Meet The Civitots: Four Principals Reflect On Forty Years Of Civitas
To kick off the fresh new year of Meet the Civitots blog posts, we recently sat down with four Civitas Principals, Scott Jordan, Craig Vickers, Chris Parezo, and Blake Jordan, to talk about their time with Civitas, and learn how the small company has thrived throughout the past four decades. When asked to reflect on the past, present, and future, the core of all of their insights was the same:
Culture is their superpower.
When facing adversity, from recessions to global pandemics, Civitas has consistently risen to each challenge and come out stronger than before. Here’s our conversation with Civitas’ principals:
When did you join Civitas and what brought you here?
BLAKE – I am a Civitas boomerang, but the first time I joined was in 2005. I was not yet working within the design industry at the time but had known of the company since I was 18 because my dad, an architect, had worked closely with them. So I was always very aware of Civitas and their legacy, and was excited by the opportunity to join the team as a marketing coordinator. After a couple years, during which I met and married my husband Scott, I went on to gather experiences from other firms, and eventually began working as an independent consultant. But during my time away, I was consistently pulled back to Civitas. Knowing the caliber of their work, I was always looking for ways for my colleagues or clients to team up with them, and continued to sell the firm’s expertise. When the opportunity emerged in 2018 to return to Civitas full time, I couldn’t turn it down. The team had literally become my family, and I’m proud to sit here now as a principal.
CHRIS – I headed west to Denver in 2006 with a snowboard and a resume from Buffalo, New York. Pretty fresh out of school and with a few years of experience under my belt, I literally had no Denver connections. I networked my way through the Denver design community following a trail of names and firms. When I told folks about my passions and that I was looking for work in urban design and architecture, everyone recommended I reach out to Civitas. By the time I found Civitas, I had already handed out my printed portfolios and was unable to connect my laptop. All I had to prove myself was a roll of drawings from grad school and current architecture projects, some still concepts on trace. Luckily, they took a chance on me, and the rest is history.
SCOTT – I was offered an internship in the summer of 2001, based on a recommendation from a former partner from Civitas that I had worked with the summer before, and I essentially never left, and grew with the company. So you could technically say I am still an intern! All jokes aside, I wanted to be in Denver to be close to the mountains, and was lucky to find Civitas. It didn’t take me long to recognize the work that Civitas was doing, especially in cities and urban centers, was generating real positive impact. I knew that it was the right fit for me and I’ve been here ever since.
CRAIG – I joined Civitas in 1990, and feel so proud of the way we’ve grown and evolved and yet have remained committed to the shared passion that brought us all together in the first place. Thirty-two years ago we were driven to create places that formed better, healthier connections between people and nature – literally making people, communities, and whole cities stronger as a result – and we’re still doing that today, and learning as we go.
How would you describe Civitas’ culture and approach to design?
BLAKE – In a word, it’s unique. It’s familial. And at its core it’s an approach to design without ego.
CHRIS – The culture within the company is both incredibly curious and bold. The projects we work on are always challenging and bending the rules. Everyone is always asking “why? What’s the intent?”. Oftentimes we are essentially rewriting the rules to allow for the urban design vision, and I think that is very different from other firms.
SCOTT – The culture is based around the core value of egoless design. No one cares where the design or the idea comes from, so long as it’s the best idea. Each Civitot has their own intelligence and when we combine these different ways of thinking, it’s really special. Early on in my time at Civitas I was challenged to express my thoughts and opinions and then encouraged to make them happen, and I think that moment perfectly encompasses what it’s like to work here.
What has Civitas achieved in recent years that you are most proud of?
BLAKE – I’m proud of the way we navigated the pandemic. We had recently designated a new leadership group, and we were all blindly thrown into a situation no one had experienced before. We immediately understood this was a big deal requiring a lot of conversations, a lot of questions, big dialogues, serious concerns, and sleepless nights. And we have been able to harness that energy, grit and respect we built for one another, and return it back into the “new normal” office environment and culture. And I think we came out of the pandemic with a stronger bond and more compassion for one another, and it’s really shaped how we’ve progressed in the last three years. We brought in new hires while other firms were having layoffs. It makes me incredibly proud of the leadership team because I think we navigated the storm with minimal bumps.
CHRIS – We did not lay off anyone during the pandemic. Our team was strong enough from the beginning that we basically just flipped to everyone working remotely overnight. That ingrained level of trust and respect is part of Civitas culture, and it made the transition much more seamless.
SCOTT – We had already built a team and work family around trust, and that trust was able to thrive during the pandemic. We’ve always sought to hire people who are very agile – who can work on a number of different scales and environments – and we have approached how we operate the office in the same way. By putting such an emphasis on culture, and by hiring the right kinds of people, it was really easy to embrace a flexible work environment, and yet still maintain the design culture and produce transformative projects. Being both flexible and focused really allowed us to thrive during the pandemic; we’ve expanded our reach into new markets; and we further solidified our role locally with really important, meaningful projects.
What is your biggest goal and/or priority for 2023?
CRAIG – I would like to have a healthy backlog of work that challenges us so that we can continue to grow as designers, and that satisfies the needs of the people and communities we work for. I am focused on maintaining a high quality of design internally, and creating more opportunities to be together as a group, because we are so much stronger as a whole unit.
SCOTT – I would also love to see us getting the team back together as frequently as we can to nurture our culture. There are more and more people coming in to work from the office again, so refining and reinvigorating the culture that we have within the studio will be my goal for the next year. There are so many new faces and new people, and they’ve seen parts of the Civitas culture. Coming back to the office can help them see more of it, and truly feel like a part of who we are.
BLAKE – Following this period of significant change and growth, I look forward to feeling a little more stable in 2023. The last couple of years have felt more reactive than proactive as we’ve navigated the world. We’ve grown, we’ve changed, we’ve restructured, and it has all resulted in very good results. But I would love to let these roots grow a little more deeply now.
What vision(s) do you have for the firm, as Civitas embarks on a journey toward the next 40 years?
CRAIG – More of the same, but better. I love what we do here at Civitas and I love what we contribute. But we can always be getting better every day. Each day you can learn more things, gain more technical skills, practice more design skills, develop more political skills, and all those things evolve. And if you keep evolving and growing and getting better, you will reach more people and more opportunities. So to me, I don’t see what we’re doing as something I want to change in any aspect. I wouldn’t shift gears because we are a design firm, so I want to continue designing but doing more of it in order to reach more people leaves a greater impact.
BLAKE – I love how Craig said “more of the same, but better,” because that is exactly how I would sum it up. It’s hard to say you want to change or evolve when you are already doing what feels right and good. We are strategic, balanced and successful. We are our own person and we are not trying to be like any other firm, and this sense of self is now resonating with younger firms.
SCOTT – We bring a lot of potency to what we do and yet we’re so unique that I’m not sure the industry knows how to value us. Our clients see that Civitas genuinely wants to be ingrained as a part of the community where our projects are taking place – we want to truly understand the story of the people and the place. The value we bring in a project, regardless of the size, is our design approach and desire to build trust. I want to help others see that in us.
CHRIS – I’m trying to be more present in Denver. Civitas has built a reputation that is well known and respected nationally, but sometimes that is not translated locally. Denver has grown and there are more major projects in the works, and I would like to have deeper connections in the local community so I can effectively work as a liaison between them and the firm so we can continue to grow and give back to our own community.
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