Rick Joy, AIA, began his Reinvention 2011 keynote address with a constructive challenge to the title of the conference. Rather than reinventing his firm’s practice, the Tucson, Ariz.-based architect said, “I think we’re just evolving.” Joy called on attendees to engage in a similar process, guided, as he is, by a robust set of principles. Citing his own work and that of colleagues such as Tom Kundig, FAIA, Brian MacKay-Lyons, FRAIC, Hon. AIA, Wendell Burnette, AIA, and Will Bruder, AIA, he noted, “What sets us apart is that with each and every thing we do, we carry with us our core values.” Joy then laid out his own core values, illustrating each with examples of his firm’s work and with photographs of the images that guide it.
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Joy’s practice of collecting such images—often ethereally lighted abstract landscapes—exemplifies his first core value, which is “being comprehensively observant.” It also sheds light on his interest in “being conceptually insightful and giving.” Joy said he learns not only from nature, but also from other artists in their “quest for the real.” The result, in a chapel he designed, is a subtle manipulation of natural light that establishes a sacred space. A self-described landscape guy, Joy illustrated his value of “cherishing the site’s spirit” with his plan for the Amangiri, a resort in the Utah desert designed in cooperation with architects Wendell Burnette and Marwan Al-Sayed, and a house that inhabits its forested site, he said, “like a deer stepping out of the woods at dusk.”
Prizing culture as well as nature, Joy presented three of his firm’s projects that respond to their settings with materials and forms that resonate regionally and historically, but without resorting to imitation. “There’s a lot of wisdom in local building culture,” he said, but “I’m using my own brain to illuminate it.” Joy also elevates the process of building—“striving for an heirloom quality of craft and endurance; it’s luxury without gold flakes”—and a design process that involves people from a broad variety of backgrounds.
Joy closed with two values of particular relevance both to his audience and to current conditions in the profession. Remember, he said, “that architecture is hard.” He underscored the point with photographs of a project abandoned by its owner halfway through construction: an elegant and mysterious rammed earth house now “just decaying and falling apart.” Yes, architecture is hard, Joy insisted, “and it’s a blast,” in part because it rewards the practitioner’s adherence to enduring values. “The reason we have work—and why I’m having fun—is all based on this sort of core values,” Joy said. “As architects, we have to stick together and stay true to some of these things—for the profession. If we stick to what we really know and believe in … I think we can get out of this [economic downturn] in a better way than by changing too much.”