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3 min read

Peopleverse 019: Dena Prastos, AIA

Dena Prastos, AIA of Indigo River joins the podcast to talk about her multidisciplinary background and approach to a career in architecture. The bulk of this conversation is about how architects can and should differentiate their practice using examples from her waterfront-focused work and about the value of architects through specialization during changing times, among many other important topics listed in the notes.

 

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About Dena:

As Founder and CEO of Indigo River, Dena Prastos, AIA, is the first "waterfront architect," trailblazing a new category in the industry. Indigo River is a women-owned transdisciplinary design firm focused on progressive waterfront architecture, resiliency, and climate adaptation. A leading authority in New York Harbor and beyond, the firm specializes in climate adaptation through waterfront solutions that seamlessly transcend boundaries - guiding and executing projects from ideation through final construction and operations.

Waterfront architect, civil engineer, futurist, climate adaptation expert, entrepreneur, and creative original, Dena is driven to transform the built world at the water's edge. With transdisciplinary and progressive views, she is fueled by the overlapping of design, technology, and nature.

Dena is a licensed architect with a graduate degree in civil engineering. Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, she deeply appreciates nature and humankind's ability to design, build, and create infrastructure in some of the world's harshest conditions. Dena is an experienced leader of innovative leading projects around the world, directing infrastructure construction, marine engineering, and the design of waterfront architecture. This experience has given her the tools to navigate the firm's diverse client work with her unique vision and competency in construction, engineering, and waterfront architecture.

As a one-stop shop for solutions at the water’s edge, Indigo River works on notable projects around New York Harbor including East Side Coastal Resiliency in Manhattan, Robert De Niro's Wildflower Studios in Astoria, River Ring in Williamsburg, and the Harlem River Greenway in East Harlem.

Before starting Indigo River, Dena worked at DCAK MSA Architecture and Engineering as the Director of Project Management and Business Development, McLaren Engineering Group as a senior project manager and The Conti Group. Dena earned her Bachelor of Architecture at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), where she subsequently completed a graduate degree in Civil Engineering. At NJIT, she was a Division 1 soccer player. After gaining valuable experience in the industry, she went to Harvard Business School’s “Leading Professional Service Firms” Executive Education program.

She serves on the National Council of Architectural Registration Board’s (NCARB) Future’s Collaborative. In 2021, she joined the AIA Resilience and adaptation Advisory Group, and in 2022 she was asked to join AIA’s YAF Summit 30: Mission 2130; the Summit seeks to respond to critical issues present in the profession, namely, to address challenges the architecture profession will face in the next century, focusing on architecture, society, and our planet. She also serves on her local Planning Board in historic Grand View-on-Hudson, New York.

About Indigo River:

Indigo River is a women-owned transdisciplinary design firm focused on progressive waterfront architecture, resiliency, and climate adaptation. A leading authority in New York Harbor and beyond, the firm specializes in climate adaptation through waterfront solutions that seamlessly transcend boundaries - guiding and executing projects from ideation through final construction and operations.

In this episode we discuss:

  • her journey that began growing up in Alaska to practicing architecture in NYC through architecture school, civil engineering, construction, the marine team, getting her architecture license
  • the definition of what an architecture license is actually for
  • her specialization in the waterfront and how it interfaces with the built environment, resiliency, climate adaptation, while protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public
  • an in-depth discussion about the value of an architect for solving problems and protecting the public in the built environment
  • the disproportionate and unsustainable nature of the architect’s standard business model in relation to fees and liability for services and outcomes over the lifetime of a project
  • recreating the architects’ role in society for the future of the profession by reasserting the agency of design professionals who are licensed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public 
  • what Dena is doing to differentiate her practice to protect against commoditizing the value of her services
  • a discussion about the opportunity for specialization within the architectural profession to differentiate and provide more value
  • observations why architecture is lagging behind the evolution of societal behavior and expectations which furthers the devaluing of architects
  • the gap between innovation and adoption regarding technology
  • artificial intelligence as a possible shortcut to addressing larger issues by architects instead of being considered a threat to the profession
  • the large range of projects Dena and Indigo River are working on including piers and docks for residences, marinas, ports, bulkheads, keys, wharfs, and natural shorelines
  • the constantly shifting nature of the edge condition where land meets water and the amount of regulation involved in that area of practice
  • the regulatory expertise needed to practice on dynamic waterfront projects
  • the potent combination of a diverse background with a focused geographical typology of waterfront projects that has led to the success of Indigo River since launching in 2018
  • what the day-to-day life of a waterfront architect is like and how it’s different than other areas of practice
  • what some of the more exciting opportunities while working on waterfront projects using prefabrication and logistics
  • what she experienced as a woman working early on in a male-dominated field
  • her favorite part of being an architect (and more)
  • the problems with merely reaching for sustainability in the built environment

Episode Links:
Learn more and subscribe at https://peopleverse.fm

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