Architect Darren Petrucci is Ushering Phoenix Design into the Future
2022 MASTERS of the SOUTHWEST Award Winner - Darren Petrucci
This cutting-edge architect and educator is ushering Phoenix into the future. Darren Petrucci
By Carly Scholl | Photography by David B. Moore, Bill Timmerman
Though born in New Jersey and raised in Colorado, Darren Petrucci finds himself entirely at home in the desert, not only as a resident but also as an artist who sees the landscape as his canvas. “I am 100% pro-Phoenix,” he says. “I believe it is the most futuristic city in the world.” Petrucci, an award-winning architect and professor at ASU, has a unique blend of education and intuition that gives him this near-clairvoyant capacity to peek into the future of the Phoenician metropolis. “There’s this pervasive grid structure that is one of our greatest amenities,” he continues. “There is an archipelago of mountains that interrupts the grid. We don’t have a lot of historic preservation or environmental constraints. Not a lot of rain. As an architect, the things we can do with the incredible light in this desert is exciting. As an urban form, Phoenix is an unbelievable laboratory.”
Thanks in part to his long career as an educator—he’s enjoyed terms as both the director of ASU’s school of architecture and a professor—Petrucci has the captivating ability to communicate the ideas and visions in his head. Whether he’s describing the value of a non-hierarchical grid system to a city’s expansion efforts, or explaining the purpose of structural canopies in a residential context, his passion for architecture and innovation is contagious.
“Darren is connecting with people who share a certain value system and are willing to put it into practice,” notes Max Underwood, a fellow architect and President’s Professor at ASU, an honorable distinction given to especially innovative educators. “He goes out into the city to talk to the business community and politicians and bankers and lawyers about how to better utilize the built world around us. Darren believes that we’re all in this together, no matter what our disciplines are.”
A career in architecture wasn’t always the plan for Petrucci. He initially attended Tulane University in New Orleans to study pre-med. “There were no architects in my family, so I never really considered it,” he recalls. “But my freshman year, I found architecture. It was a typical New Orleans day, pouring sheets of rain. I called my parents up and told them I wanted to be an architect. There was silence, and then my mom said, ‘If you do what you love, the rest will come.’”
Petrucci then packed his bags for sunny Arizona, where he finished his undergrad at ASU. At the advice of his then-professor, Underwood, the young architect attended graduate school at Harvard University. It was during his time there that Petrucci’s horizons expanded when he was given the opportunity to study and work in Malaysia. “This Malaysian architect I was working for had a big project in China to design a small town, and he asked if I wanted to do it,” Petrucci remembers. “I deferred grad school for a year and designed a city in China with a Formula One racetrack, hotels, a mall, golf course, housing and more. I had to keep traveling to extend my visa, so I would visit different parts of Asia for research and did projects all over the continent. The experience really opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about architecture—you can’t go just building by building, you have to take in the different forces of the city.”
“As an architect, the things we can do with the incredible light in this desert is exciting. As an urban form, Phoenix is an unbelievable laboratory.”
—Darren Petrucci, architect
It was advice from his father-in-law, a renowned architecture educator, that brought Petrucci and his wife back to Arizona. “He told me to move back to where I was from because I’d have more influence there than anywhere I could move,” he recalls. The couple both began working as professors at ASU and, in 2001, Petrucci founded A-I-R, Inc., an architectural firm that seeks to close the gap between infrastructure and design.
“The name of the firm is based on my three loves: architecture, infrastructure and research,” he explains. “The hyphens are intentional—they both connect and separate. I wanted to create a company where everything we design, draw and manifest is advancing the project of architecture and advancing the international impact of architecture.”
One of Petrucci’s passions is what he has coined Amenity Infrastructure. “Phoenix is a city that is driven by two forces—engineers who build infrastructure and developers who provide amenities, including resorts, malls and housing,” he explains. “Nobody is working between those two disciplines.” But to Petrucci, everything is infrastructure. He innovates new design concepts that are multifunctional, highlighting an agenda of sustainability, livability and futuristic thinking. “This idea is ingrained in all the work we do,” he says. “And it can happen at the residential level.”
When designing homes for clients, Petrucci jokes that “every one of our clients gets a master’s degree in architecture, whether they like it or not.” He is careful to explain every choice to homeowners, making sure the collaborative vision is clear and purposeful. “What’s so interesting and rewarding about working with Darren is that his projects not only have beauty, but also intellect and soul,” asserts Robert Moric, founder of Bulthaup Scottsdale and a frequent collaborator on residential projects. “Darren always has an interesting perspective for each project. There’s a meaning behind everything and a story to be told.”
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