Rick Joy grew up in Massachusetts and Maine, moved to Arizona in the late 1980s to study architecture, and opened his studio in Tucson in 1993. Natives of the south-west often take the desert for granted, settling for the same generic housing as they would in any other part of the sun belt. As a sensitive outsider, Joy was deeply moved by the beauty of light and landscape, and he creates an architecture that intensifies the spirit of place. His studio, located on one of the oldest streets in the US, is an early demonstration of that commitment: a long, glass-walled drafting room opens onto a narrow courtyard bounded by a wall of rammed earth. It’s the seed from which many houses grew and a constant reminder to his colleagues of the roots he has planted in this dry earth.

An earlier monograph was titled Rick Joy: Desert Works, and three desert houses are featured in this selection of buildings completed over the past 14 years. But, as the studio has grown to 30 people from around the US and 24 other countries, its scope has expanded to include an apartment block in Mexico City, a train station and store for Princeton University, and houses as far afield as Napa Valley, Vermont, and the Caribbean. Increasingly the practice is a team effort—hence the title of this second monograph—but the underlying principles remain unchanged. In his introduction, Joy speaks of nature, light, and materials, and quotes Eudora Welty: “One place understood helps us understand all places better.”

In a thoughtful essay, Michael J. Crosbie describes the experience of visiting Joy’s first house, which “narrates its life on this land, under the sun and night sky, describing the panoply of light, color, shadow, shade, reflection, texture, pattern, wind, rain, echoes, critters, plants and dirt. Such stories are found throughout Joy’s architecture.” I’ve shared that experience in the Desert Nomad House—three Corten steel cubes scattered amid rocks and cacti a few miles out from Tucson—and the Princeton station, which creates a strong sense of place amid the diverse expressions of traditional and modern architects. The forms of Joy’s work are deceptively simple, but the rewards keep coming.

Studio Joy Works. Rick Joy (Princeton Architectural Press, $40)

Michael Webb

Author: Michael Webb

Michael Webb Hon. AIA/LA has authored more than twenty books on architecture and design, most recently Moving Around: A Lifetime of Wandering, Architects’ Houses, and Building Community: New Apartment Architecture, while contributing essays to many more. He is also a regular contributor to leading journals in the United States and Europe. Growing up in London, he was an editor at The Times and Country Life, before moving to the US, where he directed film programs for the AFI and curated a Smithsonian exhibition on Hollywood.