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Retrospective: Architect Eddie Jones

Author: Maria Matson
Issue: March, 2012, Page 130
Photo by Paul Markow

Eddie Jones

Named a Master of the Southwest in 1994, Architect Eddie Jones Continues to Design Homes that Celebrate Their Surroundings

Eddie Jones is an architect. While he’s a loving husband, father and grandfather, too, he fully admits that architecture defines him. “It’s my identity,” he says. “To me, being an architect or even discussing architecture is more of a lifestyle than it is a job. It affects everything I do. It affects my judgment, it motivates me to travel, it motivates me to work harder and work longer. Architecture is a comfort zone. I believe in what I’m saying, but I also try not to take myself too seriously.”

He might not, but the long list of design commissions, published projects and awards he has amassed since opening Jones Studio Inc. in 1979 suggests that others take him quite seriously. Phoenix Home & Garden named him a Master of the Southwest in 1994, calling him “one of the most respected and sought-after architects in Arizona.” His friends Maxine and Ronald Linde, for whom Jones designed a tri-level, partially subterranean residence that also houses their collection of art and artifacts, call him “warm, enthusiastic, innovative and inspirational.”

No mere swimming pool, this “levitating horizontal mirror” helps turn an already stunning view into an experience. “If there’s something in the foreground, it adds depth,” Eddie Jones says. “This floating mirror is almost unidentifiable at first. It draws the eye in for a moment, then the experience accelerates and the eye moves on—30 miles away—to the mountain view.”
Jones is happy to be recognized for the job he had dreamed about doing since he was a kid growing up in Oklahoma. “I care what everybody thinks,” he says. “When people like what I do it’s inspiring. To me, designing houses is a great adventure. When someone says, ‘Let’s do it,’ I promise them it’s going to be an uplifting experience.”

Jones is known for his ability to shape a home to its site, celebrating its surroundings and blurring the lines between inside and out. And, typically, his designs are called “organic” or “sustainable”—concepts he believes in but labels he shrugs off as being too limiting. “Maybe architectural diversity is a definition I’d like; never falling into the trap of style, so nobody expects me to do that same thing every time,” he says. “Hopefully, the expectation is that my architecture will be fresh and new and individualized, as opposed to being a variation on a series or theme. It would be a whole lot easier not to have to keep reinventing design, but it certainly keeps it interesting.” 

The problem-solving nature of architecture never fails to motivate Jones, but lately this 62-year-old has been thinking a lot about the passage of time—not in a midlife crisis way, but in the way that time takes a beautiful toll on buildings. A trip to India set him on this new course. There, while visiting a 3,000-year-old fort, he wondered why people of all ages, ethnicities, incomes and education levels were, like himself, so awestruck by the structure.

Eddie Jones, having never been satisfied with the concept of “great room,” frequently labels the floor plan of a family space as “the greatest room.” In his own greatest room in Ahwatukee, Arizona, all views point to South Mountain. “On one side of the house there are 18,000 acres of pristine desert,” he says. “On the other side is conventional suburbia, which is as interesting as asphalt. From the street it’s very private, but when you look at it from the desert it’s a transparent box.”
“I had to discover what the magic was,” he recalls. “So, wherever I traveled after that I tried to boil the quality down to one equation, and it’s this: It’s acknowledging—simply acknowledging—the passage of time. I’m not talking about rotting or deterioration. I’m talking about how nature, regardless of what we think we can do to prevent it, is going to take over and start designing that building. I look at it as the patina of time, or the effervescence of history.”

Jones has taken his own first step toward accepting nature as a co-designer in a recently completed residence in Phoenix. It is made primarily of rammed earth—a sturdy material that can withstand extremes—and wood—a material he has never used in the desert. Ever. Time and nature, he says, went to work on both materials the minute they went up, but it will take “a thousand years” to affect the rammed earth. The wood detailing, however, is a different story. “Nature will get right to work on the wood,” he explains. “She will blacken and twist and crack and dry out and warp all that wood. I’m just so excited about how beautiful this is going to be when that happens. That house won’t ever be finished because nature will continually redesign it.”

Jones concludes, “I think I’m onto something. I really do. I’m going to keep thinking about how I can expand on this theory and embrace time passing, because it is.”

Most of this residence’s square footage is underground, so Eddie Jones used the dirt from the excavation to form the 4-foot-thick rammed-earth walls that make up the lower part of the house. “Everything below the main truss is natural; everything above the truss is synthetic: glass, acrylic, fabric,” he says, adding that the homeowners, who spend most of their day below grade, requested something completely different for their living space. “The opposite of the solidity and opacity of the underground space is what we came to call their ‘cloud space,’” Jones states. “It’s all about diffusion of light; it’s atmospheric, almost moisture-like.”

Long fascinated with geometry, Jones placed a grouping of spheres at the entrance to his Rocky Point, Mexico, home. “The geometry of the sphere doesn’t compete with anything,” he says. “They’re sculptural, they organize the space and augment the space.” Here, they also serve to prolong the journey to the front door. “Relative to a conventional home where the door is obvious, here you are obligated to walk around the spheres,” Jones explains. From there, a gravel path leads through an arched walkway and into a courtyard. “Then you see through the glass front door all the way to the Sea of Cortez,” he adds. “The last thing you do after this series of experiences is actually enter the house. The journey is far more interesting because the usual sequence of entering a home is all jumbled, even blurred.”
Fired adobe walls form an elliptical-shaped rooftop viewing platform at this Paradise Valley, Arizona, residence. The carved stone orb in this outdoor area is not only sculptural, but stands sturdy for guests to steady themselves as they take in the surroundings.

At the center of the home’s wine room is a custom fiberglass table that glows in a chardonnay color. Overhead, shades of cabernet emanate from a cylindrical steel compression ring that does triple duty. “It not only supports the roof, it is a skylight shaft and the base for a rooftop table,” Jones says. “Nothing in architecture is arbitrary. There’s always a reason
to find a creative solution. You have to dig a little deeper for some, but that’s where the magic exists.”

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