Always Iconic – Stephan Mackos

Mackos Architecture and Construction

Quality, not quantity, marks the work of this modernist architectural designer and builder.

By Nora Burba Trulsson

Images courtesy of Mackos Architecture and Construction

On a crisp, clear morning, Stephan Mackos sits on a folding chair, contemplating the view from a job site on the side of Camelback Mountain. He’s just finished demolition of the property’s circa-1980s house that clung to the south side of the mountain’s steep granite cliffs and included caves—some natural, some cored into the rock—for spaces like the garage and a hot tub. “Is this the craziest site I’ve ever worked on?” asks the Phoenix builder and architectural designer. “Yes, I’d say so, but we’re going to be following the footprint of the old house.”

Indeed, this new project, a narrow building envelope at the end of a dizzying, hairpin-turn road, is just the kind of challenge Mackos relishes—modern architecture and a not-so-basic site. Designed by The Ranch Mine, a Phoenix architectural firm, the 6,500-square-foot home will have two levels and make the most of its city and cliffside views. It’s one of only several projects a year that Mackos takes on—and he likes it that way, preferring to fly under the radar, building projects for some of Arizona’s most high-profile designers or constructing his own designs.

Born in Los Angeles and a Phoenix resident since childhood, Mackos was always taking things apart and putting them back together as a child and realized early on that architecture would feed that interest. After graduating from Brophy prep, Mackos got his master’s in architecture from ASU in 2000. Looking for a job, he searched for firms doing modern design and build. “Construction is always part of architecture, isn’t it?” he asks, rhetorically. “To do a good design, you have to understand the engineering, the materials. They’re linked.”

Mackos lucked out, joining The Construction Zone, a Phoenix design-build firm,  right out of college. “I started as a clean-up boy, sweeping construction sites,” he recalls, “but—poof—I was soon running jobs as a project manager.” After seven years with the company, he took the plunge and launched his own design-build practice. “I was lucky,” he remembers, “because I never started out with a small job, like a bathroom remodel. I went big right away, with a full house on Mummy Mountain in Paradise Valley.”

Mackos kept up this trajectory with his own residential projects and work for stellar names like architects Brent Kendle and Darren Petrucci, and interior designer David Michael Miller, all in the modernist vein. “It’s the aesthetics of the project that intrigue me, whether it’s my own design or someone else’s. Would I do a French Revival design? Likely not. I’m interested in the real, the authentic, not fake details.”

Though he admits he’s bad a networking and using social media to tout his work, Mackos says clients hire him because he’s hands-on. “I’m the guy on the site. I’m the guy with the subs. I don’t send in anyone else.” He also points out that his favorite tool is a Sharpie. “I sketch things out on site, to make sure it’s right.”

With the Camelback Mountain house scheduled to be completed in 2024, Mackos is also designing a home in Clearwater Hills and doing a new build on Mummy Mountain. “I feel very fortunate to do my own projects and build for others,” he says. “I wake up each day and can’t wait to get on the construction site.”