Architecture - Issue 116 - Magazine | Monocle

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Studio profile

Studio Rick Joy — Tucson, USA

Architect Rick Joy and his Tucson-based team want to set the record straight: they are not just desert modernists. While the firm may be known for clean and angular residential designs that cut fine shapes against dusty desert backdrops, variety in commissions has ramped up in recent years.

The firm’s residential, commercial and public work spans from the Sonoran Desert in Arizona to Ibiza but it’s the success of a new transit hub in New Jersey that the team are currently celebrating. Built on Princeton University’s campus, the firm took what senior designer Matt Luck calls its signature “good-natured suspicion” to the brief and expanded their response to be about much more than creating a transit hub. The result is the realisation of a fine public space where commuters choose to linger. Students of the prestigious university park up on black walnut-topped tables to study, while those leaving for New York on the train arrive a good hour early to lunch and relax in its shady central courtyard.

“Besides concealing a lot of the eyesores that are prescribed to train stations, we aimed to create a quiet space where you can compose yourself, rather than being overwhelmed by technology,” says Luck, who led the project. “We love to give back more to the people using the building, and a lot of that starts with programming and the budgeting. They are not the most romantic design aspects but they are important ones.”

Back at Studio Rick Joy, staff in the main space enjoy a similarly open-plan set-up where outdoor pathways between its multiple buildings expose them to light and nature. The rammed-earth-walled main studio was designed by Joy, who has been steadily growing the business – today he employs 31 people from 14 countries. However, the Maine-raised architect still recalls his company’s humble roots 25 years ago. “In the early years,” he says, laughing, “I would answer the phone and pretend to be a secretary and transfer the call to myself.”

Relaxed and calmly spoken, these days Joy tends to let the work do the talking. And with a portfolio of projects that carefully pay respect to space, light and providing a sense of place, it is no surprise that his talents are being enlisted far beyond his studio’s desert base.

Notable projects:

  1. Amangiri Hotel and Resort
    For this luxurious Utah retreat, Joy collaborated with architects Marwan Al-Sayed and Wendell Burnette to create a series of serene concrete spaces set amid swimming pools. The building sits in harmony with the jagged desert surrounding the site.

  2. Woodstock Farm, Vermont
    This grand house references the “stone-endah” vernacular of New England, where sheer stone walls bookend the main house.

  3. Princeton Transit Hall and Market
    The rising columns of this structure allow the building to be seen from afar but also cleverly break up the public space within. Tactility abounds in its waiting room, with thick walnut benches and white-oak window framing providing welcome warmth.

Aparthotel Longhin


At the foot of the Swiss Alps sits the new Hotel Longhin, which has replaced a dilapidated former guesthouse. With its irregular stone façade, the angular building resembles an inhabited boulder – apt given its rocky backdrop. The hotel, created by local architecture firm Mierta & Kurt Lazzarini, is ideally placed for guests to explore the alpine scenery or to cross over to neighbouring Italy. In contrast to the concrete exterior, on the inside it’s decked out in locally sourced larch, bringing comfort and cosiness to the bedrooms, apartments, restaurant and spa.

Writ in Water


In Runnymede, a Thameside area west of London, this architectural artwork provides visitors with a tranquil spot for contemplation. The public building comes from a collaboration between Turner prize-winning artist Mark Wallinger and London firm Studio Octopi.

At the structure’s centre sits a calm pond where an inscription from the nation’s 800-year-old Magna Carta law charter is revealed on the water via a reflection (the Magna Carta was signed in Runnymede). “We think the building should come from the ground,” says Studio Octopi director Chris Romer-Lee of the rammed gravel walls, made from material sourced nearby.

Capela do Monte


Pritzker prize-winning architect Álvaro Siza Vieira’s simple cubic chapel, perched in Portugal’s arid south, is humble yet intriguing. The walls are built from perforated bricks that are coated in limestone render inside and out, helping to keep the building naturally ventilated. Abstract white tiles depicting biblical scenes greet the visitor. The only spot of colour is the woodwork: chairs, the altar and the cross – also designed by Siza – come courtesy of Porto-based woodworking studio Serafim Pereira Simões Sucessores. Siza was drawn to the beauty of the site, his desire to build in the Algarve and the pleasure of working on “a pure architectural project”.

Civic duties

by Nolan Giles

Summer holidays for Norwegian architects weren’t quite as relaxing this year, with their thoughts clouded by a design conundrum back in their capital. One of Oslo’s most significant buildings seems set to face the wrecking ball. Y-Blokka, a 1960s modernist treasure designed by Erling Viksjø and sporting a vast Picasso mural, will be torn down. The city’s design community is fighting to protect it but after a car bomb tore into the building in 2011 – taking eight lives in one chapter of the terrorist attack that killed 77 people – it has become difficult to guarantee that it’s secure.

The “philosophical challenge”, says Norwegian architect Helge Lunder, is while everybody’s mantra is that “we shouldn’t let the terrorist win” an incident like this irrevocably changes the way people think about security and the planning of an area.

The threat of terrorism and how to secure our city buildings drives architectural and government policy decisions globally. London’s safest building today is the new fortress-like US embassy in the city’s south. Designed by Philadelphia’s KieranTimberlake, it superseded an Eero Saarinen modernist marvel in Mayfair – due, in part, to new security standards issued by the US. In this case the temporary protective bollards that bordered Saarinen’s structure will come down as Qatari investors turn it into a five-star hotel. Back in Oslo, however, Y-Blokka’s fate seems sealed: a more secure complex will replace it.

When faced with terrorism, pressure mounts quickly on governments to offer safe solutions for citizens. But the decisions taken are not always the best ones for the city. Architects therefore face a huge challenge: how to make us feel safe and maintain the urban fabric that gives us the sense of place we crave.

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