New Structural Languages

New Structural Languages

Set on the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains on the northern-most perimeters of Tucson, Arizona, is the Ventana Canyon Residence. Five stories high, the secluded family home – which is coated in heavy-gauge steel – nestles itself against the uphill face of a cliff, its shadows stretching and receding in time with the motions of the sun. It is the work of American architect Rick Joy, whose practice is the topic of this publication entitled Studio Joy Works.

Following on from Desert Works, which documents nine projects shaped inherently by their surrounding landscapes, Joy’s latest release celebrates the 25th anniversary of his firm, featuring a vast range of attention-grabbing structures, from houses in Vermont and California to his first public assignment, a railway station in Princeton, as well as international residences created in Caicos and Mexico. Contextualising these works are two introductory essays: one by Joy and the other by the renowned scholar Michael J Crosbie.

The publication sets architecture in wider contexts of humanity, and that which we perceive in our everyday experience. Here, it is believed that there is a transcendental power in the act of living in a space: our memory of a place is shaped by its context, culture and surrounding nature – the belief that you can only gain a sense of a location when you take the time to fully immerse yourself in it is key according to Joy. “Beyond being an object for static photography, a building becomes architecture when graciously enlivened,” he explains. “It is the stage for personal events where daily life and momentary dramas unfold in spaces that we design.”

The building is therefore not simply a mirror that reflects the lived experience of its owners, but a dual force that can also directly alter a person’s perceptions. “Spaces condition behaviours as much as they are eventually conditioned by their inhabitants,” he reveals. “There is an ongoing exchange of vision and dream; it is shaped, messaged, reiterated, refined and reduced to its essence of an atmosphere in a crafted space.” What makes Studio Joy Works an enticing read is the expression and development of this underlying philosophy: the understanding that architecture is both a physical and an existential phenomenon today.

An example of this theory in practice is the transit hall and market created for Princeton University, where “arriving and leaving are embedded in sequences of memorable threshold experiences that are grounded in the structural language that resonates with the local spirit of refinement.” Wrapped in concrete columns, the space features a slanted, blackened steel roof and a rectangular body. “The places we have been and that remain with us in our memory and imagination commune with the context, culture and nature of new sites,” explains Joy. In other words, we do not simply inhabit a space but rather, it takes its form within us.

Published by Princeton Architectural Press. Find out more here. 

1. Photo by Jeff Goldberg/Esto from Studio Joy Works. © 2018 Princeton Architectural Press, reprinted with permission of the publisher.