Keeping Up with the Joneses
We check in with visionary architect and Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner Eddie Jones.
By Katherine Adomaitis | Photography by Paul Markow
It’s a sunny weekday morning, and architect Eddie Jones is giving a tour of his Jones Studio office in downtown Tempe. He points out the origamilike roof structure of the 6,500-square-foot building, designed to drain rainwater into a 2,500-gallon underground cistern that is used to water the mesquites and ironwoods that shade the property. In the sunken conference room, he explains the grid of brass squares that dangle from the ceiling, screening vents and light fixtures—they’re simply decorative elements—then notes how one end of the studio is used as community space in which art and design organizations can host events.
Jones, a 1994 Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner, exudes glee when talking about the office he designed. “We’ve been in this building since 2016, and every day I’m happy to be working here,” he says. “I always see something new, such as the way the light falls on a wall. It just proves that architecture gives back in ways that you don’t always expect.”
If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that Jones is a starry-eyed newcomer to the profession, but his 16-person firm just celebrated its 40th anniversary this summer and is forging ahead with numerous residential, educational, religious and civic projects. His zeal for his work is still going full throttle.
“When I first met Eddie 42 years ago, he was wildly enthusiastic,” says his friend, Phoenix architect and general contractor Rich Fairbourn, who has built many Jones-designed homes. “Today, he’s even more passionate about his art.”
In 1973, Jones—armed with a degree from Oklahoma State University and inspired by his heroes, Frank Lloyd Wright and Bruce Goff—moved to Arizona “in a hippie VW bug,” galvanized by an Arizona Highways magazine article that explored the legacy of Wright and the work of Paolo Soleri. “I figured Arizona was a place where architects were welcome,” he guffaws. “What a stupid reason to move 1,000 miles. My best quality is my naivete. I’m too dumb to be scared.”
His blind faith paid off, and Jones spent five years as a lead designer with Lescher & Mahoney—then Arizona’s oldest architecture firm—designing and building some 2,000 properties for HUD’s Indian Housing Program before landing a commission to do a custom home on his own. “In 1979, I bought some letters from the hardware store,” recalls Jones, “and siliconed ‘Jones Studio’ to the wall of my Ralph Haver-designed house. I was in business. I had a T square, pencils and a desk. I wore cutoffs and flip-flops to work.”
Jones quickly became known for his innovative, modern designs that incorporated green elements even before the sustainability movement came to the fore. But he credits his firm’s growth and stability to his brother, Neal Jones, who joined the team in 1986. “Neal saw that I had no business sense,” Jones recalls. “If he hadn’t joined me, I would still be in that Haver house, doing one project at a time.”
Neal, who holds a double master’s degree in architecture and business from the University of Illinois, is quick to point out that the elder Jones “is an amazing talent. He was always the better designer of the two of us—but he needed someone to run the business,” he notes. “Together, we’ve been able to cultivate a strong architecture practice with our team of extraordinary design talents. Everyone has been here for, like, 20 years. We now have two young partners who will eventually take over the studio and continue the legacy.”
In the meantime, Jones is nowhere near ready to rest on his laurels. He has his fingers in multiple residential projects. There’s a house in Montana that’s under construction; a rammed earth clubhouse and a private dwelling in design for a development in Hermosillo, Mexico; the renovation of a midcentury modern abode in Scottsdale; and an addition to a house he originally built in 1982. Jones also recently designed a home for artist James Turrell at his Roden Crater project in Northern Arizona. “A house is a labor of love,” says Jones, who still uses pencil and paper to do his design work. “When somebody wants me to create a house, I do it. I love working on them.”
Indeed, Jones Studio has won numerous awards for its residential commissions as well as for mega-projects, such as the Mariposa Land Port of Entry at the border in Nogales and the University of Arizona College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture building in Tucson. The firm is currently working on several new, large ventures, including the Otay Mesa Land Port of Entry in California, the new Arizona State University Thunderbird School of Global Management building in downtown Phoenix and the renovation of Valley Presbyterian Church in Paradise Valley.
Giving back has also been a natural part of Jones’ 40-plus-year career. He’s known to mentor young architects and enjoys teaching—most recently at UA’s architecture school, commuting to Tucson twice a week for classes. He’s also on the board of The School of Architecture at Taliesin. One of his many admirers is John Meunier, ASU emeritus professor of architecture and former dean of the school’s College of Architecture. “Eddie Jones stands out as exemplary,” Meunier says, “both as an enormously generous person but also as an equally talented and creative model for my students of what a citizen architect can be. On more occasions than I can enumerate, I have been able to take groups of students to meet Eddie at one of his brilliant buildings, including his own home in Ahwatukee, where he would welcome them and help them explore, experience and understand the work.”
And for Jones, his imagination never rests. He ends the office tour to sit at his desk near the massive pivoting front door and begins sketching out dozens of ideas that quickly fill his head.
A broad smile lights up his face. “I figure I’ve only got 30 years left before I start slowing down.”