Following last week’s visit to OPEN OFFICE in Los Angeles, we are moving our Meet your next employer series east of Providence, Rhode Island, where CIVIC is located.
Founded by architect Manuel Cordero and based in Providence’s Innovation District, CIVIC’s work is defined by an inclusive view of the built environment, and in particular the public realm. Their portfolio has thus grown to include collaboration with Arup on a master plan for public spaces across Providence, as well as ongoing educational and community projects.
The company is now looking to expand by advertising a multidisciplinary designer position on Archinect Jobs. For candidates interested in applying for the job, or anyone interested in learning more about life as an architect, we spoke with CIVIC founder Manuel Cordero for a behind-the-scenes look at the studio.
How did CIVIC get started?
I’m a licensed architect, but I’ve always been interested in pushing the boundaries of traditional practice. Earlier in my career, this led me to work at two very different scales. First, I founded the community design studio, DownCity Design, to work with community members to design and build neighborhood improvements. Second, I worked at the Rhode Island Department of Education, overseeing school construction for the state’s public schools. CIVIC was born out of my desire to bridge these two scales of operation – to create a multidisciplinary practice that could work systems-wide while engaging directly with local communities impacted by any proposed work.
What does the CIVIC name say about your work/ethos?
Our work is primarily in the public realm, and in particular, creating new models and practices to make public spaces/buildings healthy, resilient and inclusive. Almost all of our work includes community engagement and continually seeks to integrate increasingly diverse voices into decision-making about our built environment. The origins of the word ‘civic’ referred to both the city and its people – and the ambition of CIVIC’s work is to better connect the two.
How big is your team ?
At the moment we are 3, and we hope to have a team of 3 to 4 employees.
Is your office an open or subdivided space?
We work at CIC in Providence, a co-working environment with a mix of workspaces. We have a dedicated small open plan office and access to a mix of breakout rooms, conference rooms, phone booths and collaborative spaces. We also have a common kitchen, a games room (!), a giant community balcony overlooking the Providence River. and all spaces are filled with light and well ventilated.
Describe the area of town in which your office is located.
CIVIC is located in the Innovation District in Providence, which sits on the Providence River, just south of downtown Providence. We are within walking distance of the RISD and Brown campuses, Kennedy Plaza bus station and Providence train station. This booming neighborhood is currently undergoing a dramatic transformation, with a mix of housing, offices, and dining and entertainment options.
What is your favorite thing about working at Providence?
I love living and working in Providence. It’s a perfectly sized city where everything is easily accessible as a pedestrian or cyclist, and the city continues to invest in mobility infrastructure, making it easier and safer to navigate without a car. Home to Brown, RISD, the University of Rhode Island, and Providence College – it’s a vibrant college town with a large community of artists and creators, as evidenced by Waterfire, PVD Fest, and many other events and institutions. We also have an amazing food culture and countless amazing restaurants and places to eat. Providence is also a diverse and welcoming community – with a wide variety of organizations supporting and celebrating the city’s diverse culture.
If you were hosting a movie night for the team, what movie would you show?
Given all of our work in education and my not-so-secret love for high school coming-of-age movies, I’m going to choose either an old classic – Ferris Bueller’s day off or a new classic, Library.
What does your office look like? Do you listen to music or the radio at work, do you hear street life outside, or is it a quiet workplace?
It’s a mix. The office can be very quiet and sometimes we take turns playing music. We also have access to a mix of workspaces, so if you want a bit more background noise, you can go to the communal kitchen, and if you want absolute silence, you can find a soundproof phone booth.
If your business received $1 million to donate to charity, what would it be?
Downtown design. I am currently working with the organization to build the organization’s new headquarters in the West End of Providence. In addition to supporting the creation of a state-of-the-art workshop, the money would help support programs that help youth and adults actively engage in improving their neighborhoods using the design tools.
What is the most popular lunch spot in or around the office?
Providence is known for its great culinary culture, so it is difficult to answer. Personally, I would go with Plant City for lunch – a food hall and market just across the river from our office. For a coffee and a snack, I sat on the outdoor terrace of the Seven Stars cafe.
What is the most popular design tool in the office?
We have just completed a storyboard that distills teacher and student feedback into a “user journey” that translates their experiences and aspirations into spatial concepts. We used a mix of Rhino and Illustrator.
Tell us about a completed project that you are proud of.
In collaboration with Arup, Ultramoderne and Stimson, CIVIC worked on the master plan for public spaces in downtown Providence. Our role, as a public advocate, was to lead deep and broad community engagement and work hand-in-hand with the design team to incorporate feedback into the design process. The project took place during restrictive covid times, so we had to be creative with engagement. The result was a mix of online forums, a digital site navigation tool, surveys, site interviews and contextual events. Feedback found meaningful and deep integration into the project options and included a dramatic reimagining of downtown Providence. The process and products are all captured on ImagineDowntownPVD.com.
What position(s) are you currently recruiting for?
CIVIC is currently looking for a multidisciplinary designer interested in exploring the application of design to everything from policies to systems and cities to benches. Our ideal candidate is an emerging designer (urban, architectural, landscape) with strong drawing and graphic design skills. Candidate should have experience facilitating (or teaching) and/or an interest in learning how to design and facilitate community meetings. This person will be responsible for research, analysis and visualization of data, production of design documents and graphic design of presentations and documentation.
What project(s) are new team members likely to work on?
We work on educational projects with several communities in Rhode Island (Bristol Warren, Middletown, Central Falls) and Massachusetts (Whitman, Hopkinton). This work consists mainly of the planning of educational establishments with a great deal of community participation. We are also very excited about the idea of a municipal project on the Providence waterfront. Managed by the city’s Office of Sustainability, in conjunction with the Race and Environmental Justice Coalition, this project aims to reimagine a designated right of way to the water from a gritty industrial landscape to a more welcoming space that offers .
In three words, how would you describe your team’s design philosophy?
Participatory. Multidisciplinary. People oriented.
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