The Managing Principal of IA’s Boston office is one of 9 women leading the firm’s global architectural and interior design practice.
In honor of Women’s History Month, IA is highlighting female leadership within the firm. Where the conversation around women in architecture has recently bubbled to the surface—AIA’s posthumous Gold Medal award to Julia Morgan in 2014, and the proliferation of advocacy organizations like The Missing 32% and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, for example—IA Interior Architects demonstrates a position unique in the practice of architecture. Approximately half of IA’s offices are managed and operated by female architects and designers.
When I was a freshman in high school, my parents encouraged me to think about my career. I grew up in a fairly traditional Indian family, and as with many Indian parents, mine felt I would make a great doctor or engineer. I, on the other hand, did not agree. I was attracted to the right brain/left brain integration of design and construction. I took a few drawing classes, interned at an architecture firm, and by sophomore year in high school I knew architecture was for me.
Transitioning from architecture school to professional practice was a challenge. I think everyone has a hard time graduating from architecture school and entering the workforce. All the theory and conceptual design projects we stretched our brains with in school are replaced by waterproofing details, budgets, and redlines. School and the industry are actually very disconnected. I found myself thinking, “Uh oh, what did I get into?” I very quickly started gravitating towards the world of interiors. For me, base building architecture felt so monumental and cold. Interiors has that human element where designers can truly improve lives. That inspires me.
In our male-dominated industry, I enjoy being a woman. I may not be able to talk sports with the best of them, but challenge me on fashion or reality TV any day. My thesis at Syracuse was on gender-based architecture. I came to the realization that successful design has elements of both masculinity and femininity. It is this blur that creates harmony and tension within each space.
I don’t believe there’s a genuine issue of gender inequality in the design industry. I believe people do what they are interested in doing. There may happen to be more men in architecture, and more women in interior design, but that isn’t by design—no pun intended.
Balancing career and family is a daily battle. I have two young children and a husband who is the president and founder of his own successful business. We are both extremely busy in our careers, but understand our priorities: our family. To prioritize, I have to set very strict boundaries associated with my career, which often require logging back on to my computer very late at night. It is quite a juggle but I believe we are in a workforce where people understand that family/work shuffle, as we each have our own mad methods to make it all happen.
Gender perception in the professional world is an ongoing discussion. There has been this seemingly eternal dialogue of how women in the workforce need to act like men to succeed. Why act like anything that is not natural to your true character? Women have varying ranges of voice, of action, of femininity. Men do as well. Just be you.
I really can’t identify a single moment of triumph in my career at IA. My entire experience with the firm has been a series of triumphs, from being hired as Managing Director of IA in Boston, through winning each and every one of our amazing clients, to building a team whom I can truly say inspires me every day. This IA experience has been an amazing journey and I thank my entire extended team of colleagues for allowing me to be a part of that.
What advice would you give to young women interested in the field of architecture? Pop culture paints the field of architecture as this idyllic, sexy thing: Just look at George Costanza from Seinfeld or Mr. Brady from The Brady Bunch. In actuality, we are a service industry and the focus isn’t on the designer as stereotypes would have you believe: The job is a much more delicate balance of a variety of factors. My recommendation is to intern, shadow, or interview someone in the field to truly understand what it is about.
Reetika Vijay, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, holds a degree in architecture from Syracuse University. Throughout her professional career she has worked on projects for a broad range of clients, including Twitter, Carbonite, HubSpot, State Street, and Dunkin Brands. In her free time you can find her delicately poised between work and family life in Newton, Massachusetts.