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Designing Women: Built From The Ground Up with Sarika Bajoria

September 26, 2012

Sarika Barjoria of Per-forma Studio

Interview by Jennifer Markas; Photography by Amy Lee

International architect and designer, Sarika Bajoria sits down with Damsels in Design to discuss her experience building Per-forma Studio, a multi-disciplinary design practice, from the ground up. From her dream of opening up a business at the age of fifteen to her passion for creating positive change in communities, Sarika runs non-stop working to ensure each project is carefully conceptualized, planned and executed. Here, she shares many valuable insights for young architects wanting to work in the male-dominated industry.

DID: How and why did you start Per-forma? What was your “aha!” moment?
SB: When I was fifteen years old, I had the dream of becoming an architect and having my own creative practice, so you could say that Per-forma seeds were planted way back then.  Architecture as a discipline naturally intrigued me, as it integrated my strengths in art and science and my passion to imagine, draw and build. I grew up in a very close knit family in Calcutta and at eighteen I left to study in the US. This journey through unfamiliar grounds was way beyond my comfort zone and was very challenging and exhilarating at the same time and brought about a quiet metamorphosis within. I had many “aha!” moments along my way where I rediscovered and redefined myself and my vision for Per-forma. The name of the studio reflects the integration of “performance” and “form” in our projects, striving to achieve a careful balance between science and art, technology and environment, economics and ideas to create meaningful settings. The few places where I developed my design convictions and methodologies that were instrumental to Per-forma’s formation were the Masters program at the University of Pennsylvania, Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) office in NY where I worked and Architecture for Humanity, NY where I volunteered.

DID: How do you manage all of your daily to-do’s? Have you adopted morning/evening rituals to help you get through the day? If so, which ones have had the greatest impact on your career?
SB: It is challenging to find the equilibrium between what I need to do and what I can do in 24 hrs given the nature of the creative field and my many interests! I believe it very important for me to set a conscious intent every morning to keep a happy and peaceful mind and not just “get through” the day but “grow through” every day. It took me a long time to understand and put into practice that being “busy” or “stressed” is a state of mind and I have a choice in how I respond that makes me more effective in managing my life. Even five to ten minutes of quiet meditation time helps me be more grounded and working out or running in Central Park a few times a week gives me a lot more energy throughout the day.

DID: Where do you get your motivation from? What drives your passion? How do you measure success?
SB: My family is the support system that I draw my emotional and mental strength from. My motivation comes from loving what I do and from the desire to transcend the design solutions for every project and know that that matters. Having designed many international projects of different scales and typologies, I find that to create I constantly have to redefine my perceptions, roles, identities and methodologies and live in a realm of infinite possibilities which keep shifting. This rediscovery process is introspective and exhilarating. Success to me would be that our projects bring about positive transformation in the built environment and add a sense of grace to the lives of people that experience them.

Great Eastern Hotel and Retail Mixed use Development, Mumbai; Shopping Mall, Kolkata; Indian Chamber of Commerce, Kolkata

DID: What is your favorite architecture project that you have worked on? What inspires your sense of style and aesthetic? What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
SB: It is very difficult for me to choose a favorite from my projects as I think I grow in different ways as a designer through the process of finding each of their expressions. The recent projects that my studio has designed are varied in scales and typologies and integrate many design disciplines. I wouldn’t say that I have a specific “style” – it develops and grows through the process of “osmosis” where what I design is mediated by what I see and experience around me and the context of the project. For example, one of our current projects is a high-end lifestyle store in Dubai which integrates architecture, interior design, art installation, graphic design, branding which we are designing from our studio in New York and collaborating with a design team in India to be built in Dubai this December. To constantly be in this realm of shifting possibilities is exploratory and very exciting! I believe that the most fulfilling part of my job is that it is not a job for me, but more of a lifestyle!

DID: If you could go back and time and offer yourself one piece of advice what would it be?
I would tell my 20 year old self not to grasp at immediate results. Instead, relax and feel  “your dance”. You need to create your own moves and not follow the choreography of others. “Zoom out” often. A panoramic perspective will help you understand and put in context the zoomed in vignettes better.

DID: Name three skills that helped get you where you are today.
Profound optimism –  to always dwell in the realm of possibilities and not in limitations.
Confidence – to spot potential opportunities, to go after them and follow through.
Persistence – to keep at it and have faith in myself.

DID: You are very courageous to open up your own studio in a male-dominated field. How did you gain enough confidence to go out on your own? What advice do you have for young female architects who have the dream of opening up their own practice?
SB: Actually, I never looked at starting my practice as a female architect to be a disadvantage. I had to take a leap of faith. There are unique challenges and uncertainties, but the confidence comes from knowing that this is what I always wanted to do and loving the process. My advice to young female architects would be that they should map their own unique journey and believe in it even when the going gets tough. Sometimes the big picture can seem very overwhelming, but if it’s broken down into smaller, achievable goals then it is very manageable. The limitations are only in our mind and we have to let go of them internally first.

DID: Who are your mentors?
SB: My father has been a big influence in my life and he is someone who I aspire to be like as a person within.

DID: If there is one thing you could change about the Architecture industry what would it be?
SB: I believe Architecture as an industry should spend more time and resources towards the role of design as a catalyst for positive change. The discipline has the power to transform the social, cultural, environmental and experiential realms in a big way regardless of the scale of a project. I also think that senior architects should be more generous with their time, experience and knowledge to share with younger architects.

DID: Where do you picture Per-forma Studio one year from now? How important is networking in sustaining and growing your business?
I hope the Per-forma Studio family of designers and collaborators grows significantly within the next year. We look to engage in many more projects that challenge our preconceived notions and give a sense of grace and beauty to our environment and believe that that matters. I hope that this expectation is surpassed in ways that I cannot even imagine right now! Networking is very important to sustaining and growing a business. However, I believe that it should not be viewed to produce immediate results. Networking to me is a means to foster meaningful and influential personal and professional relationships that grow over time and possibly open up new avenues for both the development of my business and me as a person.
DID: You’re absolutely right Sarika! Networking is not about meeting as many people as you possibly can at a one-time event. It’s about creating relationships with people you actually want to be friends with. That waygenuine connections are formed. We’re glad to welcome you to our community of women in design. Thank you for sharing your valuable insight for aspiring architects and designers.

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