INSPIRE% is an initiative where will we present personal stories of amazing people who embody our vision of equitable practice, fostering and keeping talent within the profession and elevating the value of Architecture to society.  Our first interview is one of the most inspirational of all.

INSPIRE% [03]: If at first you don't succeed, try again - Meghana Joshi shows resilience.

We are excited to get back to our INSPIRE% blog series. This post highlights Meghana Joshi's perseverance in light of her divergent journey to Licensure; thru the Recession, expired NCARB exams, and work/life challenges.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

I am an "Intern Project Manager". With silver strands in my jet black hair and signs of life on my face, I am not the typical twenty-year old architectural intern.  But according to NCARB’s guidelines, to call myself a registered architect, I have to complete the grueling Intern Development Program as well as the Architectural Registration exams. Post recession, I have been working on retail and light industrial projects in California.

 One word to describe myself would be "Resilient".

2. Why did you choose to study Architecture?

History of Architecture. Growing up in a city filled with architectural treasures influenced by the Mughals and Ottomans, the intricate details on the walls and ceilings, as well as the stories of passion and power that shaped these buildings always fascinated me. I read Percy Brown's book on Architecture as a teenager, and all I wanted to do was to design buildings that were shaped by society; and in turn help shape the society they were built in.

3. What Inspires you on a daily basis?

As much as I want to say design, I want to say life safety and accessibility inspires me more. The design of a building is only an outward influence to the community it's built in, but to know that my design is universally accessible and safe inspires me to stay focused at work.

4. What are 3 of your most influential projects and Why? 

A-1 Self Storage, Alhambra. This project marked a new beginning for me. During the recession, I had given up any hope of returning to architecture full-time. Even if I did return, I had absolutely no hope of being a part-time consultant on 100,000 S.F. projects that needed extensive inter-office collaboration and coordination. But, one day I received a call from the architect working on the project to join the team. (The team of two). It was my first project coming out of the Recessesion and It was my first project that exceeded 100,000 SF and with a basement. In California, we don't usually get a chance to build basements. The project is still in construction, and will be ready for occupation in the beginning of 2015.

Longs Drug Store, Pasadena. After working on eight Longs Drug Stores in southern California from design to punch list, I did a tenant improvement in Pasadena when they acquired a closed Blockbuster space. It was the most challenging project; from getting basic permits for tenant improvement to acquiring conditional use permits to sell alcohol. Until then, adding awnings with the store's logo had never been an issue. No one was probably more happy to read the store opening piece in the local newspaper.  But two years later, when the Longs Drug Store was acquired by CVS, this store was closed. One afternoon I turned my head compulsively to check "my store" , and there it was, empty with orphaned awnings. This served as a stark reminder that nothing was permanent, and it was never "mine" no matter how much ownership I took in designing it.

Upgrades: Hangar 1, NASA Ames. During my tenure at NASA Ames, I worked on a lot of office space and wind tunnel renovations, but I still remember that day when the construction manager opened up Hangar One for me to verify record drawings. I was in awe of the volume of the building. My daughter would point out at the light that shone on the hangar at night and call it "mommy's office". But to go inside the hangar, measure it, and work on updating the exiting requirements to help them use the hangar for large gatherings was an experience of a life time. Recently when my friends shared pictures of the Hangar during an open house hosted by NASA, I couldn't help but say there was a shell on that Hangar.

5. What is the greatest challenge/difficulty that you have had to overcome in your professional career?

Exactly two years ago, as I left for a vacation, I received a white envelope from NCARB. From the time I qualified for the ARE examinations, NCARB has been feeding white envelopes through the mailbox; sometimes notifying me of exams and sometimes a newsletter about future proposed changes to the exams. I didn’t think I needed to open it right at that moment. I left it on the table, and when I returned, there was a pile of bills stacked on top of that letter. Opening the letter slipped my mind completely, and a few months later, as I was purging the mail basket, I realized it was a letter advising me to take a test before December to keep my rolling clock status active, without enrolling into IDP program.

I had let my rolling clock expire.

I am an immigrant. I have a foreign degree. It was not easy for me to establish my credentials the first time I applied for candidate status. My parents had to visit my university and spend a considerable amount of time and effort to get the paperwork formatted suitably for IERF to verify the authenticity of degree and transfer my credits.

One architect that I had worked for retired since then. Two companies that I worked for had merged with other companies, and changed names. I had no clue if they still had my employment information, or if I would be able to find a contact to get the paperwork started for verifying my employment.

I let months pass by, sometimes wondering why I let this happen.

Right after I got qualified to take the ARE exams, I had two children, moved three times within the state, tied myself to a mortgage, and made meeting deadlines at work more important than brushing up on my knowledge for the test. Work-life balance meant scheduling the tests at a time I thought would work conveniently with the project deadlines, with my family commitments, and later postponing or canceling the test because things didn't work as planned. There was never the right time, and never the right opportunity. I didn't manage to pass a single test or keep myself motivated. Then hit the Great Recession. 

One fine afternoon, unemployed and hopeless during the Recession of 2010-2011 period, I decided that it was time to move on from Architecture, and licensing might not be worth pursuing, what with the highest rate of unemployment and lowest billing index in the field of construction. I took on roles in other unrelated industries to keep the cash flow stable. Once the industry showed signs of recovery, I started out as a consulting project manager, mostly part time in the beginning. Back on the drawing board, the first question that I asked myself was, where was my license? 

Responsibilities were growing two fold with family and work becoming more stressful than before. I wondered what exactly happened at that moment when I trivialized the goals I had set for years and sabotaged all my preparation.  Burning the midnight oil while in school, and dedicating weekends at work to fine tune the set of drawings for construction, and all it took was one irrational decision at a very weak moment. I had to move on, stop pondering over what had happened and why it happened. I decided to pick up where I left that afternoon, and navigated through the maze of NCARB and CAB to re-establish my candidacy and activate my test taking status.

6. What do you believe has been one of your greatest accomplishments to date? Why?  

The decision to work on my licensure. I have always believed that life goes on, challenges redefine and goals reset. My moment of pride happened that day when I called the California Architects Board (CAB) and re-established my status as an active candidate. Fast forward three months after chasing CAB and NCARB, I am done with 68% of my IDP, and passed one ARE test, and I have two more scheduled over the holidays. There are still deadlines that magically move closer to my test date no matter how much I plan well on both fronts. There is still the elusive work-life balance that tips a little to the right.

 This time, there is no quitting.

7. If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 24 year-old self?

Don't stay up at night worrying if you made the right decision to go back to work after the baby. Sure everyone around you is asking how you can leave a child so small with your mother, or mother-in-law, or the baby sitter? But if you and your partner trust them, and trust your instincts, don't ever have second thoughts. A big hug for leaning in. Stay focused.

8. What is the best advice that you ever received and how does that apply today?

Gene Naval, my Manager and Project Architect at the peak of the Recession shared his career stories during the last recession in the 80s and how he ended up coming back to his first love, architecture after working in jewelry design for almost a decade. "I made a lot of money, earned respect from the people I worked with, but I was not happy. Even if it meant less money, buying my own pencils and erasers for a while, I jumped back in to Architecture at the first chance once the industry started hiring again".

I heard him then, but I listen to him now. Happiness cannot be measured by the amount of money you make. It's derived by the work you do.

9. How do you see Architecture changing in the next 10 years? What would your role be in the future?

Julia Morgan finally got her due and in the next ten years we will see a lot of women architects take on full fledged roles in influencing the community through their design. Men are taking on equal opportunity partner roles in families that will help women lean in more and give their best to what they love most. I think it's a great time to be a woman and an architect. There are still challenges, but compared to how things were two decades ago, we have accomplished a lot, and things should hopefully get easier for the coming generation of young architects.

Technology has changed so much and will continue evolving in the next decade, thereby influencing architecture. Every building we design will soon be a smart building. Sustainability will be large influence on building design and construction.  The next decade should make it easier to have access to sustainable materials, and to recycle/ upcycle construction waste. In the future, my role will evolve with time and responsibilities, but the underlying sentiment of design will be the same. To design for ease of use and purpose. 

10. We have heard that while the general public respects Architects, they have little knowledge about what we do. Do you have any thoughts about how we can bridge the gap?

First of all, the skyline dress Architect Barbie with a blue print tube is not helping.  No, we don't look like that at all, and we don't rearrange furniture in a room as seems to be another common misconception. Well written articles about everyday role models in architecture and their designs will help the public understand what an architect does. Presence in media will help, not just in documentaries about great buildings, but as roles in sitcoms.

Ted Mosby shouldn't be the only architect everyone knows from TV shows.