DESIGNING A FAIR FUTURE FOR ALL
ARCHITECTURAL DESIGNER AND PROJECT MANAGER KEERTI NAIR USES HER SKILLS TO BUILD A MORE INCLUSIVE WORLD
Keerti Nair’s sense of justice and need to interrogate the status quo comes from her childhood. She was born in the state of Kerela, in the southern tip of India. With her family, she quickly relocated to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before moving back to Mumbai when she was a teenager. She says that “growing up as a girl in Saudi Arabia in the 90s was a peculiar experience.” She was well aware of how boys her age were treated differently. She adds: “Moving to Mumbai was a diametrically opposite experience for me and one I’m very grateful for.” Perhaps this experience fostered empathy and developed in Keerti a heightened desire to do the right thing and fight for justice.
Today, Keerti is a designer and a project manager. She currently works in Los Angeles designing and managing the construction of affordable and permanent supportive housing projects. Most projects she works on are aimed at providing housing to persons who are currently unhoused, survivors of domestic violence, seniors, or fall under the low-income bracket for affordable housing. Becoming an architect was not her childhood dream. Keerti was initially drawn to journalism and creative writing. “After high school, despite getting into a program for mass media studies, I chose instead to attend architecture school on a whim. Architecture school was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Coming from a very STEM-focused high school, being thrust into the arts was incredibly inspiring. The eclectic mindset with which one could approach the precise practice of construction was exciting. The ability to focus on research and continue writing was also an encouraging reason to keep pursuing architecture.”
Fig 1. Affordable apartment building Solaris, located in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles, in which Keerti worked as a Project Manager. Credit: FSY Architects.
Keerti’s career path is equally inspiring, and she has really left her mark on her industry. While in Mumbai, she worked with award-winning architecture studios, including SDM Architects, where she spearheaded the conceptualization, coordination, design development, and execution of institutional, residential, and urban projects for a couple of years. After moving to the United States, Keerti also worked for the prominent studio OOMBRA Architects, located in Philadelphia. There she collaborated on projects for the City of Detroit. She developed drawings for the “Carriage House,” a residential building complex with modern materials, which won an AIA Award in 2019. Keerti then worked for FSY Architects, an award-winning firm based in Los Angeles. FSY architect is a leader in sustainable design practices, something that is important for Keerti. This is when she began to lead the design of permanent supportive housing projects for unhoused and survivors of domestic violence.
Keerti is also an expert when it comes to historic buildings. While working for Somaya & Kalappa Consultants, she carried out research for the restoration of a UNESCO Heritage Site. While Keerti is happy working for architecture studios, she also values her academic background and has built a solid reputation for herself in the research field. In 2015, she was shortlisted for her final dissertation, “Kinship Systems & The Social Order: a Socio-Economic Structuring of a Village Space,” at the Kurula Verkey Design Forum organized by the CEPT. She was also a leading member of the editorial design of the publication “Reflections” in 2011 and 2013. Furthermore, she has played an essential part in the research and design of the publication. Her commitment to research in the field of architecture also led her to be part of the University of Michigan publication "Re: Housing: Detroit.
Fig 2. Interior view of the multi-family apartment building Rosa de Castilla, located El Sereno, Los Angeles, in which Keerti worked as a Designer, obtaining an AIA Award for Design Excellence in 2022. Credit: FSY Architects.
Keerti looks forward to continuing to be involved in academic research, but her main goal at the moment is to keep being involved with affordable housing projects. She enjoys the challenges of designing mixed-use and residential spaces for underserved communities, which are unique and involve thinking on many different scales.
When asked what lessons she has learned throughout her impressive career, Keerti is very practical: “An important lesson I learned in my architectural education is that drawings don’t have to be pretty. While I was always conscious of my sketching capabilities, especially surrounded by people with great artistic skills in architecture school, I learned that the power of an idea translates through an honest scribble as much as it does through a mesmerizing watercolor. Sketching has become vital to my design process. From massing diagrams to the smallest detail, I almost always create multiple sketches and doodles before translating them into any digital medium,” she shares. Her process has evolved over time, but she still believes in the power of images, whether it is an architectural drawing, maps, or building photographs that keep her inspiration going.
Fig 3. Affordable housing project Peak Plaza, projected to start construction in 2024, in which Keerti is working as Project Manager. Credit: FSY Architects.
To keep her imagination alive, she is constantly looking for new sources of inspiration from her peers: “Working in affordable housing in a city like LA where the homelessness crisis has been worsening every year is a huge inspiration in doing what I do and motivation to keep doing it. My training and expertise in creating healthy living spaces help me prioritize the needs of the population we design for. My influences from an early age were architects like Laurie Baker and Charles Correa, who have worked to design beautiful and unique spaces for people who could otherwise not afford an architect. More recently, I have been really inspired by the work of the French architecture firm, Lacaton, and Vassal, who create beautiful spaces in their social housing projects with tight budgets. They re-center the resident as the focal point for any design decision made in their projects, and the honesty of the work really comes across,” she adds.
Like many of her peers, Keerti has to think about what the future is going to look like. “I aim to work towards building my expertise in designing healthy spaces for people. With climate change causing significant uncertainties in local and global climate, we will have to take stock of how the construction and building process can change to adapt towards a healthier future. My goal is to be involved in research and conversations on the possibilities of this future and how every scale of architecture can positively impact the people inhabiting them as well as the environment.” Obviously, she is facing multiple challenges every day when it comes to the uncertainty of the future and global housing needs. But she is also aware that she is part of a global force, an expert making a positive impact on her industry to design a fair future for all. Keerti’s inspiring journey and outlook on life should be a source of optimism for us all.