If Rick Joy could pick a NAHBS winner…

Let me share a pet peeve. Architects are quick to point out the ecological damage wrought by urban sprawl, when it involves oversized houses built from standard plans in the suburbs. But you rarely hear architects speak against hyper sprawl: that sprawl that goes on beyond the suburbs.

Speaking against farmlands and wilderness areas being used as playgrounds where the rich can build their weekenders, is a breath away from criticising the architects who build them these playgrounds. Let’s name a few: Rick Joy, Antoine Predock, Glenn Murcutt, Samuel Mockbee…. To mention the damage caused (by cars and roads mainly) as a result of hyper sprawl, is to expose the myopia of our discipline’s luminaries every time they stand up and say their work is green, plus our own gullibility, for not lobbing eggs or tomatoes each time they do.

Last week I met an arch villain, Rick Joy, and cringed every time I heard him use that phrase “off the gird”. Rick, the cars that take people out to your projects, are on a grid that leads to Iraq!

But before we smash his glass houses, I should say that a recurring theme of Joy’s master plans (that all of his clients thus far have rejected) is the making of closely packed villages, rather than sprawling subdivisions of one acre blocks. He is also a funny, likeable, self effacing guy, the kind of guy you would gladly lend your draft to in a bike race. When I hear him explain how he designs, I could swear I’m listening to a Portland based bike maker, explaining some new design feature. Both belong to one milieu. If Rick Joy were a judge at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS), the bikes he would choose would be no different from the ones picked by the judges they already have. Like any NAHBS judge, Rick would give prizes to bikes that made ingenious use of leather or timber, joined by hand with irreducible elegance, as an offering to whatever native American god stands for utility, or blesses the deer hunt.

There is a rural flavour to recent trends in bike design, with the promise of some slight redemption for architecture in remote areas. Where previously the weekend escape only started when you arrived at your retreat in your car, just maybe, life can slow down while you are on your way there. I’m not addressing those of you who would rather count each ounce of carbon. I’m clutching for any kind of credible dream.


  1. Ian Menzies says:

    That’s a pretty good point, and the reason I no longer go surfing. 3 hr round trip in the car to catch a couple of over crowded, mushy waves. Better by far, to go cycling.(or move to Newcastle.Preferably Dixon Park!)

    • Steven says:

      I live right next to it, and surfing is still a big hassle. It’s just not a gentleman’s sport.

  2. Luke says:

    Far be it from me to defend architects, but they are not alone in thinking that somehow”being in countryside” = “green/good”. Terraced houses in towns/ high rise buildings just don’t seem virtuous. There may be hope from non-Anglo cultures. A Brazilian friend of my brother’s from student days visited him and was horrified to find him living in rural Oxfordshire, “not even in a village.” He took my sister-in-law quietly to one side to check that business was ok and that they’d be able to get back to a town as soon as things picked up…

  3. Gusto says:

    I forgave his OTGFTUR (off the grid for the ultra rich) because every masterplan looked like some italian country hill town.

    • Steven says:

      I agree. Easy to pardon. Not that a jet fuel user like me, with a titanium fetish, could stand in judgment.

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