Architecture Set My Path…Geeta Shah, AIA, In The AIA New Jersey Women In Architecture Showcase

March 10, 2022

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Architecture Set My Path…Geeta Shah, AIA, In The AIA New Jersey Women In Architecture Showcase

After graduating with my bachelor’s degree in Architecture in Mumbai, India, I was all set to settle down with a job and an arranged marriage (of course by choice). I had no ambition except to have a job and raise a family.

Two years after having worked on various projects and meeting many “frogs” who weren’t my prince, I decided to apply to American colleges for my master’s degree. 

Out of two acceptances in the Southwest, I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to pursue my graduate degree. Like any other immigrant whether on legal status or not, I probably had the same hopes and fears, of making it on my own and adjusting to a culture and people known to me mostly through soap operas and Hollywood movies (This was before the internet era). With an active architecture license in India, besides many culture shocks, it was the long winding process to licensure here; that baffled me.

My initial intern years were working on educational/institutional projects, but my career path set me in a small firm working in fast-paced retail projects- mostly core and shell in different states in the Southwest. I learned about various local codes and processes, and different types of construction as I got to work on some big-box retail projects, with pre-cast, studs, tilt-up, etc. Another important lesson learned was how client management yields a successful project.

When I met my Architect husband online, it was the fact that we were both taking the AREs that brought us closer. I moved here to the east coast. After a couple of years of working in retail, thanks to his support and encouragement, I opened our own small practice in our basement. Recently licensed and inexperienced with the small projects I was getting, I went back to work for a few years to learn more on the job. 

Through the years, balancing my work and young daughters was challenging but kept me going, trying to be a role model for my girls.

During the 2008 economic downturn, for the first time, I questioned my choices about our profession and the hardships and struggles.
Architecture practice needs perseverance and grit to survive and thrive. It’s hard to accept that we go through school and a long winding process for our license and often feel un- rewarded. After our master’s degree or license, it is hard to compare our salaries with other professionals. This is true until you change your perspective. I now look at thriving as just being able to stay in this field and get to do my work and have clients who trust my professional advice. 
I have been fortunate to have had some bosses, architects of course, who gave me flexibility and respect, and my current colleague and husband who treated me as an equal. For women to succeed in our profession, it is important that colleagues, bosses, and partners stand up for them.

Architectural practice is a continuous learning process, challenging and enriching all at the same time.

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