Faith and Beauty at Work: Q&A with Mark DeMicoli
Mark DeMicoli is a real estate developer with roots in architecture, a marketing professional, and an aspiring urban planner living in Washington, D.C. The son of noted architect Ray DeMicoli, he spent his childhood in Malta and was deeply influenced by the island-nation’s beauty, history and deep-rooted connection to Catholicism. The family’s firm, DeMicoli & Associates, has designed commercial and residential developments across the globe. The importance and influence of aesthetics, combined with Catholic Social Teaching, have been woven throughout DeMicoli’s life.
One of DeMicoli’s recent projects, Spinola Park, is an urban office and retail center, incorporating sustainable design into a multi-story complex. The ocean-side complex connects offices, apartments, a supermarket, restaurants and is adjacent to a local Catholic parish church.
DeMicoli, a board member of CAPP-USA, attended the recent Beauty at Work International Symposium, a two-day event bringing together researchers, thought leaders and journalists to explore the influence of beauty in our work and our society. Hosted at The Catholic University of America by IACS Hancock Fellow Brandon Vaidyanathan, Ph.D., the symposium was co-sponsored by IACS.
IACS recently spoke with DeMicoli about how beauty informs his work.
IACS: Can you talk a bit about your personal and professional background?
DeMicoli: I grew up on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean sea, south of Italy. I come from a family of artists and architects. Malta is actually an archipelago of several islands and I spent my summers at the beach and sailing these blue waters. One thing that impressed me deeply growing up is the beautiful contrast of the landscape, the yellow hues of limestone in contrast with the Mediterranean blue sea. These two colors complement each other so well.
Malta has a great history of architecture. The oldest free-standing structure in the World is in Malta, our Neolithic temples, which predate the Egyptian pyramids. We also have beautiful modern buildings, such as the Portomaso development, and also beautiful churches, such as St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta. Beautiful works of art, like the famous and largest Caravaggio painting of The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, are displayed in these churches.
I was educated in the U.S. in economics and finance, but I’ve spent most of my career in marketing and, in the last decade, have focused on architecture and real estate development in Malta. I now live in the Washington, D.C. area with my wife and our six children.
IACS: How does faith inform your work?
DeMicoli: About twenty years ago I was introduced to the social doctrine of the Catholic Church. This body of teaching has deeply influenced my professional life. I often refer to these principles in how we run our businesses and how we relate to our clients and employees. I am a board member of CAPP-USA, the U.S. branch of the Vatican-based Fondazione Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice. Human Dignity is central to Catholic Social Teaching, and it inspires our human-centric designs and processes. I also try to bring beauty in my work, not only to contribute to making beautiful spaces and buildings, but also from the operations perspective.
IACS: You recently attended the Beauty at Work International Symposium – what were some of your takeaways from the event?
DeMicoli: For many years I believed that beauty was subjective. There is the famous idiom “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” There is certainly a degree of subjectivity in the perception of beauty. However, I have recently learned that beauty is more objective than subjective. We look for beauty in people, places and things. When we encounter a beautiful person, place or thing, we know it. Take a beautiful scene in nature: the turquoise waters of the tropics or the fall colors on the rolling hills of Blue Ridge Mountains. These are inherently beautiful and attractive.
Another takeaway was the power of art and how art can be a way of communicating a powerful and transformative message. It was also interesting to learn examples about the impact art can have in the healing and reconciliation process.
In our modern and scientific world, beauty tends to be discounted and not given its due importance. This symposium helped demonstrate the foundational importance beauty places in our lives and how we should work to create beauty in our lives.
IACS: Can you talk a bit about the role beauty plays in your work?
DeMicoli: From a young age I have been nurtured to have a trained eye and a sensitivity to beauty. We surround ourselves with beauty and let it impress us and then we strive to emulate by creating beautiful places and things. To create beauty, it takes effort and sacrifice. Experiencing beauty to me means somebody cares, somebody took the time and resources to make a special effort. The effort and time needed to go from a mediocre level of quality to something exceptional takes double the effort. One of my favorite quotes by the late Pope Benedict XVI is “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!”
Although I often fall short, I try to bring beauty and magnanimity in my work.
I think beauty communicates a message of hope. I am also part of a global ministry, FRG Ministry, that seeks to bring hope to people around the world through the beauty of the message of the Gospel.
IACS: Can you discuss Spinola Park – what makes the project unique?
DeMicoli: Our approach to real estate development is to shape our buildings within the context of the community and to implement human-centric design in their features. Prior to doing the preliminary designs of Spinola Park we met with various stakeholders in the community to learn about their needs and aspirations. For example, we learned that the senior citizens felt cut off from the town center because climbing the hill back home was too tiring. In the Spinola Park project we introduced two sets of public elevators which we operate. This way seniors can take a shortcut through our building to get to the town center. These same elevators are used by school children making their way to the public elementary school. Another example is that our building is adjacent to the St. Julian’s parish church. There was always a shortage of parking spaces and we installed public elevators that link the church’s parvis with our car park, and also subsidize parking fees for parishioners. We also built a new parish hall and catechism classrooms in exchange for a small piece of land at the boundary of our site.
When designing we often think about the user experience. Winston Churchill once said: “we shape our buildings and then they shape us.” In Malta we enjoy a mild climate, yet many office buildings tend to maximize their internal square footage. We were one of the first office buildings to recess the façade to provide extensive landscaped terraces for our tenant’s employees to enjoy and feel refreshed. We also included several amenities, including a large supermarket, a food court, French bistro, fitness center and children’s day care. These are conveniently located in close proximity. Our project is also family-run, which gives flexibility and a quick response time for our tenants.