John Cays SIGGRAPH Member Profile

Member Profile: John Cays

1. What do you do, and how long have you been doing it?

I have served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at NJIT’s Hillier College of Architecture and Design for 16 years and,for the last two years, Ihave been directly overseeing the programs for Digital, Industrial, and Interior Design as Interim Director for our School of Art + Design. For 10 years before that I was a practicing Architect and Interior Designer in NYC.

2. What was your first job?

I earned my first dollaras a kidbussing tables at a restaurant in the Pocono Mountains. I also worked with my father who was an excavating contractor. In addition to teaching me how to run a D8 bulldozer, he encouraged me to understand the built environment through working in a wide array of building trades when I was growing up. It was hard work and there were very long days but I always had something to show for it at the end.

3. Where did you complete your formal education?

I did my undergraduate work at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia where I studied Fine Arts and Architecture. I completed a terminal Master of Architecture degree at Princeton University.

4. How did you first get involved with ACM SIGGRAPH?

I started by attending conferences in 2013 on the invitation of my friend and colleague Glenn Goldman. I found the breadth of events and topics covered completely mind blowing and the people at SIGGRAPH to be super interesting. Eventually, I found my “birds of a feather” in the Education Committee. I will always be grateful to Ginger Alford for such a warm and welcoming invitation to join such a dedicated and creative flock.

5. What is your favorite memory of a SIGGRAPH conference?

So many incredible creative and technical insights from the community to count. One standout memory though was the opportunity to draw a live giraffe named “Tiny” inside the conference center at LA Live in 2017. They were life drawing sessions that matched the grand scale and spirit of SIGGRAPH and, at the same time, invited us all to slow down and concentrate for an hour or two in the midst of the sensory and intellectual overload that is the annual conference. I admire how this community unapologetically sits at the nexus of the creative arts and cutting edge computational technology that augments and amplifies human creativity.

6. Describe a project that you would like to share with the ACM SIGGRAPH community.

I have great faith that, on balance, technology does more good than harm and that our tools and systems can provide insight to guide our actions. I’d like to expand the work I am currently doing in the area of better connecting geometric modeling data with non-geometric environmental impact data. I think digital tools and the design workflows they support can be enlisted to improve design judgement in real-time. Accelerating design insight has real world implications as a powerful practical step to a healthier environment.

Live information fromgrowing life cycle inventory databases, describing environmental impact profiles of a wide range of materials, can stream intothe material libraries that feed emerging design collaboration platforms. Pixar’s USD language and NVIDIA’s Omniverse, combined with VR design visualization tools like Enscape, for instance, have the potential to provide designers nearly instant feedback on aspects of design alternatives that go far beyond the way things appear. When non-geometric data is automatically ingested and woven into the larger model, the relative physical benefit or harm that a design decision can have across an array of formal environmental impact categories become obvious. I would love to work with even more people who can appreciate how fully automating these computational and visualization techniques can directly help to heal our shared physical world.

7. If you could have dinner with one living or non-living person, who would it be and why?

I would choose Rudolf Clausius. Beyond discussing his formal thermodynamic foundations to modern cosmology that I find oddly reassuring, I would love to hear his thoughts on today’s world, the variety of technological advancements, and even some of the problems that are fundamentally rooted in the laws he established. If allowed, I would also like to bring Don Greenberg along to discuss radiosity and Moore’s law with Clausius and introduce him to some of the most concentrated pockets of negentropy ever created. I also would like to do this because Don is generally awesome to have dinner with. Maybe sushi?

8. What is something most people don’t know about you?

I grew up singing all my life starting as a boy soprano in an internationally touring boys choir. I still love to sing! One other important thing about me is that I am half Ecuadorian.

9. From which single individual have you learned the most in your life? What did they teach you?

I have had so many excellent teachers and mentors throughout my life that it is hard to choose only one person. My parents instilled in me a love of hard and persistent work. They taught me that, above all, being patient and kind with everyone is the most important thing. I am blessed to have had these critically important lessons reinforcedevery dayby my friends at SIGGRAPH, many colleagues at NJIT, my wife Angela, and my daughter Sara.

10. Is there someone in particular who has influenced your decision to work with ACM SIGGRAPH?

Glenn Goldman has been my guide and generous mentor for all things SIGGRAPH. He is an example par excellence of how to participate in an international conversation around computer graphics and interactive techniques especially as it benefits the next generation of professionals through education. He has encouraged me to stay curious about a wide range of topics and to take advantage of the high caliber expertise and talent that is attracted to the ACM SIGGRAPH community. He has helped me to at once focus and expand my own vision on things that truly matter with the help of larger communities of practice. Glenn’s generosity of spirit and tenacity are his super powers.

11. What can you point to in your career as your proudest moment?

Springer Nature’s release of my first book,An Environmental Life Cycle Approach to Design: LCA for Designers and the Design Market.

Also, most recently, having one of my former students recognized nationally as the sole recipient of the American Center for Life Cycle Assessment’s 2021 Student Leadership Award. Super proud of her!