Design Elements


Joesler was responsible for surveying the original lots in the Catalina Foothills and following through with the placement of the houses on the property, a level of control not often found in residential development. His siting priorities were based on defining view windows, primarily north to the mountains where living room picture windows faced, and south to the city where screened porches absorbed the warm winter sun. For the properties whose view faced west, he sacrificed the obvious climatic response to turn away from the harsh west and positioned the house for the view. His priorities, it must be remembered, were for clients who may only have used their Tucson home as a winter retreat and didn’t have to deal with Tucson’s summer heat, and particularly west-facing windows. Due to the irregular topography, siting of house in the Catalina Foothills Estates was extremely important to take advantage of the views and to preserve as much of the natural landscape as possible. The current rash of subdividing the original 5-acre properties in the Catalina Foothills Estates is slowly eroding away the original dense foothill desert landscape that was the marketing tool for Murphey’s “estate” community.

Site planning was not as much of a concern in the mid-town Joesler/Murphey buildings as it was in those built in the Catalina Foothills Estates. Original Foothills properties were chosen and surveyed taking into account the natural topography of the hilly landscape. Catalina Foothills Estates also had strict deed restrictions, one of which prevented the scraping of entire lots of natural vegetation, but restricted its cutting to within five feet of the house perimeter. Murphey knew that the vegetation, as well as the topography and view, were his strongest marketing tools for selling his vision of an estate community in the desert.

Though orientation was of critical importance to Joesler, climate was not always the primary criterion. Many times, views of the northern mountains or the southern Tucson Valley, as well as topography, took precedence over undesirable exposure to the sun. Typically, however, Joesler designed screened porches to face South and East to pick up the breezes. He also used large picture windows, which faced toward the north mountain views and high ceilings, from nine to twelve feet, for the stratification of warm interior air.

Joesler's foothills houses embodied the image Murphey was looking for. Not only were his houses stylistically romantic, but they responded to both the topography and desert environment which surrounded them. The use of arches, breezeways, and patios represented the outdoor lifestyle desired by Murphey to attract Easterners to Tucson. Architecturally, these features invoke the timeless elements of design in arid climates throughout the world and confirm the design expertise gained from Joesler's well-travelled life.

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Decorative Features

Joesler houses were spiced with a variety of decorative features that convey the intended sense of antiquity, with some items even acquired from the Murphey’s numerous trips to Mexico and Latin America. Typical features found in Joesler houses would include elaborate wrought-ironwork, including doors, windows and Joesler’s signature weather vanes, decorative glazed and unglazed ceramic tile, hand-painted walls, glass doors and ceiling beams, wall niches, hand-crafted light fixtures and door handles, and stamped tinwork usually found in bathrooms, heat registers and light switchplates. On the exterior, Joesler also used building materials in decorative ways, such as a parapet frieze where blocks are placed on end and at a 45-degree angle to the wall to create a border plait of sun, shade and shadow to highlight the top of the building in a sunlight-rich climate like ours. Hand-carved wooden doors, whose designs were often specified in the drawings, provided another opportunity for a decorative interior surface.

Helen Murphey contributed greatly to the overall aesthetic image of the houses through her study of Mexican art and architecture. She was known to have kept scrapbooks of photographs and drawings of Mexican architectural details obtained during family vacations. Using these motifs, she painted shutters and cabinets, carved lintels and beams and used hand-painted ceramic tiles in kitchens, bathrooms and patios. Trips to Central and South America brought back rare tiles, hand-carved doors, wall shrines, fireplace accessories, pottery, hand-worked hinges, latches, knockers and locks, as well as other items to accentuate the feeling of Mexican antiquity. Many times, as the Foothills houses were being designed, Joesler would take his prospective client to a warehouse of these collected items in an attempt to select items and materials best suited for the total design of the house. Custom work, such as hand wrought iron grills and gates, would be sketched by Joesler on brown kraft paper and embellished with complete instructions in Spanish for the Mexican iron smiths. To maintain the traditional craftsmanship.

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Most of Joesler’s large foothills homes are made of “burnt” adobe blocks, that are fired at a low temperature, and contrasts his smaller city houses, where he used sun-dried adobe blocks or fired clay brick. The exposed blocks are brushed with a light wash of grey mortar giving Joesler’s buildings a desired sense of rustic antiquity. He often used smaller fired bricks as an accent material against the burnt adobe often seen capping the parapet or surrounding door or window openings. Murphey also experimented with the admixture bitumenal, an oil product, to make the adobe more weatherproof. Mortar was made with hot lime, a superior long-lasted binder prohibited by today's safety standards, after which mesh was attached and stucco applied. Murphey obtained his desired flavor of antiquity by either locating weathered materials, such as timbers from old mine shafts or intentionally searing the surface of the materials with a blowtorch, then wirebrushing for an even more weathered appearance.

For floors, Joesler typically used stained concrete, usually blood red or golden in color. Depending on the stylistic preference, the concrete was scored to give the appearance of large tiles, or left as monolithic surfaces to convey the unadorned quality of the Modern expression. Joesler also used floor tile, of smaller dimension than today’s saltillo tile, which breaks up the floor surface into decorative patterns.

For residences with pitched roofs, Joesler typically used clay roof tiles that were intentionally laid with mortar bleeding from the joints to give a feeling of rustication. In addition, the eave ends were often stacked three tiles high to give the impression of a much thicker roof, such as those found in rural Mexico. Joesler also experimented with flagstone and other materials to create a flat roof deck to accommodate the Pueblo and Sonoran architectural styles.

Design vs. Style

Although Joesler did popularize many revivial styles in Tucson, such as the Spanish Colonial Revival and Pueblo Revival, Joesler was expert at blending historical traditions from a variety of sources to create a uniquely eclectic solution for each of his clients. His most prolific client, of course, was John Murphey, who built speculative houses that conveyed the image of Southwestern rural estate living he thought would attract Eastern clients away from similar resort communities in southern California. Joesler, however, had a great number of clients who had definite stylistic intentions for their new residences. Joesler complied with the same attention to building forms, materials and details as with his speculative residences, proving that good design is not driven by style, but by the education and experience of a good architect.

Joesler did a variety of buildings for a variety of clientele. Over the course of his career, he incorporated many different architectural styles into his work. Besides the many revival styles he incorporated to enhance the Old World image desired by Murphey, such as Spanish Colonial, Pueblo, Swiss, Tudor, Greek and Italianate, he also designed buildings using contemporary stylistic vocabularies: Art Deco, Art Moderne and the Modern/International Style. Nowhere are these styles more appreciated than in his architectural renderings. The Murphey-Keith Building Company office, as well as Joesler's studio, was full of artistic renderings of buildings composing a style book of designs and ornamentation vocabulary to suit even the most fanciful of clients. The renderings were masterful tools at portraying emotive images of traditional romanticism or even contemporary avant-garde.

Although Joesler occasionally worked as an independent architect, the vast majority of his work was under the patronage of the Murpheys. With so many projects built under the design of a single architect, it is tempting to refer to these projects as having a "Joesler style". In reality, Joesler was an eclectic. His design vocabulary borrowed from historic as well as contemporary styles and he often blended these styles with local building traditions resulting in a distinctive regional image.

Floor Plans
The typical floor plan for many of Joesler’s foothills houses is U- or H-shaped, centered on a large living room and Arizona Room, many times of equal size. The living room, the central space of Joesler’s residences, is often covered with a pitched roof whose exposed wooden support beams are composed in a unique way to transfer the weight of the roof’s ridge beam, running the length of the room, to beams, spanning the width of the room, resting on the walls. This transverse beam structure is elaborated with brackets and other wooden details to celebrate the rustic quality of the exposed roof structure.
As is common with most residential planning, the service functions - kitchen, maid’s quarters and other utility rooms - are located on the side of the garage. Joesler was notorious for his closets and kitchens that, by today’s standards, are small, but represented the more austere values of that time. Many of the occupants of Joesler’s foothills homes were only winter residents and often had a live-in maid who did all the cooking.

The private rooms - bedrooms, a library and bathrooms - are located on the opposite side and accessed by a hallway. The screened porch, or Arizona Room, became an outdoor extension of the living room and also provided access to the kitchen and bedrooms on either side of its rectangular layout. He often incorporated design features, such as courtyards and Arizona rooms to promote an outdoor lifestyle to his Eastern clients. Fundamentally, Joesler’s public spaces convey a sense of place through the use of well-proportioned rooms and elements that are appropriately scaled to the human body.

Many of Joesler’s houses had roof terraces for sleeping, or entertaining, accessible from appended stairs. In this house, the stairway is defined by a stepped solid wall that abstractly mimics the form of the stair risers and often was intended to hold potted plants to soften the wall form.


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