore new efficiencies of scale, construction and reduced ecological impact.

The display is taking place at Little Tokyo Design Week. Be sure to pick up a program/map and head to to the southern group of pods at the plaza of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACC). You will find the Tokyo/LA Houses Exhibition at pods 14 and 15.

Joe Day, an accomplished architect and a thoughtful voice in the field of design, is also part of the faculty at SCI-Arc. He will be moderating, Environment in the Future City, a symposium taking place this Sunday as the Design Week. Here is the brief exchange we had right before launch of the exhibit.


Tony Trinh: This is a very timely and topical symposium, one facet of the festival promises to touch upon where our contemporary culture is headed, “Future City”. This is always an interesting discussion because it is a subject that is endlessly contemporaneous. Little Tokyo Design Week will also act as an exhibition where an ideas exchange will happen between design, technology, art and pop culture. Then there is this discourse taking place between the contrasting sociological and architectural environs of Los Angeles and the city of Tokyo. In light of the shocking and devastating disasters in Japan (Hitoshi Abe has said that LTDW was planned before the earthquakes happened), it has bumped up the relevance and importance of this exhibition week. Would you begin by going into how the curation of the festival began and how the recent events in Japan have affected and influenced LTDW?

Joe Day: You’re asking an intriguing question in terms of the thematics of the Design Week, and our LA/Tokyo House exhibit in particular, and the natural catastrophes in Japan.

The earthquake and tsunami struck about three or four months after we had started talking with Hitoshi and Baba-san about the House show, so we were pretty far into it. I wondered how it would impact the Design Week, and, after checking to make sure that everyone involved was okay, we talked about it at the next directors’ meeting. To my surprise, the consensus from the Japanese participants was that all plans for the Design Week should go on with minimal modification. There was a general sense that maintaining targets and expectations would good for morale and focus, and we’ve abided by that since.

Hitoshi has made some important changes that pull those events in to the overall scheme of the Design Week, highlighting the Diawa House emergency shelter prototype, and organizing a symposium around response technologies. For our part, the models in the ‘LA/Tokyo Houses’ show will be auctioned during the final two days of the Design Week to benefit Archi+Aid.

No doubt, many of the Pecha Kucha participants will allude to Japan’s trauma – I think it’s the first question anyone would bring to this event – but the disasters have not been allowed to trump the entire Design Week. At first I wondered if we were suppressing the immediacy and enormity of the catastrophes by not making them more focal, but I now see a more subtle and persuasive argument being made: Japan’s is an astoundingly capable and responsive society, but this is because its ingenuity and discipline are constant, not crisis-driven. Many of the innovations showcased in the Design Week will aid in the Japanese recovery effort, but the vast majority of them, like the Daiwa House, were planned without those events on the horizon – they are simply the product of ever-better design for living, and an ever-more expansive view of how things can be re-thought and improved.

I think that’s a philosophical position that has really positive implications not only for disaster relief, but for broader urban, global and ecological questions as well.

Tony Trinh: The world kind of realized how prepared the Japanese were, even under catastrophic conditions; a testament to the existing infrastructure and the culture of the people. “…its ingenuity and discipline are constant, not crisis-driven.” I think this attitude and ethos is key. “We” are saying, “Okay, this has happened and we must deal with it and move forward.” Not only does this put everything in the light of progress and forward thinking, it is also very hopeful.

You mentioned Daiwa House’s EDV-01 Disaster Emergency Mobile Support Unit. This strategy for disaster response promises to be a smart and detailed one, a potential application that seems to be well thought out. Future City is a core theme throughout the festival and we are talking about this notion of progress, I am wondering how far will LA/Tokyo House comment on possible future typologies for living? EDV-01 is an efficient answer that is on the pragmatic end of the spectrum. We live in a chaotic time when it comes to the environment and the economy, today’s architect is asked to be more disciplined, pragmatic, less naive. They’re asked to be prescient. I hope I am not projecting value systems onto the architect. Will we see any “grandiose” future designs? Say, Jacque Fresco-esque constructs. What kind of range will we witness from the pragmatic to the fantastic at LA/Tokyo House and LTDW?

Daiwa House EDV-01 Disaster Emergency Mobile Support Unit

Joe Day: On your last, regarding a Future either Pragmatic or Fantastic, I think we’ll see a lot of both in the Design Week, but our Tokyo/LA House show conjugates one in terms of the other. By that, I mean that the houses tend to either distill certain domestic fantasies into oddly workable form, or take a practical consideration or convention and amplify it to some fantastic degree.  Each project reconciles domestic and urban geometries, and I think the show highlights houses that pose those polarities of scale in stark and unprecedented ways.

As the projects come in, I’ve also been struck by how many of the Japanese projects develop from a radical abstraction of ritual as much as form, while most of the US projects foreground an architectonic challenge while maintaining a normative distribution of  residential spaces and expectations. Not that the California entries are McMansions – many, esp. the additions, are incredibly succinct – but I can’t imagine how an American realtor would assess a lot of the Tokyo houses. The distance between societal expectations seems far greater than the gaps between design sensibilities right now.

observers in Container 15

model by XTEN Architecture in Container 15

model by IDEA Office in Container 14

model by IDEA Office in Container 14

model by Daly Genik Architects in Container 14

presentation by deegan day design llc in Container 14


model by deegan day design llc in Container 14

images of house by deegan day design llc in Container 14

model by Jones, Partners: Architecture in Container 14

Russell Thomsen from IDEA Office observes the exhibit in Container 14

LA Houses: Joe Day Interview Thread