Rooted Modernism: Rick Joy Architects turns to a Northeast vernacular in a new house.
“I don’t want to be known as the rammed-earth guy,” says Rick Joy, AIA.
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Joy is referring to the low-slung, thick-walled houses (and his own office enclave) that he started building in and around Tucson in the 1990s. Rammed earth appeals to those living in dry, hot climates, where the mix of packed soil, a little cement, and water creates an architecture that fits in well with the desert landscape while offering occupants passive cooling and heating features. Joy, who hates architectural typecasting, has also explored thin steel-plate construction inspired by Arizona’s industrial sheds, as witnessed by his rusty cubiform Desert Nomad House.
Nevertheless, now that Joy has completed a shingle-and-stone house and barn in Woodstock, Vermont, he could be called the “gable guy.” The commission to build a 3,890- square-foot, four-bedroom house and a 5,625-square-foot barn in a picturesque town among the Green Mountains has taken Joy to another vernacular entirely — that of the rural northeast. Actually, his shift is not so unusual if you consider that Joy grew up in Maine. There he studied music in college and worked as a carpenter before going to architecture school at the University of Arizona.
Joy’s Vermont client, Paul Palandjian, a young Boston real estate investor with a strong interest in art, searched through a trove of books for an architect for his rural, 210-acre homestead. When he came across Joy’s work, Palandjian was immediately hooked by the architect’s inventiveness. He wanted to see how Joy’s creative instincts would play out in a New England landscape.
Joy claims, “I didn’t have an overall form in mind.” But what about that gable? It would strike many a Modernist architect as slightly heretical to incorporate a gable roof rather than a flat or single-pitched roof into a design. Joy simply replies, “That’s what you do here.”
Initially, Palandjian wanted to locate the new house at the top of a hill, where it would command views of the surrounding woods and pastures. But Joy felt that the main focus of family activity would probably end up being down by the spring-fed pond, close to the road. This alternate location would also mean that the house would be easier to reach in snowy weather. While a small old cottage had to be torn down for the new, larger structures, Joy’s elegantly elongated gable house with massive stone end walls and cedar cladding on the roof and side walls — and the cedar-shingle barn — make the ensemble seem as if it has always been there.
It is only when you look closely at significant details that you notice Modernist interventions. For example, there are no eaves: “With no eaves, there are no icicles,” says Joy, since water backing up inside the warm roof on a long eave can create dams of ice. “Sometimes you have to rethink traditional construction details,” he says. For this reason, Joy also located the main entrance at one stone end of the house, rather than on a long side, so that snow accumulating on the roof wouldn’t fall on those going in. Other contemporary “corrections” include 4-foot-wide, 6-foot-high windows that wrap up over the roof to become 10-foot-long skylights, framing dramatic views for the spaces within.
Joy describes the plan for the main house as “a loaf of bread,” with the stone-walled entrance opening onto a living-dining area and kitchen, followed by bedrooms for the children, and finally, at the other (stone-walled) end, the master bedroom suite. The end walls of bedrock dredged from the bottom of Lake Champlain and laid with recessed mortar are doubled at the entrance to enclose a vestibule.
In devising the structure for the 152-foot-long house, Joy opted for post-and-beam steel bents, 12 feet on center, so that ceilings could go up as high as 22 feet and allow open spans where desired. Between the steel bents there are structural insulated panels (SIPs) covered with cedar shingles outside and spruce paneling within. The fact that the steel frame and panels were manufactured off-site kept the construction costs (undisclosed) below budget, says Palandjian, and enabled the house to be finished in 13 months. (Nevertheless, such moves as the perfect alignment of the boards and shingles of the various planes speak of a close attention to craft.)
Joy placed the long, low house, which has a basement equipped with a synthetic ice floor for indoor hockey practice, at an angle to the barn, which also functions partially as a sports facility for the seriously athletic family. In addition to garage, storage, and second-level guest quarters, Joy designed an indoor basketball court that opens onto a basketball court outdoors. Beyond it is the pond, now being enlarged and fitted with a deck connecting to the barn.
To save energy, the team is investigating installing a small hydroelectric plant to take advantage of the pond as an energy resource and to supplement the geothermal system already in place.
Palandjian loves the “purity” of the setting that fosters the relaxed environment reminiscent of his own childhood summers. For their part, some Modernist architects might still find Joy’s turn to a straightforward gable too reminiscent of houses of the 1970s and ’80s, when the gable was madly embraced by Postmodernist architects. But Joy (along with avant-garde peers Herzog & de Meuron and Sou Foujimoto) no longer views the gable as retardataire. The irony is that such a simple gesture now reads as an iconoclastic statement. And Modernism still lies in the details.
Rick Joy sited the 152-foot-long house and the two-story barn to embrace an open area near the spring-fed pond of the 210-acre farm in Vermont’s Green Mountains.
Rick Joy Architects, Ltd.
400 South Rubio Ave.
P: +1 520.624.1442
F: +1 520.791.0699
Gross square footage:
House = 3,890 sq.ft. ,
Main barn = 3,375 sq.ft.
barn loft = 2,250 sq.ft.
Paul and Dione Palandjin and family
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