Staff Spotlight: Malavika Mallik

Q: Where are you from?
I am from Bangalore (locally called Bengaluru), India. It is known by many names: the Garden City of India, The Silicon Valley of India, etc.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I earned my Master’s of Architecture degree from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. Prior to that, I went to M.S Ramaiah Institute of Technology for my Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture.

Q: Tell me about your family.
I am the only child of my parents, so it’s safe to say that I am spoiled by my dad. My parents were neighbors, they fell in love at an early age and got married. My dad is a senior manager at a public utility company and my mom is a teacher for secondary and higher-grade kids. Teaching is her passion, and she would love to do it all her life. I have grown up around animals for most of my life – I have a rescued dog and cats, and I cannot imagine my life without them!

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
The first time I fell in love with architecture was when I participated in the Centre for Laurie Baker workshop, Kerala. Architecture is art that comes to life for people to experience and live in, and I am grateful to be one of the many creators of such art. I am drawn to ‘Tropical Modernism,’ especially by the buildings designed by the famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffery Bawa. I was truly lucky to have experienced Sri Lanka and Bawa’s architecture during my undergraduate years when I interned at a firm in Colombo for six months. My love for architecture has been growing ever since.

Q: What is the last show you binge-watched?
Broadchurch. A combination of small-town detective mystery AND David Tennant was too tempting to pass.

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
My priority would be Residential, I thoroughly enjoy learning about the client’s interests and vision. There is always potential to envision extraordinary things when designing an ordinary seeming residence. The fact that our clients will be inhabiting and living in these spaces makes it very personal and intimate.

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
Slow travel in New Zealand and Vietnam, start a rescue animal shelter, and do a yoga headstand (haha).

Q: Have you ever won a contest or award?
I have won multiple awards for watercolor painting since I was in school, including a contest conducted by the Times of India (a national newspaper publication). I also take pride in mentioning that I was the youngest artist to exhibit at Chitrakala Parishath (a well-renowned art gallery in Bangalore) at the age of 16. I have continued to hold professional art exhibitions since then.

Q: What question would you not want to be asked in an interview?
“Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years from now” –  I like to think of myself as constantly evolving as a designer and as an architect, and the idea of limiting myself in the pursuit of a particular position/role does not appeal to me.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
I love this question because I’m always planning beautiful things in my head for “my castle in the air”

  1. A huge green courtyard inside the house
  2. Lots of skylights and a terrace that can house a home garden for my plants and vegetables and of course a rainwater harvesting system
  3. Vernacular materials (yellow oxide and laterite stone and timber); wire-cut brick masonry with no plaster and some beton brut
  4. A room for messy artwork
  5. A lotus pond

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
I am going to say this in my sleep too – it’s Japan. I am in love with the country. I have been learning things about Japanese culture and way of life, and saving money for a long time now so I can connect to the place better when I visit. I know in my heart that Japan is going to be a place I will remember for a lifetime.

Staff Spotlight: Jiayi Wang


Q: Where are you from?
I’m from Chengdu, China — The city of giant Panda and Hotpot.

Q: Where did you go to school?
Kansas State University. I started as an Engineering major and then switched to Art. Finally, I settled down with Architecture.

Q: Tell me about your family.
I’m the only child in my family. My dad is a philosopher and a writer. He used to give lectures in college. Many times I found myself fall into endless discussions about the intangibility of existence with my dad. My mom has been retired for quite a while – she used to be a commercial manager. Luckily, both of my parents are very good chefs. Going to the market, cooking, and discovering new food with them taught me quite a lot about life, nature, and balance.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
That’s a hard question. The way I understand architecture keeps changing. Maybe the dialog between architecture and the consistently changing world attracts me. Also, I find the intimate connection of space between experience and senses interesting.

Q: What makes our office unique?
Definitely the people in our office.

Q: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
I learned to skateboard!

Q: What kinds of projects do you most enjoy working on?
I like projects that give me the chance to challenge traditional thought.

Q: What’s your favorite part about coming to work? (in person or virtually)
After WFH for a looooong time, I really have been enjoy coming to the office and taking a walk around the neighborhood during my lunch break with my 28mm camera.

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
Attend a concert in Pompeii, go diving in Carriacou, and visit my family when Covid finally calms down.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
A gracious outdoor space, a city view, a music studio, plants, and a nice full bar is a must.

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
Brazil!

Women of FA: Kateryna Rogynska

Q: When did you first become interested in architecture?
I found myself first becoming curious as my parents were building a home for my family. It was fun to see what their architect at the time (I was a teenager) recommended, I was especially fascinated by the process of selecting finishes. A few years later, my dad proposed I study architecture, since I was already attending a fine arts school.

Q: What is your favorite part of the design process? What kind of projects do you gravitate towards?
I truly enjoy form finding in the schematic phase of a project, as well as iterating the design during design development to identify a more realistic form using real-life dimensions and materials. Producing and seeing renderings of the imagined spaces feels quite rewarding as well.

Q: How long have you practiced architecture and design? How has your understanding of the industry changed since the start of your career?
My first full time architectural internship was in LA in 2011, followed by several more professional adventures in Europe, and a subsequent move to SF in 2014. It has been a decade since I’ve embarked on this path.

I think the biggest revelation has been understanding how complex and humbling this career is. You never truly feel like you “got it” and everything is under control, especially during the early years. The second biggest revelation has been that design and construction are very expensive, be it a small or a large project. For most people, including designers and clients, handling and predicting budget is a major challenge, which is paradoxical for something as concrete and tangible as a building.

Q: What challenges do you face as a female architect in a male dominated industry?
The challenges I have experienced stemmed from working in large firms with a lot of rigid hierarchy, where to be heard you had to be very loud. The bigger the architectural firm, the more tough skinned one needed to be to endure long working hours and an efficient but cold atmosphere between male leadership and younger designer staff.

Q: Who is your favorite female architect?
I quite admire Neri Oxman for her impressive body of research and Frida Escobedo for her highly tactile and earthy design aesthetic.

Q: What is the most interesting project you’re working on right now?
The current Atherton home I’m working on has been a fun and complex puzzle to solve!


Q: What project are you most proud of?
This Atherton project has real potential to be a future favorite, but until then, there is a skyscraper design I did with my previous firm that I am proud of.

Q: How does your personal identity shape your design practice?
In my eyes personal identity is inseparable from the design aesthetic. There were periods when I really enjoyed minimalist clothing and a rather austere form and interior. With the passage of time, I find myself gravitating more towards color and textures in both the designs I propose and in the way I create my surroundings in life.

Q: How do you express yourself creatively outside of the office?
Playing music and DJing is one of my favorite ways to spend time. Photography and sketching takes second place.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring female architects?
Don’t be afraid to go all in on the design ideas and speak up to be heard.

Staff Spotlight: Gabby Cheung


Q: Where are you from?
I grew up in Pasadena, CA, but I tell everyone that I’m from LA because it’s more recognizable. Although Pasadena is famous for its New Year’s Rose Parade, and I lived right on the parade route!

Q: Where did you go to school?
I did my BA in Architecture at UC Berkeley (Go Bears!)

Q: Tell me about your family.
My mom is an electrical engineer who grew up on a farm and my dad is a kindergarten teacher who grew up in a huge city. They met in Iowa and somehow landed in California (with stops in Vegas, and Tennessee) where my sister, Sierra, and I grew up! We’re all super-introverts who love cats. Our family kitty, Theta, is kind of a brat, but we love her anyway.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect of architecture to you?
I love thinking about architecture as a puzzle. It’s such a subjective field, but I like that architects start to justify design decisions based on a broad range of factors: climate, narrative, sequencing, function etc. When you can finally nudge all those factors into the right place, the design feels complete. The fun part is that the same puzzle can be solved in an infinite number of ways!

Q: What makes our office unique?
Definitely the amount of collaboration and camaraderie. Everyone has been so willing to help me learn the lay of the land from day one, and I don’t feel a major hierarchy among staff.

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?
I watched Lupin on Netflix and WOW, what a production! I highly recommend to anyone who loved BBC’s Sherlock. I’ve never rooted for a fictional thief so hard.

Q: What’s your favorite part about coming to work?
Before starting full-time, I interned at FA and helped with marketing drawings remotely. I’m so glad to finally be coming into the office and seeing my colleagues in person. The espresso machine is also a big plus!

Q: Have you ever won a contest or award?
When I was in high school, I won a scholarship from Taco Bell. It was a super obscure award, but they put a picture of me up in Times Square as a part of the prize! I also won a couple of architecture awards during my time at Cal.

Q: Favorite SF hidden gem?
I have no idea if this is a secret or not—I’ve only lived here a few weeks—but the staircase at Vallejo and Jones is my favorite place to walk at lunch. It has beautiful views in both directions and the wind is much appreciated after the steep trek to get up there.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
My dream home needs a dedicated studio space for sewing and art. I would also throw in an atrium with lots of natural light, some sort of loft, and unique wall art. Lastly, passive heating and cooling!

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
I haven’t booked my flights yet, but I am absolutely going to visit Milan and Stuttgart as soon as I can. Both beautiful places, both full of great architecture.

Women of FA: Liza Karimova

Q: ­When did you first become interested in architecture?
The field of architecture always seemed like the perfect balance between artistic expression and logical reasoning. An early interest in physical sciences and my participation in evening art school drove me to consider it as a profession. The challenge of conceptual thinking is what kept me in pursuit.

Q: What is your favorite part of the design process? What kind of projects do you gravitate towards?
I gravitate towards modern single-family residential projects with unique clients, who have an appreciation for design and love to be involved in the process. I really enjoy collaborative design. It’s also fascinating to discover how other people like to live!

Q: What challenges do you face as a female architect in a male dominated industry?
It’s hard to find female mentors and role-models, especially those that have a healthy work-life balance, and that have the time for you!

Initially it was a challenge to connect and network with a predominantly older male-dominated industry. I feel that it has taken me longer to build relationships with consultants and clients – but overall, I think that I have been lucky enough to have met people along the way that took the time to listen, helped guide me, and made sure my voice was heard.

Q: Who is your favorite female architect?
I admire the work of Paz Gutierrez. She is at the forefront of sustainable architectural research. She is currently working on designing a biowall out of lichens that can remove carbon dioxide and toxins out of air. How cool is that?

Q: What is the most interesting project you’re working on right now?
All of my projects are interesting and unique in their own ways! But one particularly exciting one is a home in the Santa Lucia Preserve that we called Stone Villa. As the name suggests, it’s a modern interpretation of a Tuscan stone villa, set in the Californian landscape. What is unique about the design is that it recreates the experience of walking through a street in a hilltop village in Tuscany, where all circulation happens outdoors. Each major space is contained in a separate stone volume that is placed along a major axis that serves as the access route – or street. The tower signals the main gathering space and provides views down into the valley below.

But projects aside, I am very excited to have been working on the office-wide design vision process guide that we have been developing with a small team. Essentially, it’s a worksheet that guides one through gathering relevant information, synthesizing it, and ideating on concepts. It’s brought excitement to all my projects and inspired more collaboration amongst team members.

Q: What project are you most proud of?
Last week I attended a housewarming for the first project that I ever worked on from inception to completion. It’s magical to see a house that you worked on for the span of multiple years turn into a home. It’s also a wonderful way to understand how much you have learned and grown through the whole process.

Q: How does your personal identity shape your design practice?
I feel that my multicultural upbringing has made me very open-minded and curious. It has also cultivated an insatiable appetite for novelty, growth, and personal development. Growing up in three different countries, speaking multiple languages daily and switching schools every other year leaves its mark. This journey has brought a sense of exploration to my work, and a love for challenges.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring female architects?
Surround yourself with people who uplift you and inspire confidence in your skills! And always be open to learning.

Staff Spotlight: Ahlada Pappu


Q: Where are you from?
It’s hard to say where exactly I’m from as I moved around a lot. I was born in India but moved to the US when I was a year old. I lived in the South Bay till the end of 7th grade when my family had to move back to India. I was in Hyderabad for 5 years and Chennai for the other 5 before I moved back to the US.

Q: Where did you go to school?
I received my Bachelor of Architecture from the School of Architecture and Planning, Chennai, India.

Q: Tell me about your family.
I am an only child. My parents are from Vizag (a small coastal city in India). My parents were the first in their family to move to the US. My dad is a software engineer, and my mom is an ayurvedic (alternative medicine from India) practitioner. My husband is a first-generation aspiring physician. His husky is the youngest member of my family.

Q: How did you get your start in architecture? What kind of projects are you most drawn to?
When I moved to India, I was intrigued by the rich palatial and temple architecture. I always used to think about how amazing the life of the royals and others living in Palaces would’ve been. When I started architecture school, I learned more about the vernacular architectural styles of India and appreciated the “tropical modernism” style. Looking back, I was always drawn to residential architecture.

Q: What is the last show you binge watched?
I binged season 1 of Lupin, Alice in Borderland, Manifest.

Q: Did you pick up any new hobbies during quarantine?
I started learning to play the violin, in the Indian classical style. I was also able to spend more time experimenting with digital art at the beginning of the pandemic.

Q: What are the top three things on your bucket list?
A trip to Norway for the Northern lights, learn to surf, design my own house (even if it’s a weekend house).

Q: Favorite SF hidden gem?
This is definitely not a hidden gem, but I love Strawberry hill at Stow Lake.

Q: What are five features you would include in your dream home?
I love water bodies and would want either a lakefront home or framed ocean views. I always wanted a courtyard to be the central space in my home. I feel they bring in the perfect amount of outdoor into your enclosed/indoor space. I would want an art studio, a large bookcase for my collection of architectural books and fiction novels, and a Chihuly sculpture.

Q: Where are you most excited to travel next?
It’s been a while since I travelled outside of the country, but I’m really looking forward to my trip to Greece next summer. It will be a great mix of architectural sightseeing and relaxing at the beaches.

Women of FA: Anjali Iyer

Q: When did you first become interested in architecture?
I must confess it took me a while to find my bearings. I felt quite lost and underwhelmed by architecture school as well as practice during my first few years working out of Bombay, India. In retrospect, the best decision I made was to move out of a developer-dominated real estate market to a smaller city like Bangalore, where there were opportunities and appreciation for design interventions. I managed to get into a small design studio that did great work. I am relieved to say that it was the right move and I fell deeply in love with the design process, and every nook and cranny of the labyrinth that is the architectural practice.

Q: What is your favorite part of the design process? What kind of projects do you gravitate towards?
I thoroughly enjoy working on single family residences. I love that on every new project we embark on a personal journey with the client(s). You do a deep dive to uncover their vision, and along the way infect them with the excitement you feel, as that vision manifests in design possibilities. You foster that relationship, earn their trust, and hold their hand through this entire process – through highs and lows. I also love that as architects we get to be the hub in the wheel – we are generalists who get to leverage the expertise of consultants, contractors, sub-contractors, vendors. Solving complex problems with a group of specialists, you are always learning, getting better at real-time critical thinking and problem solving – that is a wonderful by-product of this job.

Q: How long have you practiced architecture and design? How has your understanding of the industry changed since the start of your career?
I have been practicing for over half my life now – it has been 22 years since my first job as an intern. My career has taken different directions as I have moved across cities and countries– making for a fresh start and new learning experiences in each station. But the one thing that I appreciate most about the profession is that we do our best work when we are collaborative. Architecture is a team sport, and the best projects are backed by a team of stakeholders that challenge and bring out the best in each other. And have fun while they are at it! The stereotype of the architect playing God (strongly reinforced in architecture schools) needs to be dismantled – it does take a village.

Looking back, now is an exciting time for female career professionals as the industry has acknowledged previously hushed issues and is more open to agendas that empower women (and men) to foster their personal/ family life without detriment to their career goals. It is still very much a work in progress, but the momentum is there.

Q What project are you most proud of?
I am kind of proud of them all – how each one has transformed and hopefully enriched the lives of our clients. I will go with the Round House – as it is such a one-of-a-kind project. Compounded by the fact that it was a remodel on a challenging site, this project with its unique geometry demanded excellence and creative thinking from each member of the team. I learned a ton on that project. There is a reason we don’t see too many round houses😊.

Q: What challenges to do you face as a female architect in a male dominated industry?
Gender inequality is real and we as a profession can fix it only with a unified effort from both men and women. Challenges mostly include preconceived biases because you are a woman in what has traditionally been a male domain. I feel like I go through a rite of passage to earn my seat at the table every time with a new client/ consultant/contractor, unlike my male colleagues, who seem to walk in the room with the confidence that they own it. As a female architect, you feel the pressure to exceed the bar – not just meet it. It can also be challenging to grow in your career or get access to networking opportunities when a lot of them tend to be boys’ clubs and male centric.

Q: Who is your favorite female architect?
Hard to pick one – there are some incredible architects out there who are women that have paved the way for the next generation, including mine. I have benefited from the wisdom of female mentors who guided me through tough times. Zaha Hadid deserves a mention because of how gutsy she was and how she stormed into the profession at the period that she did. She was a very inspiring figure to many of us when we were in architecture school.

Q: What is the most interesting project you’re working on right now?
We are currently designing a home in Santa Barbara that is on a spectacular but challenging site. The clients’ vision for a rugged outcropping on a hill, evoking the spirit of an architecture that is centuries old, of-the-place, organic and native, has made for a fun design challenge. How do you make something feel timeless, lived-in? Looking back, I have come to appreciate the growth that comes with projects that stretch you out of our comfort zone – so I am excited about the potential on this one too.

Q: How does your personal identity shape your design practice?
I like to think that I challenge my team members to bring their A-game to the project, support them so they can have a critical voice in the design conversation. That is the type of acceptance and space I sought out for myself during my formative years, and I hope to provide that for the teams I now manage.

Q: How do you express yourself creatively outside of the office?
Interesting question… architecture practice demands all of it and some more. But seriously – your creative spirit carries into how you live day to day – the way you dress, the way you furnish your house, the way you entertain/host at home, the music you play, the environments you carve out for your quotidian life. These are small but extremely transformational experiences that one can consciously cultivate as a creative person. I love to bake and cook – activities that I do not necessarily see as artistic pursuits, but ones that immerse me in a completely different space from work. I pride myself on drumming up a scrumptious meal with whatever is in my pantry and refrigerator.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring female architects?
Do not get intimidated by deep-rooted cultural biases. Be curious, tenacious, passionate, and fearless. We all have insecurities but believe in yourself. I am a huge fan of speaking your mind and giving people a chance to respond/react to something you may otherwise be grappling with on your own. Communication is key. Find a mentor you can lean on or, a group that embraces you and relates to your journey. We are all in this together. Last but not least- get licensed!

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