Citizen Architect – Rico Quirindongo, AIA
Rico Quirindongo, AIA, works with community members and leaders to help them make a positive impact on their own neighborhoods through design and advocacy. Quirindongo’s work brings together local and regional officials, the design and development community, and residents to take action to improve both the urban environment and the natural landscape.
City of Seattle as the Interim Director of the Office of Planning and Community Development, Rico Quirindongo, AIA, has been working for 25 years to revitalize and reimagine some of Seattle’s most historic landmarks and neighborhoods. He is an active AIA volunteer, serving as AIA Seattle president from 2012 to 2013 and as a board director from 2009 to 2014. Quirindongo’s civic experience includes a five-year mayoral appointment to the Historic Seattle Council.
Rico Quirindongo, AIA, says he has a bit of “a board-commitment addiction.” Over his two-decade career he has given his time to pro-bono work for numerous nonprofit organizations, led the AIA Seattle board, and has worked with city officials on numerous urban renewal commissions. He currently serves as a board member for the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority Council, a nonprofit organization chartered by the City of Seattle to preserve and protect the market's buildings, increase opportunities for small and marginal businesses, and provide services for low-income people.
Advocacy always has been a part of Quirindongo’s life and career starting in high school when he was part of several student leadership organizations. “It was a bug born into me,” Quirindongo explained in an interview.
As a young project architect, Quirindongo led the conversion of a century-old school building into 36 affordable housing units. He engaged the Seattle Landmark Preservation Board to reach consensus regarding the design, and also collaborated with the Urban League, Seattle Parks and Recreation, and the local transportation authority to create a shared access easement.
During his five-year term with the Historic Seattle Council, Quirindongo was a part of the city’s conversation about adaptive reuse and restoration of city buildings. He assisted in developing a memorandum of understanding guiding the development of Seattle’s Washington Hall as a new cultural institution, and worked with grassroots nonprofit organizations to create arts and cultural programming at the hall.
As a current member of the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority Council, Quirindongo works with the City of Seattle in its efforts to develop and implement future waterfront projects. As council chair, he oversaw the creation of MarketFront, a $74 million project that included 40 senior housing units, 10,000 square feet of retail space, 300 parking spaces, and 10,000 square feet of public convening spaces.
Quirindongo said public engagement was critical to the success of that project. Every two weeks for more than four years, Quirindongo and the council led meetings with a diverse population of stakeholders. As the project committee chair, Quirindongo ensured that this process was successful by maintaining a consistent cadence of meetings and communications, tracking community input and concerns, and providing an equitable structure for the meetings: Everyone, from residents to small business owners to policymakers, had a voice in the process.
As AIA Seattle president, Quirindongo regularly advocated at the state and federal levels for industry priorities and helped create AIA Seattle’s partner nonprofit Design-In-Public, an organization focused on improving design within the public realm.
Quirindongo also regularly speaks to elementary, high school, and college students about architecture, design, and advocacy.
To the youngest students—and their parents—Quirindongo explains what an architect does, and how the industry impacts communities. “I try to educate students, families, and teachers about how they can have a voice in the development process,” said Quirindongo. “I want them to know how to advocate for their neighborhood, whether it is to the design and development community or to government regulators. Our civic designs are much better when the public has engaged in the process. I’ve experienced that over and over.”
With college students, Quirindongo emphasizes the value and importance of their voices in shaping the future of cities and communities, and their own careers.
“I tell aspiring architects that being part of local and regional work will make an impact on their own lives and the firm for which they work,” explained Quirindongo. “It is a differentiator for city agencies that are looking for design partners. Government officials want people who have been in the trenches with them—who understand how to solve public problems and engage communities to build support.”
Quirindongo also is working within his own firm to inspire future citizen architects. He currently leads an initiative at DLR Group called Design Agency, which is a platform to enable staff to engage in their local community, invest in advocacy, and identify needed pro bono programs at the neighborhood level. Rather than “waiting to be asked,” Design Agency envisions how architects looking toward proactive problem-solving and design leadership within cities and neighborhoods.
“I believe architects are change-makers,” said Quirindongo. “I want all of my colleagues—and the residents of all Seattle neighborhoods—to recognize that, regardless of their station, we all have agency to champion and affect social change through design.”
–As told to Kerrie Rushton