At Home with Joey Pruett of A21 Architecture
We had the pleasure of touring the home of architect Joey Pruett, founder of A21, a Denver-based firm known for their innovative and sustainable designs. Joey has a passion for creating architecture that not only meets the needs of the client but also enhances the surrounding environment. He believes that architecture should be a reflection of the community it serves, and this belief is evident in his designs.
At A21 Architecture, Joey and his team specialize in residential and commercial architecture, with a focus on sustainability and energy efficiency. They work closely with clients to ensure that their vision is brought to life, while also prioritizing practicality and functionality.
· What path did you take for your education in architecture / design?
Thankfully, in both my undergraduate degree in Urban Planning + Design at the University of Missouri Kansas City and my Masters Degree in Urban Design at the University of Colorado I was fortunate to be involved in design based studio programs where I was learning from faculty practicing architecture and students pursuing architecture degrees which gave me a glimpse into the design side of placemaking at the larger city & metropolitan scale. Over the course of time I found the practice of Urban Planning & Urban Design to be too slow moving and bureaucratic. I liked the tangibility and immediacy of architecture to create spaces and make a difference in people’s lives so I continued my studies and received my second Masters Degree in Architecture in 2012 and have been practicing since.
· At what age or moment in your life did you realize you wanted to pursue a career in architecture?
In High School I would get in trouble for doodling skyscrapers & stadiums instead of taking notes in class, so I guess that was a clear sign of where my mind was focused.
· Tell us a little bit about your home and what makes it special to you?
My wife grew up in Palo Alto, California which has several neighborhoods of Eichler homes which influenced the original designs of the homes in Krisana Park so we loved the idea our home having a connection to her childhood along with the embedded modern design which we as two practicing architects could appreciate. We love the floor to ceiling windows that floods the interior spaces with abundant natural light and the natural flow of the indoor and outdoor spaces to each other. The house had some unfortunate 1990’s and early 2000’s “updates” and uninviting paint colors which we are slowly pulling out and replacing with a soft-white background to accentuate the natural light with considered placement of walnut architectural elements, art and textiles to make the interiors feel warm and cozy. We painted the exterior black as both a contrast to the white interiors and to accentuate the greenery of the trees and natural grasses we’ve planted. During the pandemic we built a breeze block wall to reference a classic mid-mod design element while opening views from our garden lanai to the street. Fingers crossed we can wrap up the remodeling in the next year or two with a new kitchen, primary bedroom en-suite bathroom and re-finishing the basement.
· Was there an early experience you had with a work of architecture or an architect that had an impact on you? Or, that influenced your design style?
In the Summer of 2011 following a month long study abroad in Rome, I found myself in the middle of a remote village of 1000 people and 1000 sheep in the Swiss Alps following the advice of one of my professors to visit the Therme Vals project designed by Peter Zumthor. The moment I walked into the space a million different light bulbs started going off in my head and my inner voice was telling me “now this is architecture”. Zumthor’s mastery of how light, materiality and site specific design can evoke deeply personal emotions made an remarkable impact on how I think about design, architecture and landscape. The power of that first experience at Vals was so profound that I proposed to my wife there in 2016 and went back in 2018 to celebrate our honeymoon and our home is filled with a variety stone objects from Vals to always remind us of that special place.
· Why did you choose Denver as a place to live and establish yourself?
In the early 2000’s I had been traveling to Colorado quite regularly with good friends from Kansas City for snowboarding trips, and was immediately drawn to the variety of landscapes and the more progressive culture here. An undergraduate professor suggested that to go to graduate school where I want to settle down for my career, so I decided to pursue my graduate education at the University of Colorado Denver where I met my future wife and have been here since.
· What propelled you to go out on your own and start your own firm?
I was fortunate to have lived with my first boss and mentor, Scott Lindenau for a few months when I was starting my career with Studio B in Aspen and got to see on a day to day basis what it took to run what I consider the best design practice in Colorado. I’ll forever be grateful to Scott for all of the conversations at the dinner table or during car rides to work where I learned incredibly valuable lessons on how to provide a high quality of services to clients and be a good architect that I try to carry into my own practice. A few years later a longtime friend and talented artist reached out to commission me to help her and her husband design a new home for their growing family in Boulder, which provided the outlet and enough financial runway for me to quit my job and establish A21 in 2019.
· Where did the name of your firm come from?
The A is short for Atelier, which is the French word for Studio. I wanted to ground my firm’s culture in the Studio ethos of team collaboration with a horizontal hierarchy of staff instead of the typical top down, ladder climbing setup of typical firms. I didn’t want to put my name on the firm, as that usually comes off as egotistical and makes the work about the firm owner instead of the team. I prefer to work behind the scenes, giving credit to the team and my clients. However I did want some sort of personal touch that speaks to who I am and where I’ve come from so I took the number I wore playing high school basketball, 21, and stuck it on the end. A21, simple but with intention which I think speaks to our work.
· How do you balance function and aesthetics in your work?
A structure has to be attractive, functional and above all feasible. In other words, it must pass the test of time as regards to usability and design. There’s a purposeful intent in our works of both finding that balance of function and aesthetics along with connecting to the surrounding landscape. I like to begin our design process by spending a lot of time deeply immersed into the site, letting the light, tones and textures of the surrounding landscape dictate our initial design moves which then moves into a continuous process of design iterations and client feedback searching for that balance. This process of listening closely to the elements of the site and iterative design feedback loops often leads to an intuitive balance of form & function.
· In addition to a home’s architecture, what role do you think furnishings and curated objects play in the story of our lives?
I find that by keeping our architecture refined we allow breathing room for more dynamic spaces to tell the story of both our clients lifestyles and the natural beauty of the sites they occupy. If not implementing glass walls for connections to the outside, I like to use natural and muted wall finishes to reduce the architecture to background and let the tones and textures of our clients’ personal collections of art, furniture and décor to come to the foreground visually. I like to think that we’re merely setting a stage or creating an atmosphere of carefully considered spaces for our clients’ to bring our buildings to life and tell their story.
· Do you have a favorite city or place you like to visit for design inspiration?
Since I can’t visit the Therme Vals as much as I’d like… when time allows I enjoy finding a quiet place up in the mountains to turn off my brain and experience the light coming through the trees and the sound of a running stream to find inspiration, inner peace and a reconnection with what’s important.
· What is it that excites you the most about your work as an architectural designer?
My biggest thrill is working closely with our clients during the design process to create spaces deeply personal and meaningful to them. Experiencing the wonder, joy and appreciation from those clients when we walk through a completed space for the first time with a smile on their face and seeing the translation of design on paper to the built spaces makes all of the hard work worth it.
· What’s one of your favorite built projects and why?
The Juvet Landscape Hotel in Valldal, Norway by Jensen & Skodvin Architects exemplifies a design which finds harmony between architecture and nature. There’s a humble sophistication to how the cabins are thoughtfully treated with a restrained exterior palette of wood and reflective glass to situate themselves quietly within the forest. By desaturating the interior finishes with black walls and furniture, the vividness of the immediate forest landscape makes the occupants feel completely immersed in nature.
· Is there a design aspect or area of a project that you would never compromise on?
I’ll never compromise my design philosophy and ethos for short sighted, market driven trends of ornamentation and over-building which seems to be more and more prevalent lately here in Colorado. I will always prioritize a window wall over a television and an outdoor living space over an 8th bedroom. I think there’s a younger generation of clients that appreciate thoughtfully designed, efficient spaces with a connection to the landscape of Colorado more than un-necessary space and “stuff”. Not to be cliché, but I think when you’re in a place surrounded by unlimited natural beauty like we have here in the Mountain West region, less truly is more.
Bonus · Okay, it’s a lazy Sunday morning around your home, what type of music are you playing? What artist or album?
Depending on the time of year my wife and I are usually sitting next to the fire or outside in our garden listening to a pretty eclectic mix of anything from mellow hip-hop, r&b, and jazz to ambient and deep house music.