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Famed architect Rick Joy recently spoke to UNLV students, as part of the Klai Juba Lecture Series, about nourishing their community through design and architecture. Tucson, Ariz.-based Joy is the winner of the Smithsonian Institute’s National Design Award, and an inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Letters; he’s also as a visiting professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. When Joy talks – in other words – people listen. His work displays remarkable ecological sensitivity and thoughtful craftsmanship with simple but elegant details. It’s elemental architecture deeply immersed in the native landscape, drawing upon indigenous materials such as earth and stone. Not surprisingly, Joy embraces green building practices that preserve natural surroundings while still producing strikingly elegant architectural creations. He often incorporates earth-rammed walls, drought-tolerant landscaping, rooftop solar panels and rainwater collection into his buildings.

Joy’s work is mostly scattered throughout Arizona whose topography, environment and climate closely mirror Southern Nevada, thereby providing a sort-of instructional road map for local design. “Joy’s work respects the natural landscape,” says architect Eric Strain, principal of Las Vegas-based assemblageSTUDIO. “We need to appreciate and celebrate the beauty around us in Southern Nevada. It’s something we can do better.”

Las Vegas is littered with overstuffed subdivisions where one track home is indistinguishable from another. National production builders often reproduce floor-plan designs from to city to city, enabling cheap and fast construction that lowers costs and maximizes profits. Aesthetics and environment, community and character often take a backseat as a result. Homes in Los Angeles may look eerily similar to those in Las Vegas, despite deeply divergent cultural narratives. But Joy encouraged UNLV architecture students to remain true to core values by staying environmentally sensitive and conceptually insightful. “Cherishing the site’s spirit while striving for heirloom quality and endurance are important,” said Joy. “It’s vital to be close enough to the culture to get into it.” TONY ILLIA