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Artist finally sells self-designed ‘livable sculpture’ in Kirkwood, sets sights on East Lake

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“It was really just this odd-looking cube that essentially found a way of being a house,” says Joseph Guay

Two-story concrete house with long driveway.
The artist’s foray into residential development sold for around $600,000 a few weeks ago.
Images: Dorsey Alston Realtors

When Atlanta artist Joseph Guay listed his “livable sculpture” in March last year for $650,000, he knew the modernistic Brutalist block on Memorial Drive wouldn’t be an easy sell.

Despite some criticism of the 2016 dwelling, Guay wanted it to belong to someone who saw it for what it is—a piece of art before a conventional home, he says.

Guay has no formal architectural education, he told Curbed Atlanta in a recent interview. But that’s kind of the point of his first residential creation.

Guay, by trade, is not a developer or real estate investor, either; he’s known for crafting politically provocative artwork, such as the Midtown “Border Wall” and the “Missed Attendants” piece that pays homage to the students killed during the Parkland High School massacre.

Nevertheless, the Atlanta native was proud to say the home he designed and built in Kirkwood sold the week of Thanksgiving for around $600,000—less than his asking price, but significantly above the construction cost, which he opted not to publicly reveal.

Called “Brutalist No. 1,” the nearly 2,000-square-foot structure is not for everyone, as evidenced by its time spent on the market. It has an abundance of raw concrete and minimalist features.

But Guay thinks of the residence more as an artistic experiment than cookie-cutter house—an effort to challenge today’s developers to be more imaginative with their designs.

The place was claimed by a man from Venezuela who, according to Guay, walked in the front door and immediately knew it would be his.

“It took a few months, but he was the perfect buyer for the house,” Guay said. “He wanted all the furniture and wanted everything exactly the way it is”—save for the wall art, which the creator had to take, lest he up the price.

Previous tire-kickers had been turned away by the artist when they expressed any interest in changing the design.

“Everybody wanted things different,” Guay said. “They wanted to repaint the outside or have the floors changed [or other amendments].”

Guay wouldn’t have that.

“Imagine selling a painting and someone repaints it,” he said.

After purchasing the 2118 Memorial Drive plot for just $15,000—local officials, said Guay, delayed the sale, thinking someone had forgotten to add an extra 0 on the legal documents—he set out to create a place that departs from the status quo of real estate development.

Guay consulted with a structural engineer after finalizing his blueprints for Brutalist No. 1. The design changed more than 50 times before he moved forward with construction, he said.

“When I [designed] it, I really didn’t even want to look at it as a house,” he said. “But of course, it had to be a house at some point. [The drafts] initially looked like a giant sculpture. None of the windows were designed. It was really just this odd-looking cube that essentially found a way of being a house.”

Now that he’s (more-or-less) a practiced designer, Guay said he plans to develop a small, artistic neighborhood on a swathe of land he recently purchased near the East Lake Golf Club.

He wants his next creations to “look like little sculptures.”

“The next property I do will look even less like a house,” Guay said. “I want each one to get even further from that, to where people can look at homes in ways that don’t have to look like homes.”

Of course, his next residences will still have bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens, he said. But they’ll be far from stereotypical.

“Everybody buys different clothes; everybody buys different cars,” he said. “A home should be the same thing. It shouldn’t match everything in the neighborhood; it shouldn’t look like everything else.”