Joseph Javier founded his own design firm when he was 21.
Culture Spotlight

Joseph Javier: "Good design is a powerful tool for nation building"

The architect believes that good design can bring about positive social change. And the School of Innovation founder also says that we should create our own parameters for what’s beautiful and proper.
Ankrizel Santos | Jun 28 2019

Growing up in a family of architects and engineers, Joseph “AJ” Javier has been exposed to design since he was a kid. “When there are family reunions, we would visit our uncles in their firms to explore the work around,” he recalls. 

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Javier started pursuing his own career in 1996 and, after passing the board exams, quickly established Javier Design Studio Manila (JDSM) when he was just 21. “Back then, the only future for you if you're an architect is to open a design firm,” he explains. “I would hire 27-year-olds, and I will have a difficult time managing them because they’re older than me. So madalas may mga arguments.” 

He uses his 23 years of experience in the industry to spread awareness that architecture can be a catalyst for positive social change. The architect advocates transformational design, which he describes as a purposeful and human-centered process promoting positive behavior modification. “I feel that design is a good platform. Transformational design is about changing the mindset and behaviors of society, family, and community. That’s essentially the message: design is a powerful tool for nation building,” he says. 

ANCX caught up with Javier at B+Abble 2019: A Series of Talks on Contemporary Arts and Design. There, he shares his love for J-pop, Boracay, and crabs, and how he thinks design can transform us all. 

Javier at B+Abble 2019.

You’re  one of the senior faculty, curriculum designer and industry consultants at College of St. Benilde. Have you always wanted to be a professor?

No, it was really an accident that I was there. A good friend invited me to teach as a hobby because we’re stressed at work. I discovered that maybe this was something that I like to do. Then they invited me to open and found the School of Innovation. That's how accidental it was. The plan was, after one year, okay na alis na ako. Little did I know that I would become a senior consultant of the program.

You pioneered BentaMobile Project. Can you tell us more about it?

It is a community activation project that uses design as an instrument of change. Benilde is embedded in Malate, where it’s a mixed community composed of everything from informal settlers to big institutions. The target is to improve the lives of street vendors without eradicating them. The BentaMobile will enable them to formalize their business, within the framework of local government and then expand their market reach through design. 

They can access students inside the buildings of Benilde and inside the offices around Taft Avenue. The design product is an app with a mobile cart and they will have runners. If you're a student and you want fishballs, or any food practically, all you need to do is open the app and order. The app will tell the vendor, then the runner will come and deliver. 

What can you say about the local design industry? 

I think there’s a lot of potential. It’s overlooked and it has been set aside as an article of luxury. That is my crusade—to make people see that it is an item of essence. For that to happen, amendments need to be made. Competitiveness is missing and there are a lot of obstacles that are getting in the way that needs to be addressed. We seem to reject Filipino things and prefer what is western. We need to avoid parroting the western parameter of what is beautiful and what is proper. If we let this happen, we will eventually become a theme park of other styles and other persuasions. We don't want that to happen. 

You’re always talking about how design can bring positive change. Can you talk about this more.

It is a viable instrument because we are a culture of feelings, and that’s where arts and designs reside. More than the function, there's this need to surround yourself with beautiful things so that you can become a better version of yourself. On that very simple basis, if the entire nation becomes a better version of itself, then the potential is there to be harnessed. And design can do that. Its objective is to surround yourself with efficient, beautiful things.

Let's talk about some of your favorites. Favorite place in the Philippines?

Boracay is my happy place. I made my happiest memories there. I’m very ambivalent on how Boracay has turned out to be right now, how clean and pristine it is. But my happiest memories happened when it was really dirty and noisy. I’m very happy to see this change though because I’ve seen Boracay deteriorate. I started visiting the island in 1996 and I never stopped visiting since then. It’s been an annual pilgrimage. If I am to retire, I will probably open a bed and breakfast there, or a cafĂ©. 

Favorite food? 

Spicy Singaporean crab. I forgot the exact name of the dish, basta anything with crab. That's really my favorite. When I'm stressed, I just call my friends and invite them to eat crabs. 

Favorite drink? 

I’m not much of a drinker, but I really like this drink at Agimat. It’s in a shell. It’s really good. 

Favorite clothing brand?

I don’t like shopping, so I just end up wearing what my hands get on the fastest. But if I’m forced to name one, probably Zara.

How do you destress?

Well, I have my music. I'm a musician. That's number one. I also have my regular fitness routine. I make sure to meet my friends at SPAM, which is a group of architects that can talk about anything. We ventilate, and weave our ambitions together. I also have plants and dogs.

What’s on your playlist?

On heavy rotation is the live album of Sting in Berlin. I'm a huge fan. I'm not too familiar with new music, but I’m a pluralist. I appreciate different genres, from hip-hop to classical. I listen to a lot of J-Pop, too. Somehow, I love it even if I don't understand the lyrics. I have come to love it so much that I even look for the translations. When I listen to music kasi, I pay attention to the melody more than the lyrics. 

What’s the last good book you’ve read? 

Design Unbound: Designing for Emergence in a White Water World, by Ann M. Pendleton-Jullian and John Seely Brown. 

Dream dinner guests?

On the same table—Donald Trump, Margaret Thatcher, Lee Kwan Yew, and Rodrigo Duterte.

What’s on your bucket list?

The home stay at the night market district of Marrakech, and to see the Aurora Borealis and the Aurora Australis. 

For more information, visit JDSM’s facebook page.