unconventional wisdom

Jones Studio's work has a holistic rigor to it. Joints line up fanatically. Long axes end in windowed views. And return-air vents, mechanical systems, and other troublesome elements become part of the overall design. The firm often integrates them into the mill-work or blurs them into the background with a fabric screen. “What's interesting about Eddie is that everything that comes up as a problem, he takes as a design opportunity,” says Rich Fairborn, a Phoenix contractor and architect who built several Jones Studio houses with his former company, The Construction Zone. “I can't think of a time when it didn't improve the project. It's a wonderful thing to see.” The Joneses' residential portfolio also harbors a sly sense of humor. A house on a golf course features a rain chain made of golf balls. Another is clad in titanium, the same material used in the owner's golf clubs. At Eddie's own modern, rammed-earth house in Phoenix, a single, inconspicuously placed half-round window pays cheeky homage to the surrounding suburbia.

The same playful energy pervades the firm's office, located on the ground floor of a 1980s building designed by Phoenix Modernist Al Beadle. “We try to nurture a sense of freedom,” says Neal. “People don't feel constrained or inhibited.” All the designers, including Eddie, work in one big, open space, where gag gifts and good-natured ribbing abound. This communal style of working will face a new test in May, when the entire firm moves into a gallery at the Scottsdale Museum of Art for a four-month stay, working out of the museum and revealing its daily functions to the public as a piece of performance art. The situation sounds exciting, but risky—two words that energize Jones Studio's adventure-friendly staff. One of the project's goals—to help the public understand what architects do—fits right in with Eddie's belief that he and his colleagues have a responsibility to explain their work in a way those without an architecture background can understand. “I've never come across a reason to cram something down someone's throat,” he says. “You can't argue against ventilation, light, no maintenance. ... I just talk about fundamental things.”

You can't get much more fundamental than the Arizona 9-11 Memorial the firm co-designed with Matt Salenger and Maria Salenger, AIA, of coLAB, who are actually two moonlighting Jones Studio employees. Slated for completion in September, the memorial consists of a simple steel canopy over a concrete bench. Sunlight shines down through lettering that has been laser-cut into the canopy, casting an ever-changing sequence of relevant words and phrases onto the benches and visitors below. “I love the idea of the beams of light creating thoughts,” Eddie says. The memorial needs no outside energy to fuel its kinetic presence—just the warm rays of Arizona's most abundant natural resource.

Despite their affinity for the Sonoran desert environment, the Joneses say they detest the “regionalist” label as reductive. Jones Studio has designed projects in Texas and Oklahoma, in addition to Arizona, and is currently working on homes in Montana and Mexico.

Still, the brothers can't hide their enthusiasm for their booming adopted city's terrain, climate, and independent attitude. “I'm very optimistic about Phoenix,” Eddie says. “We have smart people, smart planners, smart educators [here]. It's a very dynamic young architecture scene. ... There's a certain liberation [in] not living in a major city on the East Coast or West Coast,” where people “seem to have to live by whatever trend is current,” he says. “We're having a blast here in Arizona.”