DESERT NOMAD HOUSE
Simplicity of Forms
Among Saguaro cacti, Rick Joy plants a cluster of vividly rusted steel boxes, forming Desert Nomad House for a San Francisco art dealer
By Clifford A. Pearson
"It’s my most conceptual project,” says Rick Joy of the Desert Nomad House, tucked along the base of a mountain range a few miles west of Tucson. “It’s really an art piece.” Three metal boxes, each oriented to a particular view. Three different sizes: S, M, and L. The simplicity of the forms and precise placement of the cubes in relation to the landscape and one another certainly call to mind pieces by such artists as Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Walter de Maria, and Robert Irwin. That’s the first impression. But as you tour the house—checking out each pristine box and walking on the outdoor paths between them—you realize this project is a kind of sculpture as micro urbanism. Although less than 1,500 square feet altogether, the three little buildings (plus a steel-cage carport that sits by itself) form a residential village enlivened by the spaces between and around them: one tight and narrow like an alley, another big and expansive like a piazza. All of a sudden, the complexity of the project becomes apparent.
Each building is basically one space with a bathroom—a 780-square-foot living/kitchen/dining area; a 440-square-foot bedroom; and a 200-square-foot office/guest room—and its geometry is Platonic, so the smallest anomaly or imperfection would have screamed out and destroyed the intended effect. Luckily, Joy had worked as a carpenter before becoming an architect, and his firm builds all his small projects, ensuring that finishes, detailing, and construction are done right.
Finishing each box with maple floors and maple-veneer paneling, the architect kept the material palette as simple as possible, using opaque glass partitions for the bathrooms and a stainless-steel counter for the kitchen island. As a result, the focus remains always on the view through floor-to-ceiling, half-inch-thick glass. From the living room, southeastern vistas take in the valley and downtown Tucson. From the bedroom, the windows look toward the Tucson range to the southwest. The box for the den/office pushes up against the side of the mountains, and its northwest-facing glass wall—almost like a terrarium—offers less of a view than a sense of intimacy with nature.
Architectural Record, April 2005