Master of desert modernism Rick Joy celebrates 25th anniversary with retrospective tome

Master of desert modernism Rick Joy celebrates 25th anniversary with retrospective tome

The American desert holds a certain mystique for architects. Where else can you get the emboldening sense of having conquered nature without any need for aesthetic compromise? As a result, the arid expanses of the West are a playground for modernists of all persuasions, from the expressive to the minimal.

Rick Joy started his practice in Tucson, Arizona, in 1993, bringing a crafted, material approach to residential design. Projects like the Desert Nomad House of 2006 were part of a renaissance in desert building, delivering self-sufficiency, simplicity and a light touch on the delicate desert environment without compromising the purity of the scheme. The house was one of the standout projects in Joy’s first monograph, ‘DesertWorks’, published in 2002. Now, on the occasion of the studio’s 25th anniversary, a new book has been published, ‘Studio Joy Works’, which charts recent work, much of which is now far removed from his Tucson stamping ground.

The tome delves into the practice’s work in the American desert and beyond. Pictured here, the Amangiri Hotel. Photography: Joe Fletcher

Featured projects include the Sun Valley House in Idaho, a private retreat arranged as two wings flanking a central courtyard, with rustic stone walls chiselled and chamfered to geometric perfection. Stone is also used in the Woodstock Vermont Farm, this time paired with traditional cedar shingles to create a meticulously precise update of the state’s vernacular farm architecture. There’s plenty of design diversity on display, from the expansive family ranch in New Mexico with its sheet metal roof and shuttered concrete finishes, to the bunker-like minimalism of a vacation retreat in the Turks and Caicos Islands and the chalky minimalism of a loft in New York. 

Joy’s studio has also started to engage in civic works, translating the same asceticism it applies to its private projects into public space. The book features the Princeton Transit Hall and Market, a bold piece of sculptural art that serves the famous college town without kowtowing to the town’s many architectural statements. Joy speaks of ‘cherishing the site’s spirit,’ and the works on display imply a strong sense of place, filtered through an even more rigorous approach to form and detail. §

For more desert architecture see more modern buildings in arid environments

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