Team Talks

Meet Neha Sahai from our New York office!

Interviewed by Katie Donahue, Senior Associate at Handel Architects.

Hi Neha! Can you tell us about yourself and why you decided to pursue architecture?

Sure! I was born in India, and I grew up in various cities like New Delhi, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. When I was 17, I moved to Houston, Texas to attend Rice University. Since then, I've been in the US.

Growing up around the world gave me an appreciation for exploring new cultures, cuisines, and cities, which ultimately led me to pursue architecture. In 2008 my family moved back to Dubai, and I saw the rapid transformation of that city. I remember being fascinated by the construction projects and asking my dad numerous questions about them. He encouraged me to pursue architecture, seeing my early interest in it.

That's fascinating. Is there a particular city or building that has inspired you the most?

In college, I was initially drawn to the modernist movement and architects like Le Corbusier. However, my perspective shifted when I visited India and discovered the rich vernacular architecture there. Seeing how locals built using natural materials and sustainable practices left a lasting impression on me. Architects like Studio Mumbai and Balkrishna Doshi, who blend modernism with a deep respect for the environment, inspire me. Their work reflects a harmony between human habitation and nature, which influences my design approach.

It's intriguing how your perspective evolved. How did your education at Rice University shape your views on architecture?

My time at Rice was invaluable. I appreciated the interdisciplinary approach to learning, where subjects like history, economics, and physics were integrated into the curriculum. However, I became aware of the Western-centric bias in architectural education, especially after studying European architecture extensively. My classmates and I provided feedback to the school, leading to positive changes in the program's diversity and curriculum.

Can you tell us a little about your current projects at Handel Architects?

I'm currently working on a 30-story rental project called The Cottage in Jersey City. It's part of a larger redevelopment initiative in the area and will offer 622 units with extensive amenities. My role involves managing the construction administration process, collaborating with the project team, and ensuring the design intent aligns with the client's goals. It's my first high-rise rental project, and I'm excited to apply my residential experience and learn more about maximizing functionality and aesthetics in urban developments.

The Cottage in the Journal Square neighborhood of Jersey City

That sounds like a challenging yet rewarding project. What aspects of your work do you find most exciting?

I'm thrilled to be part of a project that integrates design innovation with practical considerations. Balancing the developer's objectives with creating livable, beautiful spaces for residents is a stimulating puzzle. It's fulfilling to see the project evolve from concept to construction and witness the tangible impact of our designs on the built environment. Additionally, collaborating with diverse teams and problem-solving on-site adds a dynamic element to my work that I enjoy immensely.

It sounds like you lead a vibrant life outside of architecture. What other things do you like to do?

I have a lot of different interests that keep me busy outside of work. I love cooking-- I've recently gotten into long, intensive cooking projects that might take up a whole evening. I especially love making Indian cuisine and trying to replicate my mom’s recipes. It’s a way I connect with my family and culture.

I participate in regular craft nights with friends, where we explore different activities like collage making or bracelet crafting. It's a fun, pressure-free way to bond and unleash our creativity. I also love to run, and live right near Prospect Park. It’s meditative for me—at this point I truly know every single trail in that park.

And recently, I’ve become more involved in a lot of office events. The Sports Whiteboard Group has been doing a bowling league which has been a lot of fun. I’ve loved seeing our team evolve from struggling beginners to competitive players.

Neha's Map of Prospect Park
Trail Running in Upstate New York

If you could offer advice to aspiring architects or those finding their path in the field, what would it be?

I'm a strong advocate for mental health and setting boundaries in our industry. The prevailing culture often glorifies overwork and burnout, which can drive talented individuals away. Personally, finding the right office environment at Handel made all the difference.

I've had supportive mentors and colleagues who prioritize my well-being and professional growth. It's crucial to find a workplace where you feel valued and supported, even if it means exploring different options. Don’t hesitate to seek help and ask questions. Building relationships and being transparent about your experiences can lead to a more fulfilling career. I'm grateful to be part of a workplace that values community engagement and supports its employees' well-being. It's been a rewarding journey, and I'm excited to continue making meaningful contributions both in architecture and beyond.

Your emphasis on mental health and workplace culture resonates deeply. At Handel, initiatives like community outreach further enrich our work experience. And it's inspiring to see colleagues come together to make a difference and celebrate diversity.

At Handel, Operations Manager Venessa Restrepo and I have been leading the Community Outreach Whiteboard Group, which has felt like such a successful endeavor of mine both professionally and personally. It’s married my love for something I've always done outside of work, community service, with my professional life, and it’s been great to be able to lend a helping hand or our expertise to organizations we care about that align with our values.

We've organized so many really great events over the past 2 years, volunteering at soup kitchens, cleaning up art warehouses, organizing drives for toys and school supplies. I've been blown away by how willing my colleagues are to donate their time and resources. There are so many sign ups when we organize these school supply drives and toy drives--people go above and beyond. It's so amazing to get to work with people like that, who care, and the office has been so supportive and has given us this platform, allowing us to have such an impact. It’s really restored my faith in the industry.

2023 Holiday Toy Drive
Volunteering at a soup kitchen in New York City

Absolutely. Your dedication to your craft and your community is admirable. By bringing your passions to work, you're not only enriching your experience but also making a positive impact on those around you. It's been a pleasure speaking with you, Neha.

Likewise, Katie. Thank you for the insightful conversation.

Best Buddies Walk, 2023
Best Buddies Walk, 2023

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