Women of FA: Heera Basi

Q: When did you first become interested in architecture?
I first became interested in architecture when I was in high school. I loved both math and art classes (our high school had amazing art program and my favorites were ceramics and glass blowing). Also, when I was in high school my parents remodeled our home, so I got to experience the design process firsthand at a young age. However, I didn’t go straight into an undergrad program in architecture – I started as a Molecular Biology major, but soon realized it was not my passion. I remembered my exposure to architecture, and it seemed like the perfect combination of the creativity I enjoyed with art and the problem solving that I loved in math. So, I changed my major to Urban Studies and Planning and applied to grad school to pursue a Master of Architecture degree!

Q: What is your favorite part of the design process? What kind of projects do you gravitate towards?
There are many parts of the design process that I love. I really enjoy the early stages of design when you can dream big and be the most creative and open to different possibilities. I also appreciate the problem-solving aspects of the process – whether that’s trying to resolve a tricky detail or coming up with a new solution to something that isn’t working as well as it could be.

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 architecture for about 12 years now. Time flies! When I first started, I thought 90% of architecture was pure design work. But in reality, there are so many other aspects that go into building a home and managing a project. One of the most important qualities of an architect is their people skills – fostering relationships and building trust is such an important part of the profession. Whether with clients, contractors, consultants, or colleagues, a successful project truly comes from a great team where everyone is working together toward the same goal of creating something inspiring and meaningful.

Q: What challenges do you face as a female architect in a male dominated industry?
Fortunately, the industry is evolving and there are more female architects and industry professionals. But there are still times where I show up on a job site and people don’t expect me to the be project manager or architect in charge.

Q: Who is your favorite female architect?
So many! I really admire Julia Morgan and what she achieved in the industry at the time, and I appreciate how she brought a real local California vibe to some of her projects. I also love the work of Rossana Hu. We saw her speak and present her firm’s work at the Monterey Design Conference in 2019. I had just visited Shanghai earlier that year and was inspired by the celebration of the historic architecture and traditional style, while adding a modern twist to blend the two together.

Q: What is the most interesting project you’re working on right now?
All my projects are interesting in their own way, but the project I’m most excited about at the moment is Staglin Family Vineyard East Residence, which is currently under construction. It’s for a family in the wine industry and is located on their vineyard. Not only is the setting incredible, but it’s always a really fulfilling experience to see our design work come to life. This is also a project that we’ve really been able to execute details at a high level – we’re fortunate to have a talented, collaborative team where everyone is working together to create a beautiful and unique home.

Q: How do you express yourself creatively outside of the office?
When I’m not in the office I love being outside and spending time with my family and friends – hiking, exploring, cooking, getting out of the city to soak in some sun. Not sure how creative that is on its own, but it certainly helps me recharge and get the creative juices flowing at work!

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.

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.

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!