Eddie Jones An Eye On Design
Writer Amanda Christmann
Photography by Brandon Tigrett
Eddie Jones is a giant, not only because he’s a bear of a man with flowing hair and a larger-than-life personality. As one of the most respected, talented and well-known architects in Arizona, Jones has been making an impact on architectural design—and doing it his way—since 1979.
Earlier this year, Jones was awarded the distinguished Architects Medal at the 2018 AIA Arizona Design Awards Gala, the architectural equivalent of a lifetime achievement award, for his cumulative body of work.
It’s a powerhouse achievement, but you’ll never hear Jones brag about it, or likely even mention it.
He will also likely never bring up the 40 books, 227 magazines and journals, 29 television shows, various radio programs, the Hollywood movie and a six-part PBS documentary film that include his work.
“Perhaps he is missing an obvious opportunity for self-promotion, but it demonstrates that his focus is not on his admirable accomplishments, but rather on more important matters—his compassion and humanness,” said fellow architect Marlene Imirzian, whose own portfolio and impact on the profession earned her the AIA Architects Medal in 2011, and who nominated Jones for this year’s prestigious award.
Jones has humbly set the trophy aside, just as he has the other 207 design awards he’s earned during his career.
And a remarkable career it has been.
Building a Foundation
Forty years ago, Jones Studio was launched from the third bedroom of Jones’s modest house.
“Back then, it was easy,” he said with a deep belly laugh. “I had no student loans and had all the equipment I needed from college. I didn’t even have to invest in a computer because they were not invented yet. All I had to do was glue the name of my studio to the right of my front door.”
It was a rough set-up. He had no health insurance and no savings account to fall back on. The roof leaked in his “conference room,” which was really his dining room, so monsoon season meant he and his clients had to step around a bucket to get to his table.
“I am so grateful for my clients,” he added. “My clients took a leap of faith and trusted me. I just kept plugging away, day after day.”
His efforts paid off. Jones Studio’s current Tempe location is not only one of the most renowned firms in the West; it also functions as a center for community events and has won design awards of its own.
Bucking the System
Not only has Jones held firmly to his ideals, never selling out to cookie cutter design; he has been a warrior in advocating for positive change.
In the early 1990s, before the terms “green” and “sustainability” were mainstream, APS sponsored a design competition. The challenge, to build a three-bedroom home using energy-saving, passive design principles and technology, was motivated by the utility’s desire to avoid building another containment building at their existing nuclear power plant.
It was in APS’s best interest to reduce energy consumption, but it was in Eddie Jones’s intrinsic conscience to create buildings that would reduce impact on the environment.
He and his employees not only met contest expectations; they exceeded them. In 1994, the home he envisioned was built and opened to the public, and it became the gold standard for sustainable homebuilding in Arizona.
His work led to Arizona’s PBS Channel 8 producing a six-part documentary on the project. A college textbook called “The Environment Comes Home,” still utilized today, was published about the home in 1994.
That contest would not be Jones’ only groundbreaking project to develop environmentally friendly design. It was only the beginning.
Prior to 1998, the City of Phoenix had never issued a building permit for anything but traditional building materials. Jones pushed the envelope and caused a bit of controversy at City Hall when he submitted an application for a rammed earth home.
It was not easy to convince the building department that rammed earth was a structurally solid, viable alternative to what they’d always known, but anyone who knows Jones knows that he’s not one to back down on his laurels.
Eventually, after six months of showing up at City Hall to present data and to educate city officials, Jones won. He became the first architect in Arizona to receive a permit for a rammed earth building in Phoenix, and later secured similar permits in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley.
It wasn’t only a success for Jones; he paved the way for architects throughout the state to use innovative alternative building materials.
He broke new ground a short time later as the first architect in the country to use TREX, a recycled building material used most often for stairs, decks and patios, for a vertical application on his building at 44th Street and Thomas in Phoenix. Today, TREX can be found in vertical applications across the nation thanks, in large part, to his efforts.
And, when the City of Tempe refused to approve a dirt parking lot for his current studio site, Jones once again put his powers of persuasion to work.
He recognized that the Phoenix metro area has far too much asphalt, which has led to a significant negative environmental impact, so he developed a plan that would allow his parking lot to function with dual purpose, and with minimal impact.
His plan was to bury a 2,500-gallon rainwater storage tank beneath its surface and to use a mixture of materials to create efficient drainage. Eventually, the City of Tempe signed off on the plan.
Today, the lot always remains dry and is shaded by a beautiful surround of trees, which are watered by the retention tank below. It was yet another example of Jones’s ingenuity for the greater good.
An Unexpected Controversy
In 2006, Jones found himself the subject of a politically motivated skirmish he could not have dreamed. The race for Governor was a contentious one that year, and the Arizona 9/11 Memorial, which Jones had partnered with CoLAB Architecture to design, became a pawn for Republican nominee Len Munsil’s campaign.
The 2,000-square-foot memorial was built with a steel visor with laser-cut inscriptions meant to signify the country’s many reactions to the tragedy. Throughout the day, as the sun moves across the sky, each inscription is illuminated on the ground below for a few minutes before fading out and making way for another inscription.
Though the state historian amassed them, Munsil took exception to some of the quotes used in the design, saying they were anti-American. Because the memorial is in the shape of a crescent, Munsil also incited anger in his voters by saying it was pro-Muslim. He vowed that, if he won the election, he would have it removed.
Jones and his CoLAB colleagues were unwillingly at the epicenter of the highly publicized controversy. Jones believed, and still believes, that the memorial was designed to create much-needed dialogue, and to serve as a place to reflect upon the circumstances that led to, and that followed, the greatest act of terrorism in United States history.
In the end, Munsil lost the race, and the Arizona 9/11 Memorial still stands proudly at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza.
Sights on the Future
Though his career has seen many highs, and even a few lows, it is the future that most excites Jones.
“I am very optimistic,” he said with a voice that can only be described as jolly. “I think today’s young people have their heads on straight for the most part. They have a social conscience, and they are far more prepared to collaborate and far more able to engage with the larger community.
“They’re eager to learn, they’re damned smart, and I can see their enthusiasm. It’s great.”
He’s enjoying every day of his career, which recently involves a wide range of projects, from award-winning ports of entry to public spaces (Thunderbird School of Global Management in downtown Phoenix, Pomona Community Center in Hermosillo, Mexico and South Mountain Community College Performing Arts Center are just three feathers in his cap), to truly stunning residential designs.
“All of my clients are wonderful,” he says. “All of my projects, regardless of scale, are uplifting and make me want to get up in the morning.”
When asked what project he’s most proud of, Jones responds with a typical “Eddie-ism”: “The next one!” he exclaims. “It’s always the next one that’s going to be the best.”
Though it is evident that he loves his work, it’s something entirely different that truly has his heart.
At the AIA Awards Gala, as he took the stage, it was his wife, children and grandchildren who cheered loudest.
“My family was there, and that’s what made me the most proud to receive that recognition,” he said with emotion in his voice. “You think you don’t care about those types of things, but then they happen. Being surrounded by my family and seeing how proud they were, I thought, ‘Wow, I do care.’”