Architect Malika Junaid is no stranger to glass ceilings — or glass floors.Take one look at architect Malika Junaid’s state-of-the-art 10,000-square-foot home in Los Altos Hills and there’s no question that her personal aesthetic is minimalistic modern. The residence, which she shares with husband Junaid Qurashi and their two teenage daughters, makes quite an impression with its two-story airplane hangar door, see-through pneumatic tube elevator and glass-floored dining room that appears to hover over the 60-foot indoor swimming pool.
But the latter feature, as futuristic as it may sound, also nods to an Italian Renaissance masterpiece — and hints at Junaid’s early inspirations. The custom mosaic on the bottom of the pool depicts a detail of the Sistine Chapel’s “Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo, with God’s right arm and Adam’s left arm both outstretched, their fingers nearly touching.
“Growing up, we traveled all over Europe,” the Pakistan native, 46, recalls. “My dad would take us to all these museums and we would visit all these sites. The structures always had a story, sometimes a lot of history, behind them.” In addition to the Vatican City’s papal chapel, the formality of the buildings in London and Paris’ urban planning stood out to a young Junaid, sparking her interest in architecture. “It was fascinating to see how each culture was so different,” she adds, “and this was reflected in the buildings that were constructed.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University, Junaid returned to Pakistan to work as an architect. When she and Qurashi wed in 2000, she adopted his first name as her surname and joined him in making Silicon Valley home. Qurashi, a tech entrepreneur who now runs an impact investment fund, financed M•Designs Architects, the Palo Alto-based firm Junaid cofounded with Chip Jessup in 2002.
“One thing that was very important to us in the office, when we started and even now, is that we should represent what the U.S. is all about,” she says. “At least my experience of the U.S., which is perse and inclusive. I wanted the company to represent all backgrounds.” Today, the award-winning firm’s staff of 17 includes people from 10 nationalities, with varying religious beliefs. Junaid remains principal architect, while Jessup retired this past January.
In MDA’s nascent days, “it was a lot of juggling,” she shares. “Being newly married, expecting the girls, starting the company, designing our [previous Los Altos] house, getting licensed.” Fortunately, she had an excellent role model for balancing marriage and motherhood with professional pursuits: Her mother, Khushbakht Shujat, was the first female news anchor in Pakistan and, in her second act, served in the parliament and as a senator. “We learned a lot from her,” says Junaid, who has three siblings. “Not a single day went by that we didn’t think she did not have time for us. She made sure we were very well taken care of, that we came first.”
Junaid credits a great support system at home and in the office for her work-life equilibrium. During the week, she aims to leave the office by 5 p.m. Once home, the next few hours usually consist of cooking, sitting down to dinner and catching up with Qurashi and daughters Mishal, 17, and Alisha, 15. Later in the evening, when the girls are often focused on school-related tasks, Junaid switches back to work mode.
Although she acknowledges that carving out a career in a male-dominated industry has led to tense moments every now and then, Junaid took them in stride. “There were a couple of older contractors who had been doing this for a long time, and here’s this young woman they need to listen to,” she explains. “It didn’t bother me; I understood where they were coming from. They didn’t have the exposure or the experience, so I never blamed them. The idea was, How do you educate them and proceed forward?”
Over the years, Junaid has mentored “a lot of girls and young women who are either coming into their career paths or changing careers — guiding them, offering internships as much as we can,” she says. One of those interns was Priyanka Bendre. When she started with the firm in 2016, she assisted senior staffers; now she is an architectural designer with MDA, taking the lead on projects.
From day one, she was impressed by Junaid’s ability to multitask. “She balances professional and personal life very well,” says Bendre, who is currently on maternity leave after having her first child. Among the skills she is emulating are “how to stay on top of your schedule, how to be efficient in your work,” which entail good communication, thoughtful yet quick decision-making, and constant mindfulness of clients’ budgets and expectations.
JJ and Xiao Zhuang enlisted Junaid for their 5,000-square-foot modern abode in Los Altos Hills. In an email to the Gazette, the couple — who were building a new house for the first time — notes that Junaid instantly put them at ease: “Malika always made us feel reassured. She goes out of her way to manage all the details with contractors, consultants and the city building department. Everyone involved in the project respects Malika and no matter what happens, she’s always in control.”
The Zhuangs came up with “hundreds of ideas,” which Junaid talked through with them to determine the best path forward. “We always felt she was on our side, even if some ideas didn’t work out,” they observe. “She never made choices to make her life easier. Her only goal was to make us happy and make the project successful.”
While MDA has undertaken a wide range of projects — from new construction to midcentury Eichlers to Old World-style villas — sustainability is a recurring theme. In addition to solar panels, Junaid’s own dwelling has greywater and rainwater harvesting systems. A Los Altos house she conceived evokes haveli architecture, utilizing refurbished centuries-old doors, columns, arches and such from India and Pakistan. Elsewhere, between its main house and ADU, an in-progress endeavor will ultimately boast 3,000 square feet of living roof.
When she’s not spending quality time with her family or conjuring stunning houses that are as distinctive as their inhabitants, Junaid prioritizes giving back. She was instrumental in launching the Green Learning Institute and the Pakistan Green Building Council. She is also on the global board of Development in Literacy, serving as president of the Silicon Valley chapter, and is a charter member of the Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North America (OPEN). In this regard, she hopes to set an example for her children “to think about how they can help others,” she says, “rather than just how they can do well for themselves.”
Nearly two decades after founding MDA, Junaid’s enthusiasm for her craft is still evident. “Exciting” is a word that comes up frequently in our conversation, especially when discussing innovations. There’s the indoor pool with a retractable deck that she’s designing for a client. And on her bucket list for a car collector: a basement garage with a glass ceiling, so the vehicles are perpetually on view from the main floor of the house. “There’s so much stuff that still needs to be explored and incorporated into homes,” she says.
With her continuing desire to experiment and learn, in turn pushing the boundaries of her practice, Malika Junaid is just the architect to do it.