Sarika Bajoria found a peaceful refuge when she started attending meditation classes at a modern Buddhist center in Manhattan three years ago. Her spiritual immersion coincided with a bold professional move: She started her own architecture practice in the thick of the recession in 2010.
"It took a huge leap of faith," she says. "I had to put myself out there and market to clients, not just in New York City, but in India and in the Middle East, where I had some contacts." Meditation, she says, kept her grounded as she gradually built up her Manhattan-based firm, Per-forma Studio.
Bajoria, 35, has kept her firm nimble, with two to three full-time employees and a fleet offreelancers and consultants. She has landed a number of large projects abroad, including a 700,000-sq-ft five-star hotel and retail complex in Mumbai, a 20,000-sq-ft high-end lifestyle store in Dubai and a new facade for the Chamber of Commerce in Kolkata.
But the project closest to Bajoria's heart dropped in her lap in 2012, when the Kadampa Meditation Center bought a new space and its leadership asked her to design it. "It's been a labor of love," says Bajoria, who, barefoot, asked guests to remove their shoes on a recent tour.
Bajoria was really instrumental in figuring out how the space would look and feel," says Julian Corvin, a center member who helped with publicity for the new venue. The 8,000-sq-ft center, comprising a bookstore, cafe, offices and meditation rooms, is light and modern but with an industrial flair, including exposed brick, wood beams and bamboo floors.
"We wanted it to feel like New York, not something transplanted from somewhere else," says Bajoria. "I can't take credit—it was a true community effort," she adds. To relax from her grueling work schedule, she takes classes in the space at least twice a week, dances salsa, runs in Central Park and goes to kick-boxing lessons.
Bajoria wears any number of hats—principal, architect, project manager and entrepreneur. Understanding a project from its nitty-gritty details to its larger context is what drew her to architecture.
"You always have to be in this realm of shifting possibilities," she says. "I've had to learn how to slip in and out of different roles and still have a bigger vision. Constraints really add to a project—you have to deliver art on a budget."
Bajoria grew up in the former Calcutta and dreamed of becoming an architect from the time she was 15 years old. She left home at 17 to attend college in the U.S., where she studied math, physics and fine arts before entering the University of Pennsylvania's master's program in architecture.
After graduation, she moved to New York City, where she has lived for a decade and worked for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, among other firms, before starting her own practice.
While architecture remains a male-dominated field, Bajoria says more women are taking on leadership roles. Personally, she has never seen her sex as a disadvantage.
"People respect you for what you bring to the table and what you deliver," she says. "All I can do is put myself out there and give it my best shot."