Joeb Moore, AIA, never does things the standard way. The Greenwich, Conn.-based architect bucked convention in 1993 by turning down a coveted partnership at well-regarded Shope Reno Wharton. Instead, he started his own firm. (It operated for many years as Kaehler/Moore Architects, with separate studios for Moore and then-business partner Laura Kaehler, AIA, but since 2008 he is the sole principal at Joeb Moore & Partners.) Recessions typically encourage safer design choices, but Moore has spent the past few years taking architectural risks: His work has grown more sculptural and abstract. And the projects themselves all contain unexpected moments designed to surprise and delight.
For example, the minimalist Bridge House, which won a 2013 Residential Architect Design Award, contains a powder room with a pyramid-shaped ceiling coated in high-gloss orange paint. A skylight at the top of the pyramid lets sunlight wash the walls, which Moore compares to the outside of a jelly bean. “It’s one of those moments where nature, architecture, and art all come together and you get to participate,” he says. “We’re trying to use absence or unexpected experiences to trigger a response or feeling. That’s the art of architecture.”
Lately, Moore and his 15-person staff have had many opportunities to create such experiences. They’ve developed something of a sub-specialty in remodeling and adding onto mid-century modern houses—a rich source of work in their Connecticut and suburban New York City region. Many of his clients for these and other projects work in related fields such as graphic design or exhibition design, and Moore sees them as collaborators.
In fact, collaboration among peers and across disciplines is a major theme of his. He tries to team up with landscape architects whenever possible. “Landscape is the first thing clients tend to cut,” he says. “We’ve been arguing that it’s possibly more important than the building. Our projects always involve a cultural landscape as well as a physical landscape.” And while the firm still uses outside general contractors the majority of the time, it’s also created a design/build division called JB Construction. The company has built five projects so far, all smaller jobs with relatively tight budgets.
Moore and his cohorts build lots of models, too—both virtual and (especially) physical ones. Examples of the latter fill the storefront windows of the firm’s office in downtown Greenwich. “We use the models as a powerful tool to help clients understand the process,” he explains. “They show how we think and work. Also, we use these conceptual models as a design tool to remind us what the fundamental principles are of a project.”
Along with the mid-century modern remodels and a clutch of other interesting renovations, Moore has been enjoying designing second homes. “Clients are willing to be more playful and take more risks with vacation homes,” he says. “It’s more creative and inventive.” He’d like to take on more small-scale institutional and commercial work. And he recently finished his own master bath renovation—no doubt with input from his wife, Jennifer, a pediatrician who also has an architecture degree.
Moore extols the virtues of his employees, whom he calls “brilliant and collaborative in their own way.” Many of them are former students; he teaches at Columbia University and also co-teaches Yale University’s first-year graduate housing studio, led by Alan Organschi.
It’s easy to imagine Moore as a terrific teacher. He loves to riff on ideas about architecture, art, and culture—always in an engaged, respectful way. This constant, rich flow of thinking and analysis must have a positive effect on his work, which has evolved at a remarkable pace. “Our work at this point is about important moments, key spatial events, light, air, openness,” he says. “It’s less about geometry and more about the experiential and the physical.”