WEEK 9

The final week has come and passed. I was able to finish up a Rhino model for the Virginia Key project, which was then converted to a Sketchup model, to be used during a client meeting in Miami early this week. Scott’s wife Blake, who is in charge of marketing at Civitas has had me working on the company’s presentation boards for their 2018 ASLA Colorado submissions. This was a lot of fun for me, and has me acknowledging the possibility of getting into marketing once established at an LA firm, if design work doesn’t seem to be enjoyable. I was able to talk with her about this and really get an idea of what it is she does, which is very much graphic design involved.

Looking back on this experience it really offered everything I could have possibly wanted from an internship- I was involved with so many different projects on so many different levels. I’ve sharpened AutoCAD skills, Rhino skills FOR SURE, and have learned new softwares such as Lumion. I’ve hand draw, gone to client meetings, sat on design reviews, visited construction sites, gone to a tree farm for plant selections…the list goes on and on. The people were great, and Scott was fantastic at trying to expose me to as much as possible in a 2 month period. I’ve learned I suck at cover letters too, which is a hard but honest truth I needed to know for when writing future cover letters for actual jobs. Thank god for your connections Gale.

I’ve heard this said many times by Scott and Mark Johnson that Civitas has a very  clear design intent and philosophy- to design built work for people to catalyze urban change. They are a small but effective team of architects, landscape architects, and urban planners who are capable of leading large national projects using their breadth of experience with complex problems and expertise with communicating ideas. Mark Johnson is well known among the professional LA world, and as an extensive list of contacts outside of the field as well with engineers, government agencies, artists, you name it. His name alone goes a long way in bringing in business for the company, as well as return clients who have been very satisfied with the firm’s work. Civitas acknowledges that they don’t always get it right every time, but that they strive to learn from past mistakes so as not to make it again in the future.

Blake Jordan is my final person. She has a really interesting background in TV production that she did for 11 years before marketing for LA firms. She worked in NYC for the bulk of this period until she finally landed at Civitas, and has been here for intermittent periods over the past ten years or so. I really enjoy her personality and appreciate what she does for the firm, seeing as it is more of the behind the scenes work that is often not seen as very “sexy” or important. She helps frame how outside businesses/clients/etc. see Civitas, and helps make sure that that view matches with how Civitas sees themselves.

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WEEK 8

This week flew! Still currently doing mainly modeling work in Rhino for the Virginia Key project in Miami. Three members of Civitas are flying out to the site on Wednesday next week to meet and discuss ideas with the client, and show them the work we have done thus far. In addition to this work I have continued to work on the river diagrams that Mark Johnson had requested last week. He liked what I produced so much that he plans on using it as one of the main promotional images for a project he is trying to land on the Ohio river. I printed a 70×70 board that was the backdrop for their interview for the job.

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For communicating ideas, Civitas appears to be using Lumion more and more to create fly through videos that show the entirety of the project. If this isn’t present then a Sketchup model is often used to drive through the site by hand to talk through different areas of the site design. They have a rendering guy that they utilize for photo realistic renders more towards the final design proposal. Powerpoint presentation is still the main avenue for community meetings, client meetings, etc.

For the project in Wayzata, Minnesota they are currently working on a lazer cut model that is being done by a local company but assembled in the office. This is for a community meeting so they can show residents of the town more literally spacial relationships of the site design and express more of how the site will “feel”.

Right now there is one Lumion license and 3 Rhino licenses in the office, so it can get a little frustrating when one or both are all in use. I believe they will expand these numbers as more and more people are learning how to use these softwares, especially Lumion. Cost is the main reason for so few licenses, as well as the fact that there are still only a couple of people in the office who know how to use each. AutoCAD and Sketchup are still the main avenues for design work. The nice thing is that it is not demanded that you use Sketchup over Rhino, it’s more whatever you’re most comfortable with using. However, even if you use Rhino, you can pretty much guarantee that it will get converted to a Sketchup file if used as part of a presentation, seeing as those leading the presentations often don’t know how to navigate Rhino.

Overall, I feel like Civitas is far more progressive and open to new ways of doing things than many other firms I have seen. They may not know how to use a software like Lumion at the start, yet they see it as an asset and recognize that firms they compete with are utilizing the software more and more, and that in order to stay fresh they must commit to learning new technologies as well. I think where they lack is in physical models. Even if they are more quick and dirty, simple models using clay or other tactile materials- this does not seem to be a common way of testing ideas or form.

Scotty-boy is my next person to introduce. He has truly been great during my time here at Civitas. He really cares about giving you work that you’ll enjoy doing, and not just what you can do. His son is a huge fan of Harry Potter, which makes me like him even more. His wife, Blake, who works in the office as well is also great and very funny!

Scott Jordan

WEEK 7

Had a pretty good week with lots of diversity. I was able to sit on two difference design reviews of Civitas projects, one being a streetscape project in Denver, and another being a 7 million dollar park in Canada. This was great practice getting comfortable expressing my opinions on design as well as seeing the types of critiques those more experienced than me had with regards to how to cut design costs while still maintaining excellent craft, or ways of creating movement through an otherwise straightforward street corridor. I have continued to hop on different projects, the most recent one being a multi-acre park on the island of Virginia Key in Miami. I have been modelling the base for this park/context area in Rhino and hope to create an animation of different parts of the conceptual design emerging in and out of the park “floor”. This will be presented to a council in Miami next week for feedback. This weekend I also spent some time making a diagram for Mark Johnson, who requested it for a presentation he will be giving soon. It is meant to represent the 29 different rivers he has worked on over the course of his career, assisting his argument for why he is fully equipped to handle a particular riverfront project he is trying to land for the company.

Civitas strives to have constant communication with the client, meeting either face-to-face, over phone, or even skype. For out of state projects people are constantly flying to meet with clients to conduct meetings and to present the work that has been done thus far. These clients often work for the city. Probably the biggest and most important project Civitas is working on right now is the re-design of C-70 in Denver, where they are acting as a sub to the engineering group. There is a lot of tension over this project due to CDOT constantly changing the design, often not for the better,and Civitas not really having any weight in their opinions. Due to this there has been a ton of frustrated meetings internally and externally, with communication lacking between the sub-consultants and the client. Civitas recognizes that good communication is one of the major influences of creating a seamless project that can contribute to obtaining future work with that client moving forward. A lot of their current projects are with repeat clients who had successful experiences with the firm.

The most common type of post-implementation maintenance I have heard about concerns the longevity of trees, and the necessity to replace dead or dying trees. Especially in Denver and other heat intensive states, the need to replace vegetation occurs pretty frequently. Civitas has learned through experience which trees will handle heat the best in order to minimize this replacement need. They are pretty big into the use of native plants that can handle the climate of a particular region as well.

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This is me and Juliana, a designer who got hired only a week after I started at Civitas. She has a business background and decided to make a major career shift to landscape architecture. She’s a true Colorado girl who rock climbs and camps in the mountains constantly, so I made her take me camping with another co-worker near Georgetown, Colorado. As you can tell, I had a pretty good time.

WEEK 6

This week I switched gears a little bit from heavy Lumion to a new project in Wayzata, Minnesota for their waterfront redevelopment. I modeled a stretch of the main street in Rhino that will eventually be put into Lumion to understand spatial relationships and materiality. I also designed a stretch of the waterfront boardwalk that is part of this redevelopment initiative- this involved first sketching by hand and then drawing the boardwalk to scale in CAD.

This week I was also able to partake in a design review that members of Civitas are on the board for. An innovation campus is being designed near downtown Denver, and developers are trying to get approval from this board to build two schools. The issue is that the aesthetics being presented to the design board for how the schools will look does not quite measure up to the “innovation” theme the board is demanding. The developers are trying to build as inexpensively as possible, which means that the building renders are currently depicting drab designs that have been greatly watered down since some of the earlier meetings. This was a really great meeting to sit on and see the interactions between civil engineers, architects, and landscape architects. You could definitely tell that there were some big egos in the room, but also lots of moments where the two sides were trying to work together to create a solution to some of the more pressing concerns of the board. It really is true that money plays a huge role in these projects, where a great design can become so watered down and stripped of life due to restricted budgets from powerful, wealthy clients.

Here are some pictures of a design charrette Civitas does every couple of months that I was able to partake in. We all walked down to the river one day after work and sketched out some ideas for how we could re-imagine a certain intersection of a regional path and the river. We split up into teams and drew out our ideas on a large piece of plexi glass, and then walked to a bar and presented our ideas group by group. It was good fun and a great way for me to spend time and learn about people in the office I don’t talk to very often.

Since interning at Civitas I have seen 3 different presentations for a variety of material and fixture companies. One was for a lighting company based out of California, another a local business that makes outdoor furnishings, and most recently a guy who spoke of solar outdoor appliances. From what I have seen so far, Civitas seems to stick to more traditional materials that they know will work and perhaps less experimentation is done than some other firms. However, I know that in many projects Civitas has designed custom outdoor elements that they have hired a local company to fabricate. Seeing some of these pieces in person, they are nothing life changing, but still better than defaulting to off of the shelf furnishings that you see everywhere. I think one of the biggest things that will determine how creative Civitas gets with materiality is often the budget as well as the personality of the client. Some clients are just not interested in using materials beyond the standard palette, or the desire to spend more money on a project using those materials. I think you can definitely distinguish the younger designers versus the veteran designers in the office, and how their tastes and eye for materiality is more experimental and innovative the younger the crowd. Civitas doesn’t really have a materials library, or much of a library at all of resources, which I have heard as something they are trying to work on. I don’t see Civitas as being on the cutting edge of innovation when it comes to their material choices, but definitely a firm that makes small strides in that direction and that aspires to move more towards that spectrum every chance they get.

Below is Soon, an urban designer at Civitas who holds a work visa from South Korea. He has been with Civitas now for almost two years and has two daughters who live back in South Korea. He’s back there right now visiting them for two weeks. He is Civitas’ Lumion guy- he is probably the most proficient at this software than anyone else in the office, making him super valuable for creating fly through videos that are presented to clients using Lumion.

Soonhyuck Choi

WEEK 5

Most of this week has been dedicated to the building of a Lumion render that will be used to extract views that I will further spruce up in Photoshop for the project client. The workflow for this was first to take the CAD plan for the park and build up the model from this in Rhino, which I am now manipulating and adding entourage/vegetation/etc. to in Lumion. This flow has allowed me to improve skill sets that I had some skill in or no previous experience in at all. There are only two people in the office who know how to use Lumion, and very few who use Rhino on a regular basis, so it feels good to work on something that not too many other people at Civitas are able to do. This park is a very small piece of a much bigger project called C-70, which I now have been able to do construction documents for as well as redlines for sheet sets, giving me a very comprehensive understanding of the project and all of its components.

This week I also visited a different project site that is nearing completion. It gave me the chance to talk see how a walk through of a site inspection goes and some of the important things to look for. In addition to this I also was part of a conference call for another project in Minnesota where Civitas is acting as project leader and are using an ecologist consultant for recommendations that will be used to inform their design for a lakefront revitalization. This conversation involved the ecologist talking about the bathymetry of the lake edge and how this, combined with the wave action that naturally erodes a certain area of the lakefront, would inhibit certain plants from establishing in this environment. Certain experimental measures were discussed to help push the agenda of making the riverfront a place where a number of different plant communities can survive within a current reality of rip rap and eroded banks. The relationship between the firm and this ecology consultant appeared to be extremely great, where they were able to really talk about emergent and submergent plants, bathymetry, and wave action specifics without getting bogged down by one side not really communicating or understanding the other.

As far as budgeting and business practices go for billing and fees, I will have a much better understanding of this soon. Scott wants to have me sit down with his wife, Blake, who handles this type of business at Civitas. A little bit that I have picked up on since being here is that if a project is going over budget with regards to the client desiring further work or demanding things that were not originally part of the contract, Civitas has every right to bill them for that additional amount of time. Apparently one project in particular that they are dealing with involves very needy clients that keep asking more of Civitas that goes beyond their scope of work agreed upon. This was making certain people in the office extremely frustrated, and adamant that there needed to be a conversation with the client that addressed this uncompensated time. I believe project leaders handle the project estimating and costs most of the time, which goes through rounds of refinement as the design becomes more detailed and materiality understood further. The office does purchase goods in-house for projects most of the time. So far I have seen a lighting and outside furnishing company come through the office for a presentation that highlighted their current stock of popular projects. These have been interesting and fun to hear, being able to see some of the options that are out there, and understanding further how shipping works as well as customizing products for certain projects. Civitas also works with a fabrication company locally who creates custom furnishings for the firm. So yeah, I will have more to add to this after I meet with Blake sometime in the next couple of weeks.

My person of the week is David, who has been with Civitas for five years now and just got engaged. He actually spilled the beans to me that he plans on turning in his notice at the end of this week…he’s ready to start a new chapter and possibly go back to school for business management. It was interesting to hear is thoughts on the firm and some aspects of it that perhaps wouldn’t be for everyone…

David Armesy

 

WEEK 4

This week was a bit slower as far as the work load goes, plus we got off on Wednesday for the Fourth of July, so a lot of people were out of the office. I worked a lot in CAD sheet sets, adding in keynotes and labels for tree symbols and shrub arrangements. Working in CAD was great- I feel like I have a better grasp on how to create a clear and cohesive sheet that is still packed with layers of information. I also was in charge of assigning the plant arrangements for the shrubs, which reminded me a lot of certain things Brad taught us as far as plant communities and complimentary planting goes, grouping certain plants together based off of texture, color, but also characteristics that will help the group have more longevity.\

Luckily I think Civitas is in a good place where the projects that they have engaged in have given them enough credibility to not need to scavenge for projects or clients, but rather people come to them for business. They are not a huge firm, so are a bit more selective when it comes to taking on projects. Mark Johnson, the co-founder of Civitas is a major contributor to the business that Civitas receives. He is similar to Thomas Woltz in that regard, where he knows a ton of people around the world and travels constantly to meet with potential clients. Because of his prominence in the landscape architecture world and charismatic personality, Civitas is able to stay busy with higher profile projects such as Stapleton or St. Patrick’s Island in Calgary. They go up against some very high profile firms such as PWP, MVVA, or GGN for projects and occasionally beat them out.

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The project above is Museum Park in Miami, which is one of their higher profile projects that they market themselves with. When Mark Johnson meets with potential clients he will refer to projects such as this one to argue for the firm’s ability to create an amazing design.

Apparently when the office was a lot larger back in the day, and Mark Johnson was running the office with his then wife, it was felt that it was becoming an unsustainable practice. Therefore, when Mark Johnson and his partner/wife split, Mark downsized the office in order to in some ways start fresh and really cultivate a firm that was far more collectively on the same page when it came to office principles and motivations as a team. I think this has really led the firm to become what it is today.

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Sandy Hendon is Civitas’ financial manager as well as the Human Resources/Benefits Manager for the firm. She handles all of the financial and accounting matters of the firm- distributing payroll, ensuring Civitas is meeting their profit goals as well as maintaining viability as a business. She is definitely the go-to person for anything related to billing or money management. She is also going to be my “person of the week”! She is a really warm, funny woman who has two girls that are both in college. Her one daughter is apparently an amazing soccer player and played in college.

Sandy Hendon

 

 

 

WEEK 3

This week moved beyond the competition work that was completed on Monday, where now we are waiting to hear back on whether or not Civitas got the job. I have been tasked with helping on a different project for this week that deals with a cover park design that is to be built over a major highway in Denver. It is meant to reconnect two very fragmented communities that have been heavily affected by the construction of this major highway that cut through that area, leading to the area becoming very low-income and neglected. I have mainly been modeling this park in Rhino from CAD linework, and am now in the process of adding materials and entourage/vegetation to the Rhino surfaces via Lumion. I haven’t enjoyed this task as much as the competition work, but know that it is very relevant and useful to enhancing my modelling skill set and Lumion knowledge.

So I accidentally wrote about week 3’s “weekly focus content” in the last blog instead of week 2, so I will write about week 2’s now in order to get back on track. From what I have been told, each project can be very unique and rely on things like budget to inform how time intensive and in depth the design phases become. I was shown CD’s for two different projects to highlight this where one was extremely thick and detailed while the other was slimmer and more of a general level of detail. The slimmer CD set was for a project where the budget was smaller and had a tighter timeline, causing the documents for it to reflect these constraints. During all design phases it appears that Civitas likes to keep the community involved, having regular community meetings so as to not keep those that the project will impact in the dark. Just today I participated in a schematic design meeting where we discussed the current design proposal and how certain areas could be tweaked to better satisfy both the client as well as improve the overall design. During this the project manager, who is working with Scott, talked the rest of us from Civitas who were unfamiliar with the project through it to get us all on the same page. Members of this team just got back from a site visit in Minneapolis where a community meeting made a final vote to move the project forward to design development. During this phase of the project the team is thinking much more about materiality and a refinement of the design before moving on to CD’s.

It appears that scheduling and timelines of a project are very determinant on the client, and that projects can often move incredibly slow due to this. Scott talked during our last staff meeting how there were a few projects that are basically sitting dormant because of this and that his approach was to “let a sleeping  dog lie” instead of badgering the client to make some decisions. This seems to happen more during the schematic design phase than any other phase. For projects where Civitas is acting as the prime, they do make decisions as contract administrator in order to ensure that their project is being built to their exact specifications. This is easier to do on projects that are more local, allowing them to have eyes on the ground from a short distance.

My new friend’s name is Jason, who sits across from me in the office. He is an urban designer from Colorado who just got engaged and has the sweetest puppy! He’s been with Civitas since 2013 and does a lot of large scale master planning in the office. Right now is an interesting time in the office where he’s helping out on different projects where more manpower is needed doing a lot of modeling work for fly through videos.

 

Jason Newsome, LEED AP

WEEK 2

This week has been veryyy excitinggg!!! I have been participating with a group of four others in a design competition that we had 10 days to complete. The site is in the city of Tustin- an area in southern California that has nothing very exciting going on with it other than it is in Orange County. The brief is to design a 5-acre park with a budget of 10 million that is adjacent to a WWII hangar that used to house blimps. It is a mammoth of a structure (1,200 ft long and 300 ft wide). I’m REALLY enjoying the pace of working on this competition since it is very much like school- quick turnarounds. Scott is actually part of the team, so getting to work with him and another principle has opened my eyes to the collaborative nature of the firm and how they like to work with one another during the design process. I’ve mostly been doing diagramming and experiential collages, so couldn’t be happier.

MCAS Tustin Blimp Hangar

Civitas seems to hold a great deal of value in continuing education as well as certification. As far as certification goes, there are a lot of young designers in the office who only hold bachelor’s degrees and have not gotten certified but plan on doing so in the future, as well as go back to school for their master’s degree. I overheard Scott talking to another guy in the office about the importance of getting certified, so I definitely think it is a highly valued ambition that the more senior employees of the company try to push the younger staff to achieve.A lot of them do attend the national ASLA conferences, as well as partake in outside competitions for extra money. Civitas makes sure that public and community engagement is always integrated into their projects when possible, which often leads to hiccups in the life of the project. Just this week a few people flew out to a city in Wisconsin where a road diet project is in the process of getting approved by the community, and apparently that whole ordeal has been frustrating for Civitas due to a few hard-headed community members who’s unwavering opinions are actually stalling the project from going through. However, through communication and patience they were able to work through this obstacle and get the votes that they needed to move to the next phase of the project.

Professional ethics involves how a company handles themselves when it comes to their behavior and how they handle certain professional interactions. I can speak to the competition project I am currently involved in, where Civitas is the only firm from outside of California that is competing. They know this and have been informed that this is somewhat of a concern for those funding the park in CA, who want someone more local who is able to have a closer relationship to work with them in person rather than through a call-in meeting. Due to this concern, Civitas is making sure to talk with this group and assure them that they are only a short hour and a half plane ride away, and that as a company Civitas prides themselves on being committed to working with clients in a very personal way, making them as comfortable as possible. This is also their mindset when teaming up with allied consultants in the civil, structural, lighting, etc. professions where collaboration and communication is necessary.

My new favorite person is Diane Lipovsky, who is the project leader of this design competition I am participating in. She is an awesome person with a family-two kids and a husband, and is a huge lover of Jurassic Park and especially Jeff Goldblum. Seriously, she has a picture of him on her desk.

Diane Lipovsky, RLA

WEEK 1

My first week was a bit unstructured, mostly due to the fact that Scott was out for this time, leaving me to jump around on many projects and help where help was needed. This was a good introduction to seeing how the office operates- everyone is constantly switching gears and multi-tasking on different projects depending on where attention is needed. In total I contributed to about three different projects in three different days, doing everything from modeling site details in Rhino, to numbering and labeling documents sheets for a highway corridor, to doing precedent research that will be presented at a city council meeting. Dipping my toes in a lot of different projects has allowed me to work with a number of different people as well as get a taste for some of the different elements of the job.

This lil cutie right here is Nick Fish, who is a landscape designer at Civitas and has been with the company for just a couple of years. He is probably the first person I got to know in the office. During our first chat he told me about his background in architecture, his love for fine arts, and his annoying roommates who drink and party all of the time. He is one of the few employees at Civitas who has an architecture background, which apparently has been a great asset to the firm. Interestingly to me, he does not have his master’s degree. I figured that was almost a necessity to get hired at a place like Civitas, but he, along with one or two others just have their bachelor’s degrees.

Nick Fish, Landscape Designer

 

Civitas is a corporation comprised of urban designers, architects and landscape architects that design for built works. It was emphasized to me during my interview for the job, as well as reiterated upon my arrival that Civitas employees are organized in a non-hierarchical structure. Apart from the principals there are no official tiers of the office, giving everyone an even and equal footing. This was strategically done to encourage this type of culture that Civitas strives for- one where ideas can and should come from everyone, making each person a valuable contributor to the team. I have felt this collaborative effort since my first day working and very much enjoy this type of organizational structure in an office setting.

CIVITAS ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCUTRE