“Hey, bro.” That's how Eddie Jones, AIA, answers his phone when his business partner calls. The two foster a casual, freewheeling atmosphere at their Phoenix-based architecture practice, but the informal greeting probably has more to do with the fact that the partner in question is Eddie's younger brother, Neal Jones, AIA. In keeping with plans they made while still in elementary school, the siblings have capitalized on their considerable differences and fused their disparate talents to create Jones Studio, one of the Southwest's preeminent design firms.

The brothers' sartorial choices neatly encapsulate their opposing personalities and strengths. Neal, who handles all business development and financial transactions, wears suits, ties, and monogrammed shirts. Eddie, the design engine of the company, favors T-shirts and jeans. “I would frequently ask them, jokingly of course, if they had the same parents,” says Chuck Albanese, FAIA, dean of the University of Arizona's College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, a Jones Studio client. (Construction on the firm's design for the college's newly expanded building will be completed later this year.)

The Joneses did indeed come from the same Oklahoma family. Their petroleum engineer father and housewife mother both believed strongly in the power of education, buying an Encyclopædia Britannica set when Eddie was six years old and Neal was an infant. Eddie says he decided his future when he found the article on Frank Lloyd Wright in the “W” volume. “I saw a picture of a house—I've since learned it was Fallingwater—and said, ‘I want to do this,'” he says. By the eighth grade, he'd gotten third-grader Neal on board. “He wanted to be one, so I wanted to be one,” Neal says.

He followed Eddie through Oklahoma State University, then obtained a dual master's degree in business and architecture from the University of Illinois. “I knew he was the better designer, so I knew I needed a business background,” Neal explains. His brother, meanwhile, moved to Arizona, drawn to the landscape that had entranced Wright and Paolo Soleri, two of his heroes. The Joneses spent a few years practicing separately, learning their trade, and in 1986 they joined forces in Phoenix. “We didn't know what we were doing,” Eddie says. “Computers weren't invented yet, so all [we] needed was a drawing board. Thanks to Neal, work started pouring in. It's a beautiful memory—we never knew we could fail.”

eco-values

Today Jones Studio employs 11 people who work on jobs as varied as houses, schools, performing arts centers, and office buildings. “Everyone does everything,” says Rob Viergutz, an architect at the firm. “That's part of the appeal of working here.” Their portfolio of residential work contains a startlingly diverse array of takes on Modernism—from a pure, white-and-glass minimalist loft to organic-feeling rammed-earth structures to sculptural, metal-clad houses. “We're not about perfecting that one thing,” says Eddie. “In a way, I'm envious of architects who do that, but every time a new commission comes up, we get so eager to explore new possibilities.” While common themes do emerge in the firm's work, rarely will one project look like a direct variation of another.

Those common ideas—natural ventilation, daylighting, solar orientation, and low-maintenance exteriors, among others—all happen to lead back to sustainable design, a concept both brothers have thought about for years. “Our early clients didn't have a lot of money,” says Neal. “Our work was about using humble materials and conserving natural resources.” Eddie designed his first rooftop rain-harvesting system in 1985, using the collected water for landscape irrigation. Since then, many other Jones Studio projects have included one. “We need to do it here, because rain is so scarce,” says Eddie. “The rain is going to hit the roof anyway, [so] we might as well collect it.” In 1994 the firm designed a demonstration house for Arizona Public Services, the state utility company, featuring all the latest (at the time) environmental bells and whistles. Meant to show green building methods and systems to production builders and the general public, the house contains photovoltaic panels, gray water and rainwater collectors, and recycled materials, among other features. Around the same time, Jones Studio also fulfilled a similar request from a Japanese developer for a house using recycled materials in Kobe, Japan.

  • Credit: Steven Meckler

The Joneses subsequently developed an interest in rammed-earth houses, completing three such structures between 1997 and 2004. “Rammed earth can be the structure, the finish, and the insulation,” says Eddie. “It's one material that does three jobs.” They do their best, meanwhile, to leave the vagaries of the site—the topography, drainage patterns, and existing vegetation—intact. “Eddie loves the environment he works in, and he doesn't like to disturb it,” says Louanne O'Rourke, one of the firm's residential clients. “Our house grew around the setting that was there.”

Still, the architects are aware that some observers might question whether a firm that designs large houses—most of the studio's recent residential projects fall between 5,000 square feet and 7,000 square feet, and some are even bigger—truly qualifies as sustainable. That's OK by them: Their No. 1 priority is to create beautiful, well-designed buildings, and they feel sustainability flows from that. “To us [sustainability is] a quality of the architecture,” Eddie says. “It's not a religion. If there is a religion, it's architecture, not sustainability or sustainable architecture.”