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“We are not a minority firm. We are a majority firm.”
Antonio Argibay, AIA, LEED AP, sure knows how to begin an interview. The managing principal at Meridian Design Associates Architects PC believes excellence needs to be just that. He’s proud that Meridian has incredible representation of underrepresented groups. He’s proud that his organization has consistently walked the talk in supporting its immigrant employees and the issues that matter most to them. He’s proud that Meridian looks and feels like a melting pot of culture, background, and personality.
But it’s really the work that seals the deal.
“We want to go in the front door just like anyone else,” Argibay explains. “We want to make it in a competitive environment with no stigma attached in any way.”
Old Mediums and New Media
But there is still something incredible about that fact that with fourteen of the nation’s largest and most prestigious architectural firms in the running, Meridian won the bid to build the new headquarters for Warner Bros. Discovery Global Headquarters. The company transformed the former home of the American Lithographic Company in New York City, a storied nineteenth-century media factory, into an icon of twenty-first-century media.
While Meridian has long broken barriers for Hispanic architects with its impressive track record of prestige projects, its appointment of a Hispanic woman, Argentine-American Luciana Machado, as the project lead is still unique for the field as a whole. It is evidence of Meridian’s success, not just as a top architectural firm but as an employer and industry leader.
Argibay’s #PeopleFirst approach and business values significantly contribute to Meridian’s success. The firm has earned global distinctions including one of the world’s most prestigious architecture and design awards, the 2022 World Design Award by the Architecture Community, awarded for their design of the aforementioned Warner Bros. Discovery project in three categories. The world-class jury sought out “outstanding ideas that redefine architecture design through the implementation of novel technologies, materials, programs, aesthetics, and spatial organizations along with studies on globalization, flexibility, adaptability, and the digital revolution.”
And it is no surprise that Meridian receives these accolades. The Warner Bros. Discovery space is a cutting-edge office environment that intentionally exemplifies a modern vision for the post-COVID-19 workplace, with design elements that successfully incentivized virtually all of the company’s remote workers to return to the office. This includes biophilic design concepts, a fully equipped wellness center, and two full floors of communal indoor and outdoor amenity spaces that offer moods that range from soothing and relaxing to the kind of high-intensity, high-precision environments that newsrooms are well-known for. There are also personal workspaces, which go above and beyond by featuring individually adjusted lighting and desks with attention to natural light, privacy, and acoustics—a complete 180-degree turn from the open floor layouts of the tech-startup-driven early aughts.
Argibay is especially proud of this project because of its successful completion in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While we had every intention of completing this project, which incorporates Agile management methodology and hybrid work, before the pandemic, it truly was the correct choice for us and for our client with COVID happening all around us. We didn’t have to make any design changes as a result of the pandemic, and it was an incredibly prescient project that began back in 2018.”
The project is notable for a variety of reasons, but its building standards should be near the top of the list. The project was built in accordance with science-backed WELL Achieving Platinum certifications used to measure, certify, and monitor “features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind,” according to the International WELL Building Institute. This certification is no small feat, as it means that the organization has met the highest pinnacle of health achievement in the industry.
“Adhering to these standards means we’re providing benefits to employees that are just too numerous to mention, but I’m so proud to have been part of this project,” Argibay says.
The March Toward Latino Recognition
Just as Argibay wants his firm to be judged by the same standards as any other, he believes the contributions of American Latinos to US history should finally make their way into the broader national consciousness. That’s why he serves on the board of the Friends of the National Museum of the American Latino, an organization that has dedicated itself to advocating for the creation of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Latino since 2004.
The story of the museum is fraught with delays, politics, and consensus-building over thirty years to make Latino contributions to the fabric of the United States a reality.
“Maybe it’s because in my heart I’m a twelve-year-old, but I love the story of the West,” Argibay explains. “That story shouldn’t start in 1850 with frustrated miners making their way East from California after some failed in the nineteenth-century Gold Rush. It should start three hundred years earlier, with the introduction of the horse, the mixing of the Spanish with American indigenous peoples. It’s a story we never hear, and one that Hollywood has largely overlooked.”
The museum was officially established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, with half of the funding of the museum’s construction provided. But it may take a decade or more to become reality, due to continued congressional deadlock and little sense of urgency on a national scale.
For Argibay, the creation of a museum is just as much about architecture as it is about better understanding our national identity. “Museums, in many ways, have taken the place of cathedrals,” Argibay says. “You used to find these paintings and history in storied palaces or holy sanctuaries. Museums are now where you can be taken back in history. The buildings where these objects are kept tell just as much of the story as what’s inside. They’re more than just warehouses.”
The National Museum of the American Latino is a way to showcase the countless contributions of an overlooked population that is on its way to becoming the majority. It’s a way to honor the legacy of millions of Latinos who have helped create the world around us. Argibay knows that the structure that houses those contributions will make the first statement to anyone entering the premises. But Argibay also knows that design cannot do all the heavy lifting. There need to be more Latino leaders reflecting the true new landscape of the United States experience, and that includes in the business world.
“I’m not saying there should be a quota of Latino CEOs, but from 2013 to 2022, the S&P 500 went from eight Hispanic CEOs to twenty, and [to Latinos holding] just four percent of board seats,” Argibay explains. “That is not at all in line with just how much Hispanics and Latinos are contributing to the economic growth of this country. We start up more businesses than any other group, but you just don’t see it reflected in leadership.”
Argibay believes the pace of change is monumentally slow compared to the rapid increase of Latino representation in the US census. Creating more opportunities for Latino CEOs isn’t just a good idea, he says, “it’s a long overdue necessity if we wish the US to reflect the reality of the people that make our country great. It’s not about quotas or awards or recognition. It’s deeper than that. It’s about understanding what connects us, celebrating our shared history, and continuing to find a way to grow together.”