Meet the Civitots: Merina Irfano

As we continue our Meet the Civitots series, we’re pleased to introduce you to Merina Irfano, who’s been part of the Civitas family for years. She’s a recent “boomerang” who returned home after a few years working outside of Civitas and gathering new and different experiences, bringing decades of deep experience with complex planning projects along with her warmth, wisdom and wit – and we’re so glad she’s back.

Meet Merina:

WHAT INSPIRED YOUR EDUCATION AND CAREER PATH IN DESIGN?I grew up in Indonesia – one of three kids in my family – and our father was a civil engineer and our mother a teacher. I inherited a hard work ethic and love of learning from both of them and considered following the path toward engineering but was encouraged to consider architecture. That immediately sparked my passion for design. I started to see small details and make big picture connections within the places that I traveled, and I loved observing – especially people and cities, and starting to understand what makes a city successful for its residents. I earned my undergraduate degree in architecture from Bandung Institute of Technology in Indonesia, and a Ph.D. in urban planning from the Tokyo Institute of Technology’s Graduate School of Science and Engineering in Japan.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR DESIGN APPROACH, AND WHAT EXPERIENCES HAVE HAD THE MOST INFLUENCE ON THAT?

My approach to design is focused on people. I always want to understand how they use space at every scale, from a room within a building to a large urban park. What kinds of spaces, amenities and design details do people need to make their daily life easier and more enjoyable? My opportunity to travel to amazing, international destinations had tremendous impact on this. I have visited many cities with great architecture, ranging from medieval cities to modern metropolises, and in both my travels and my studies, I look closely at the way spaces are designed. Whether you’re in an ancient, fortified city like Mdina, Malta – where I did a study abroad program – or Copenhagen, Denmark, or Tokyo, Japan, you can discover the city’s character.

WHO OR WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO CIVITAS? WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO WORK HERE? 

I was introduced to Civitas through Dick Farley, who was a principal at Civitas at the time. I loved the small firm culture, and the emphasis on learning, asking questions, and collaborating. In my first stint at Civitas, years ago, I worked on the redevelopment of Stapleton (now called Central Park), Colorado, and could directly apply my experience in both urban planning and architecture. I went on to work at another, larger firm, but missed Civitas’ culture and reached out to Mark Johnson – whom I’d stayed in touch with over the years – and he welcomed me back.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE TYPES OF DESIGN PROJECTS TO WORK ON, OR DESIGN CHALLENGES TO SOLVE?

I love working on large-scale, complex projects like Stapleton/Central Park in the early days, and now Windler and Painted Prairie. These projects are massive, but they move at a fast pace and have many layers that require a multidisciplinary approach. I learn so much through this collaboration across teams inside Civitas and with other firms and consultants. After so many years of working on it, my family and I now live in Central Park, so my personal experiences of living in such a walkable, connected community inspires my design. I want future residents to enjoy this way of life too.

WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENT SO FAR, EITHER AT WORK OR IN LIFE IN GENERAL?

I feel proud that the work I’ve done plays a role in people’s happiness and wellbeing. Even if I’ve improved a single life, it’s worth this effort. Outside of work, I’m also incredibly proud of my two daughters and their accomplishments. They work hard, just as I do, and it’s fulfilling to see them thrive. They are both wonderful athletes and students. My oldest is now studying engineering at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENTS DO YOU HOPE OR ASPIRE TO REACH IN THE FUTURE?

I’ve worked hard for more than 20 years, and hope that I can be seen as an example of diversity and possibility, especially for women, who are still underrepresented in design and master planning. I want to be a mentor and help to inspire other women to speak up, even (or especially!) when they are the only other women in the room.

HOW WOULD YOUR COWORKERS DESCRIBE YOU?

I think my colleagues see me as organized and reliable, approachable and witty. I also think people see me as honest and direct – which I am – but what’s interesting about that is that often this style of communicating is based on the fact that English is my second language. I don’t have the same depth of vocabulary, and so I tend to be more straightforward.

WHAT DO YOU DO OUTSIDE OF WORK TO HAVE FUN, OR RELAX, OR LEARN?

I still love to travel as much as I can, and my family and I return to Indonesia at least every other year. But I also love sports. When I was younger, I as actively involved in sports and played on three national teams in Indonesia: field hockey, softball and shooting. In fact, I was invited to train with the Olympic team for shooting but ultimately passed on the opportunity, because I was offered a scholarship to study in Japan at the same time, and I felt ready to pursue my career. I’m still very active though, and love hiking and other forms of exercise.

WHAT ARE YOU READING OR LISTENING TO THESE DAYS? 

I’m such a visual person that I’m not a big reader, but I love listening to music. It helps me decompress and focus, and I’ll listen to any and all types of music as long as it’s upbeat.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE FOOD TO EAT, OR RECIPE TO COOK?

Since my girls are athletes, we tend to cook for good nutrition and energy, but it’s also important to me that they know traditional Indonesian food. My mom taught me how to cook and I hope they’re learning from me too. One of our favorites is Beef Rendang, which is a spicy beef stew. We make it often, especially for holidays and other special occasions.

DESCRIBE ONE NOTABLE ITEM THAT’S CURRENTLY ON YOUR DESK.

I have a coaster that says “Be Mer-mazing” on it, along with a picture of a mermaid’s tail. It’s a souvenir from a trip to Portland, Oregon. I liked it immediately because “Mer” has always been a nickname for me, ever since I was a kid. But I also like to think that it’s my daily reminder to do good things that are inspiring and surprising, like the mermaid. 

DESCRIBE ONE ITEM THAT YOU NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT.

I am addicted to my Apple Watch and tracking my steps and calories and how much time I’m active every day. Even when I’m busy at my desk, I appreciate the watch’s reminders to stand up and stretch – to take care of myself. We all need those reminders.

Meet the whole Civitots crew here, and reach out!

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Civitas is always looking for talented individuals to join our creative team. If you (or someone you know) is seeking a meaningful career in landscape architecture and urban planning, feel free send your resume to jobs@civitasinc.com. We hope to hear from you!