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Fauzia Khanani: Mindful Design and Taking Risks

Fauzia Khanani’s career highlights the importance of mindful design and taking risks

02.28.2018

Fauzia Khanani

Fauzia Khanani’s thoughtfulness shines through her delivery. She speaks deliberately with the occasional pause to ensure the words are expressing exactly what she means.

This trait was also brought to light in her decision to change her architecture and design studio’s name from Fōz Design to Studio Fōr as of February 28, 2018. The Fōr stands for the firm’s emphasis on designing for clients, an important factor of Khanani’s work. While discussing the current state of interior design and architecture, she paused before stating that truly listening to a client is one of the most important jobs for a designer. That being said, she admits there are infrequent times when she can’t help but say, “Trust me on this one; I’m the designer.”

One so thoughtful in her choices may be unfortunately stereotyped as timid. However, Khanani’s career path can best be described as intrepid. While she was interested in design in her younger years, it wasn’t until her mid-twenties that she decided to turn her passion for architecture into a career despite a background in the medical industry and an initial rejection from the Berkeley Masters of Architecture program. (She would eventually graduate from there.)

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This intrepid nature continued to pave the path for her. After working in San Francisco, Khanani uprooted and moved to New York City, establishing her studio with a single residential project in 2011. Since then, her firm has grown to include commercial offices and public spaces across the continental United States.

Building Her Own Foundation

Growing up in Canada as the daughter of Ugandan refugees of East Indian heritage, Khanani was aware of the opportunities her country afforded her. “Education was a big part of growing up,” she said. “We had opportunities that perhaps my parents didn’t or other people in our family currently don’t have.”

Although she was raised with a wealth of opportunities, there was pressure on Khanani to fit into a more traditional gender role that her love of architecture didn’t fit.

“I remember my dad saying, ‘Oh, no, no. That’s a field for men. You’re not going to be treated equally and you shouldn’t do that. You should definitely [go to] medical school.’ It almost made me want to do it more.”

Despite being encouraged to enter the medical profession, Khanani remained fascinated with architecture. She attributed her attraction to the design field to watching her mother work as an “interior decorator.” In addition, her love of archeology developed from both her travels abroad with her family and “of course Indiana Jones as a kid.” Khanani was enthralled by the “mind-boggling” building techniques used to construct architectural wonders like the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids.

“During those younger years, I would read about Egypt and understand that the Pharaoh had a chief architect,” she recalled. “It was this person who was in charge of all the building of the pyramids, the temples, the sculptures. That was a big thing that influenced me.”

Fauzia Khanani’s first independent project was a home in the Hudson Valley. The opportunity led her to move back to the east coast and start her design practice, Studio Fōr

Grabbing Hold of Opportunities

Although Khanani has built her career on bold moves, she hesitated to say they were choices. “I feel like [starting my own practice] just sort of happened,” she said. “I think maybe I can take credit for taking a risk.”

During the economic downturn in 2008, Khanani was looking to make a change and that eventually came in the form of old friends looking to build a new home in New York’s Hudson Valley.

“They said, ‘Oh, we need an architect, and we know you. You’re an architect, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah, but you don’t have any idea about me.’ They were sort of like, ‘We don’t care. We trust you.’”

She quickly made her move to follow her dreams. “Three months later, I quit my job and moved back to the East Coast. It just kind of happened. I never imagined myself as one to be ‘a boss,’ much less start a company. Looking forward, I feel good about it and I hope we’re providing services to people who are valuable and that the firm I’ve established is providing opportunities to other people.”

Designing The Bloc

On January 31, 2018, interiors+sources magazine met with Khanani at The Bloc’s offices in Manhattan’s financial district. Designed in 2015 for the international health and wellness creative agency, the 55,268-square-foot office spanning two floors gives Khanani and her team unique insight into their own design process. The space was built with The Bloc’s needs in mind but Studio Fōr rents from the location, making the firm’s members both the designers and tenants of a space created to address another company’s needs.

The Bloc’s office is filled with little idiosyncrasies that make the location comfortable when used and impressively brilliant when fully understood.

For example, the principals’ offices are located on the inside of a bank of desks on the building’s east side. These glass-walled areas are built several feet above the desks so that looking out over the team isn’t [blocked]. However, it’s not a voyeuristic vantage: The team can just as easily see what is happening inside the offices, giving a layer of transparency to their operations.

Another ingenious detail is the bench along the east wall. Overlooking the East River, the undulating wood panels mimic the ripples in the water below. What’s more, they change the use of the bench, either pushing the user’s legs outward to encourage a more reclined pose or allowing them to rock forward into a more active seated position depending on where one sits. This benching system can easily accommodate the all-hands-on-deck “State of The Bloc” meetings via stadium seating.

Onward and Upward

Working from an office built with another user in mind afford the Studio Fōr team a unique glimpse into the ways in which its designs are used on a daily basis. It’s this feedback that helps the firm grow—that propensity toward truly listening that has become part of the design process.

Listening goes beyond the client, however, with Khanani providing her employees with the best experience possible. “In the jobs I had before this, I kept a notebook of all the things that were not great about those jobs. I try to keep making a consorted effort not to repeat those mistakes or to at least have the perspective to realize when I am making them.”

When asked about her own experiences after being told as a child that architecture was “for men,” and what she would tell young women today, Khanani was pensive before responding. “It goes back to the idea of passion [and] if you really love something,” she said. “If you do, then there’s no reason why you can’t do it regardless of your gender or your race. Create anything. No one should stop you from doing that. I think my advice would be to seek out places that offer you the opportunity to explore those interests in places that will nurture you to gain experience in that area and in that field.

“They exist,” she emphasized. “I promise, they do.”


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