Featured Member - Christine Malecki West, AIA
As both the co-principal of a Providence-based firm and a champion of Rhode Island's burgeoning creative sector, Christine Malecki West is committed to community engagement through design.
For over 15 years at KITE Architects in Providence, Rhode Island, Christine Malecki West, AIA, has served as a willing ambassador for design. Sometimes that means driving KITE’s passion for highly refined, thoughtful “human-centered design”; other times, it means explaining design to Rhode Island’s business community as part of DESIGNxRI. Her home state quietly has the third largest percentage of creative sector jobs in the country, meaning West and her peers are uniquely positioned to come together as a whole and change how people of all sorts think about design.
One of our biggest issues in Rhode Island was getting the business community to understand how design differs from art. We wanted to make it very clear that design businesses are small businesses, and that they are integral to industry in the state. Once that clicked—and certainly after the founding of DESIGNxRI—you began to hear politicians talk about design as key element of economic development. But it didn’t happen overnight; it took designers coming together and convincing important people that, while art festivals are terrific and great for tourism, they don’t have much to do with supporting our businesses.
Bringing together designers under the DESIGNxRI banner also created business opportunities that might not have been visible otherwise. One of the graphic designers I got to know, Philip Hawthorne, works for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island. He was able to convince his group to look for local talent when designing their new retail center. Rather than starting a national search, he said, “Take a look at the talented designers we have in Rhode Island.” We teamed up with Rhode Island-based Kelly Taylor Interior Design and succeeded with an innovative design-thinking approach to improving member service at their new retail location. It was an immediate success and hopefully the start of a long-term client relationship, all because of DESIGNxRI.
For more on how architects can engage with their communities, discover AIA's Blueprint for Better campaign.
At KITE, community engagement is an important part of our work. From both a personal and a business perspective, it is rewarding to meet new people and have visibility throughout the community. But what I’ve found most meaningful about my own volunteer activities, such as chairing the Providence City Plan Commission, is how they tie back to my professional expertise. My skills as an architect translate directly to activities that benefit the community.
Since discovering that synergy, I’ve felt most motivated to volunteer for other positions where I know my expertise will be leveraged. What I’d say to other architects who want to give back is: make use of everything you’ve learned. If it’s something only you or few others can do, that means it is even more important for you to show up. You have insights that are valuable and needed.
I got into architecture because I realized it wasn’t just about the bricks and mortar. It’s about creating settings for people. To be able to carry that sentiment through our work—and to develop a design process that puts the user and our client at the center of the story, no matter the scale, whether a private residence or large electrical substation in downtown Providence—that has a value that more and more people appreciate. —As told to Steve Cimino
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