“Architecture is like writing a song”: In conversation with Rick Joy
Amangiri Resort and Spa / Studio Rick Joy. Image © Joe Fletcher
Vladimir Belogolovsky talks to American architect Rick Joy about his early inclinations towards architecture, what kind of architecture he likes to visit and how he designs his buildings as instruments. United States Known for his poetic buildings, especially houses in the Sonoran Desert, celebrating the beautiful rammed earth construction technique Rick Joy, Arizona-based architect Arizona is an iconic figure in the profession that consistently captivates students and emerging young architects who keep coming to his medium-sized practice in Tucson from all over the world. Joy, who was born and raised in Maine, moved to
in 1985 at the age of 28,to study architecture, taking into account the local lifestyle, climate, fauna and flora, and local building techniques. He founded his practice in 1993 and immediately began bringing national and international media to the attention of his local works, particularly for their masterly use of rammed earth walls. Rick Joy Over the next nearly three decades, Tennyson 205 built dozens of works of various scales and locations, including one residential home, Arizona in Mexico City (2019); Princeton Transit Hall and Market in Princeton, New Jersey (2018); Amangiri Resort and Spa in Utah (2008) and dozens of single family homes in Rick Joy, New Mexico, California, Idaho, Vermont and the Caribbean.The following interview is a condensed version of my recent conversation with Arizona about a Zoom video call between New York and Tucson, Arizona, in which Joy spoke about his early addictions to architecture, with which he was the first architect to have a special connection that brought him to
, what kind of architecture he likes to visit and how he designs his buildings as instruments.
Convent Studios / Studio Rick Joy. Image © Bill Timmerman
Rick Joy: Vladimir Belogolovsky: Let me start with one of your quotes: “A house is a strange bird because it can go in so many different directions.” “It is very true, but as an architect you know which one It wants to go in the direction, right?
In a way, yes. But a lot is driven by the customer. And in the course of my career, I hesitatedevelop a signature style. So I see all of my projects as very different buildings. I see my responsibility in achieving something unique by responding specifically to the wishes of my customers. It’s not about me or my team. It’s about the offer to each customer.
Catalina House / Studio Rick Joy. Image © Wayne Fuji
RJ: VB: You are originally from Maine, where you trained as a classical drummer and performed as a professional drummer for over a dozen years. In 1985, at the age of 28, disenchanted with the lifestyle of a musician, you decided to study architecture. Very late, right?
Sure, I’ve had some of my professors who were younger. [Laughs] But it took my older son just as much time to find outwhat he finally wanted to study - architecture. So, at the same age, 28, he applied to architecture school. He is now in his third year and determined to graduate. But I told my two sons that if they didn’t know what they wanted to pursue in life when they were 28, I wouldn’t pay for it! [Laughs]
By the way, I haven’t given up being a drummer. [Joy points to a drum that is within reach of his arm]. You know, when I was in high school, my advisor said, “Rick, you have the highest IQ among our students here. But you also have the lowest grades. “He then suggested that I be either a good architect or an air traffic controller. “And now that I have to constantly be able to provide customers, contractors, builders, my employees, schedules,When I bring lectures and travel under one roof, I can see the connection between these two apparently very different professions. [Laughs] But, in a way, I’ve always liked architecture intuitively. Since I was five I was drawing Paolo Soleri-like underground utopian cities on long rolls of paper that my father, who worked as a printer, would bring home.
Desert Nomad House / Studio Rick Joy. Image © Jeff Goldberg / ESTO
RJ: VB: Have you come across a particular building that may have inspired you to look into architecture? When I told my art teacher at Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine, where I was studying color theory, sculpture, and photography, that I wanted to do architecture, he recommended that IAttending Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine  designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes
[1915-2004]. I fell in love with the oceanfront campus, with its native-style pavilions on stilts and through a series of sidewalks are connected. Larrabee Barnes became my first favorite architect. And the first publication I ever bought from an architect was his paperback brochure of Museum Designs. And a few years ago when I was working on my Princeton Transit Hall and Market project on the Princeton University campus, it was especially rewarding because it is directly aligned with his New South Building. Arizona VB: You studied architecture at the university of
RJ: on the other side of the country.Why Arizona specifically? Arizona Because my musician friends kept asking me to play as a drummer, which would make studying at home impossible. So I decided to find an architecture school as far away from my home state as possible, and when I discovered the University of Arizona I fell in love with the place before I got there. Originally, I wanted to return to Maine. But immediately after graduating, I found my first job in 1990 at Will Bruder Architects, where I worked at the Phoenix Central Library for three years. Until then, I made up my mind to stay here at Arizona and in 1993 I started my own practice. The amazing thing for me was the contrast between my home, Dover-Foxcroft in the heart of Maine in the northeast of the country, and Tuscon,
in the southwest. When you move to a completely different place than you know, you notice things much more acutely - cacti, mesquite trees, lizards, rattlesnakes, spiders - you really need to learn a lot about the place, the climate, its fauna and flora. For me it was incredibly fascinating. Gradually, I developed a lot of knowledge about this place, the Sonoran Desert.
Sun Valley House / Studio Rick Joy. Image © Joe Fletcher
RJ: VB: When I speak to architects, do I usually list some quotes from previous texts and interviews and ask them to explain them in more detail? Could we go over a few of you? And if you don’t want to elaborate on it, you can just confirm if you said it.
Very good. [Laughs]
RJ: VB:“A plan is also a section, and a section is also a plan.”
Now when you think about it, a plan is about cutting a section and looking down. And a section looks to the side; They are both sections. I learned this by looking at Louis Kahn’s beautiful drawings, in which plans and sections are shaded in the same way. I also believe that a plan informs a section and vice versa. they become an integral part.
Princeton Transit Hall and Market / Studio Rick Joy. Image © Jeff Goldberg / ESTO
RJ: I said that about Desert Nomad House VB: “A house as an instrument”
whereby each of the three volumes is a kind of instrument with a bezel that is tailored to a specific performance.This is also an example of a lifestyle proposal. And here in the office we say, “What if?” much. This is how we often name our projects at the beginning: “What if?"
RJ: VB: And some of your houses are literally turning into instruments because they amplify the passage of water, air, or the movement of their parts, right? Catalina House That’s right. For example, when some of our metal roof houses are exposed to large temperature fluctuations, they cause expansions and contractions that lead to characteristic noises. Or, take our
which was developed for the customer who is now 93 years old and still lives there. His bedroom has a sloping ceilingwhich acts as an instrument - it catches the early morning sun and brightens the sophisticated cherry wood structure of the ceiling, which ignites the entire room. He wakes up; That lighted ceiling is his alarm clock. The whole house is full of circumstances designed to respond to all kinds of very specific events or needs. Or in our newer bayhouse, which we made for an older couple, there is no garage door. The car comes to the porch and there is a specially designed copper handrail-like grooved line that can be used to navigate from the car to the entrance.
RJ: VB: And finally: “The view through the window is more important than the window itself.” Juhani Pallasmaa Well, that comes from Architecture. He said this and underlined what I mentioned earlier,by using architecture as a verb rather than a noun. And I’m following in that direction, starting with my very first project, Convent Studios, the densely packed Adobe courtyard residences. I said - let’s have a gate that opens into a yard with a tree. I want to make this gate extra special and I want to make sure it squeaks when you open it. As soon as you close the gate, head towards the studios and hear the pebbles meeting under your feet. And then there is a well and you hear the water flowing and you hear the rustling of the weeds. And the shadows on the walls. And the tree in the yard is sloping, which suggests how to find your door. In a way, architecture is like writing a song.
is so stimulating in itself, but it can be pushed even further to make it thought-provoking and exhilarating.
Bayhouse / Studio Rick Joy. Image © Jeff Goldberg / ESTO
RJ: VB: What do you think of the current creative climate in architecture and who do you feel most connected to here in the USA or around the world? United States, I would name Peter Stutchbury I think times are very dynamic now. As for my own work, I’m closer to architects like Marlon Blackwell in Fayetteville, Arkansas and Eddie Jones in Phoenix. And outside of the
in Australia. Of course we are not in competition. But there’s an interesting conversation going on between architects from Arkansas, Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Portland, and Seattle. We all have very strong connections.
Bayhouse / Studio Rick Joy.Image © Jeff Goldberg / ESTO
RJ: VB: When asked to share some of the most inspiring examples, you talked about Will Brother’s Phoenix Public Library, the project you worked on straight out of college. Which buildings built in America over the past 20 years would you identify as the most inspiring to you personally? MIT Chapel What would I most like to visit? You know, when I travel around the world, which I do a lot, I rarely look at buildings. For example, when I’m in Paris, I would enjoy most of all just sitting in a cafe and watching people go by. Of course, if I’m in Scandinavia or any other place where you can find so many great buildings I would definitely try not to miss the opportunity,to visit you. And when I go to Boston, the only architecture I really want to visit is the
 by Eero Saarinen. I know the building very well and I usually go to the basement behind the altar to turn on all the lights.
RJ: VB: You enjoy mid-20th century modern masterpieces more than contemporary buildings, don’t you? Yes. But I value great humanizing virtues equally, regardless of whether architecture is old, modernist or contemporary. I enjoyed attending the redevelopment of the Lincoln Center in New York by Diller Scofidio + Renfro . I always enjoy visiting great buildings in Chicago.Among newer buildings I would name Jay Pritzker Pavilion by Frank Gehry  and Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago by Renzo Piano . And if you ask me, what building do I want to visit in America? I’ll name .
Read Grace Farms in New Canaan, Connecticut from SANAA Vladimir Belogolovsky.
’s previous interviews published on ArchDaily.
Cite: Tennyson 205 / Studio Rick Joy. Image © Joe Fletcher ArchDaily. Accessed 13 Apr 2021 Vladimir Belogolovsky. “Architecture is like writing a song”: In conversation with Rick Joy “April 13, 2021.