• The Joy House’s existing front porch unifies three separate units with a shared, public-facing space. Photo by Casey Dunn

Location Marfa
Client Kok Lye and Joy Ohara
Architect Kinneymorrow Architecture
Design Team Michael Morrow, AIA
Photographers Casey Dunn

Marfa is one of the few towns in which contemporary design does not stand out from its surroundings, and the Joy House is no exception. It would be easy to drive by without noticing its rich vocabulary and meticulousness. The project, designed by Houston-based Kinneymorrow Architecture, seems to have been there forever.

The rigorous plan of the Joy House sets up a logic that Kinneymorrow follows through in materiality, section, and fenestration. For juror Anne Schopf, FAIA, “the rigor of the plan and the discipline of the tectonics were very captivating.” Even though the Joy House encompasses three independent dwelling units within the building envelope, the design language employed keeps the project cohesive while maintaining a sense of space for each suite. Courtyards produced by the additions act as entry points for the smaller units, while the larger unit maintains its entry court using the street wall.

Distinct binaries between the existing structure and the additions form a visual language that can be read through all three living spaces. Traditional adobe methods used on the existing structure express the local nature of the renovation and delineate the living and sleeping quarters, with the support program situated within each attached addition. The dialogue between existing structure and addition is beautifully articulated through a shift in materials, from traditional adobe construction in a medium gray to a glowing white addition. A sharp transition is present in the boundary, either through the vertical edge of the tragaluz or the visual break produced by the repeating glazed
connections joining the three units.

As a renovation, Joy House respects the existing structure, paring the previous additions back to the adobe footprint and the east-facing porch. For such an unusual program, the porch acts as the glue tying the three spaces together in a unified assemblage. Externally, the three units are nearly indistinguishable. “We were interested in … understanding how the guesthouse pieces interacted with the main house,” Schopf says. “In fact, it’s three independent units, but we’re thinking that they’re seamed together by the porch element, and the porch as an integration to the street [is] actually the place where they all come together.”

With the Joy House, Kinneymorrow continues a tradition in Marfa of regionally specific architecture. Preservation of traditional techniques within contemporary design and materials gives a voice to the past without being beholden to it. You need only walk around the block to understand the history of the Joy House.

Marcel Merwin works for CONTENT Architecture in Houston.

Leave a Comment