By Luke Carothers

In the context of the United States, the AEC industry has undoubtedly played a massive role in the development, planning, and maintenance of our built environment.  For the architecture and design industry, the past is both a source of inspiration and a weight that is slowing the industry’s future growth.  While the traditions of the architecture and design industry are important in that they are an invaluable source for both culture and current practice.  At the same time, the traditional role of an architect has become a source of stifled growth and frustration for those looking to change the built environment for the better.  To bridge the gap between the importance of its traditions and a redefinition of what it means to be an architect, firms are focusing on how their culture can fuel future growth.  

One firm bridging this gap between the traditions of our past and a reimagined view of the future is Mancini Duffy.  Headquartered in New York City, Mancini is a national design firm with a 100+-year-old history and tech-forward approach. Over the last decade or so of that storied history, Mancini has managed to reimagine and redefine the way architects and designers work, live, and create.  Christian Giordano, the company’s President and one of its Co-Owners, says that this process was born from a stressful recovery after the 2008 financial crisis, which was only exacerbated by the fact that most of the firm’s work at the time involved corporate interiors for financial institutions.  When Giordano joined the firm, it had cut down from its peak of around 200 employees in the early 2000s to just 40.  However, despite the reduction in size, Giordano says that this was the genesis of change for the firm, allowing new, younger voices to emerge in the firm.  

For Mancini, the process of redefining their culture began at the individual level.  Giordano emphasizes how critical this people-centered approach was to their transformation.  By celebrating the people behind every victory the firm won–big or small–the firm’s culture began to change, becoming more attractive to new employees and perspectives.  Whether it was an award for winning a new project type, getting a compliment from a client, or even leading a good meeting, these celebrations served to build a new culture for the firm.  This newly emerging culture is exactly what drew Bolanle Williams-Olley to Mancini in 2017.  Williams-Olley, who is one of Mancini’s Co-Owners and its CFO, says that the firm’s people-first culture was immediately evident, and that being able to see the people behind the firm’s success publicly set Mancini apart from others in the industry.  

At the same time Giordano and Mancini were using outward-facing recognition to build their culture, the firm was also using employee feedback to drive changes to the company’s policies that would both support current employees and attract future employees.  One of the unique aspects of these employee driven policy changes was an adoption of a flexible workplace long before it became commonplace in 2020.  Another innovative policy that drove Mancini’s culture change was the adoption of vacation stipends.  This money, allocated to employees for their PTO, helps employees take better care of their mental health by allowing them to disengage from work on their vacation.  Williams-Olley says that these sort of policy changes add up to a strong firm culture.

However, the development of Mancini’s culture also focuses on improving employees on the individual level.  When it comes to building a culture that is capable of not only retaining individuals but also nurturing their growth, Mancini is setting the standard for the industry.  Williams-Olley believes that this begins with asking employees what the firm can do to support them in the careers, both professionally and personally.  This allows employees with different career goals and pursuits to develop the skills they are best suited to.  For example, employees who are interested in leadership or entrepreneurship can find roles spearheading different areas of the firm.  Williams-Olley points out that this view not only allows employees to develop their professional and personal lives, it also develops a strong group of bright, intelligent young leaders within the company who are introducing new voices and playing an important role in its functioning.

Mancini’s culture is quickly redefining what it means to have a career in architecture and design.  Giordano points out that seniority was the norm in the industry for many years–with professionals having to have years and years of experience before getting put in charge of a project.  Mancini has flipped this paradigm on its head–placing a greater emphasis on the desire to lead rather than the number of years worked.  This comes to fruition in a number of ways such as employees expressing their desire to lead a market sector or even leading new market sectors within the company.  According to Giordano, this approach has led directly to Mancini’s work in airports and architecture/design technology.  By using employees’ passions to fuel the firm’s growth, Mancini is building a culture that is both attractive to new talent and supportive of current employees.

The architecture and design professions are unique in that our traditions and history are both public-facing and will continuously influence the fields in the future.  Mancini’s employee-focused approach to culture change is an important step in recognizing and harnessing the understanding that these traditions were not born out of the passage of time, but rather a desire to impact the built environment for the better.  In doing so, Mancini is bridging the gap between the past and present–asking not “what will the future look like”, but rather “what can we make the future look like?”

In the context of the United States, the AEC industry has undoubtedly played a massive role in the development, planning, and maintenance of our built environment.  For the architecture and design industry, the past is both a source of inspiration and a weight that is slowing the industry’s future growth.  While the traditions of the architecture and design industry are important in that they are an invaluable source for both culture and current practice.  At the same time, the traditional role of an architect has become a source of stifled growth and frustration for those looking to change the built environment for the better.  To bridge the gap between the importance of its traditions and a redefinition of what it means to be an architect, firms are focusing on how their culture can fuel future growth.  

One firm bridging this gap between the traditions of our past and a reimagined view of the future is Mancini Duffy.  Headquartered in New York City, Mancini Duffy has a more than 100-year old history.  Over the last decade or so of that storied history, Mancini Duffy has managed to reimagine and redefine the way architects and designers work, live, and create.  Christian Giordano, the company’s President and one of its Co-Owners, says that this process was born from a stressful recovery after the 2008 financial crisis, which was only exacerbated by the fact that most of the firm’s work at the time involved corporate interiors for financial institutions.  When Giordano joined the firm, it had cut down from its peak of around 200 employees in the early 2000s to just 40.  However, despite the reduction in size, Giordano says that this was the genesis of change for the firm, allowing new, younger voices to emerge in the firm.  

For Mancini Duffy, the process of redefining their culture began at the individual level.  Giordano emphasizes how critical this people-centered approach was to their transformation.  By celebrating the people behind every victory the firm won–big or small–the firm’s culture began to change, becoming more attractive to new employees and perspectives.  Whether it was an award for winning a new project type, getting a compliment from a client, or even leading a good meeting, these celebrations served to build a new culture for the firm.  This newly emerging culture is exactly what drew Bolanle Williams Olley to Mancini Duffy in 2017.  Williams Olley, who is one of Mancini Duffy’s Co-Owners and its CFO, says that the firm’s people-first culture was immediately evident, and that being able to see the people behind the firm’s success publicly set Mancini Duffy apart from others in the industry.  

At the same time Giordano and Mancini Duffy were using outward-facing recognition to build their culture, the firm was also using employee feedback to drive changes to the company’s policies that would both support current employees and attract future employees.  One of the unique aspects of these employee driven policy changes was an adoption of a flexible workplace long before it became commonplace in 2020.  Another innovative policy that drove Mancini Duffy’s culture change was the adoption of vacation stipends.  This money, allocated to employees for their PTO, helps employees take better care of their mental health by allowing them to disengage from work on their vacation.  Williams Olley says that these sort of policy changes add up to a strong firm culture.

However, the development of Mancini Duffy’s culture also focuses on improving employees on the individual level.  When it comes to building a culture that is capable of not only retaining individuals but also nurturing their growth, Mancini Duffy is setting the standard for the industry.  Williams Olley believes that this begins with asking employees what the firm can do to support them in the careers, both professionally and personally.  This allows employees with different career goals and pursuits to develop the skills they are best suited to.  For example, employees who are interested in leadership or entrepreneurship can find roles spearheading different areas of the firm.  Williams Olley points out that this view not only allows employees to develop their professional and personal lives, it also develops a strong group of bright, intelligent young leaders within the company who are introducing new voices and playing an important role in its functioning.

Mancini Duffy’s culture is quickly redefining what it means to have a career in architecture and design.  Giordano points out that seniority was the norm in the industry for many years–with professionals having to have years and years of experience before getting put in charge of a project.  Mancini Duffy has flipped this paradigm on its head–placing a greater emphasis on the desire to lead rather than the number of years worked.  This comes to fruition in a number of ways such as employees expressing their desire to lead a market sector or even leading new market sectors within the company.  According to Giordano, this approach has led directly to Mancini Duffy’s work in airports and architecture/design technology.  By using employees’ passions to fuel the firm’s growth, Mancini Duffy is building a culture that is both attractive to new talent and supportive of current employees.

The architecture and design professions are unique in that our traditions and history are both public-facing and will continuously influence the fields in the future.  Mancini Duffy’s employee-focused approach to culture change is an important step in recognizing and harnessing the understanding that these traditions were not born out of the passage of time, but rather a desire to impact the built environment for the better.  In doing so, Mancini Duffy is bridging the gap between the past and present–asking not “what will the future look like”, but rather “what can we make the future look like?”


Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.