The Spaces Between the Sounds: Rick Joy in Context

Event: Checkerboard Conversations: Rick Joy
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.16.10
Speakers: Rick Joy, AIA; Suzanne Stephens — Deputy Editor, Architectural Record
Organizer: Checkerboard Film Foundation; Center for Architecture


Rick Joy’s Tubac House in Tubac, Arizona.

Bill Timmerman

Tuscon-based architect Rick Joy, AIA, is known for rammed earth residences in the desert Southwest. However, his portfolio encompasses a range of context-driven designs, including several masterplans and a “traditional” house in New England. Joy discussed these projects in the film “Rick Joy: Interludes,” and continued the conversation with Architectural Record Deputy Editor Suzanne Stephens.
Before embarking on his career in architecture, Joy was a percussionist in a band. “In music, the role of the drummer is to set the groove and the atmosphere of a song; it’s like Miles Davis’s famous quote that the spaces between the sounds are often more important than the actual sounds,” explained Joy in the film. “I tend to try to do the same in architecture: the design is driven by the narrative or the description of the atmosphere first before the actual form is considered.” This philosophy manifests in The Desert Nomad House, which is comprised of three programmatically separate cubes clad in 10-gauge Cor-ten steel. They punctuate the landscape, and according to Joy, are oriented to capture the unique quality of desert light.

On a larger scale, Joy has completed master plans for several towns and resorts, including the Bahia Balandra in La Paz, a site by Zion National Park, UT, and a downtown extension of York Beach, ME. For each of these developments, he proposed dense groupings of small houses and structures instead of the typical, sprawling suburban approach: “It’s all about making propositions for how to live in a landscape.”

Joy, who is originally from Maine, returned to his New England roots when designing a house in Woodstock, VT. He borrowed from the vernacular language of barns and designed a classic “stone ender,” which caps a linear succession of living spaces that open to the landscape. Though most of his work looks modern, Joy considers himself a traditional architect. He studies local construction methods and reinterprets them in a practical way, and his designs harmonize with their contexts.