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Captain of Industry
Theresa Gonzalez | Photo: Anthony Halawa | January 29, 2019
Architect Malika Junaid charts her own course designing cutting edge homes for Silicon Valley families.
With women leading only three of the top 100 architecture firms in the world, Malika Junaid is something of a unicorn in Silicon Valley, in the true sense of the word—a rarity as the cofounder and principal architect of M. Designs, a Los Altos-based firm. Junaid's innovative and sustainable style have appealed to executives from Apple and Box to Facebook and Google, but it's in the homes that she's designed for her family (now three) where she's employed futuristic design to really push the limits.
“In our current kitchen we’ve come up with a system where the backsplash retracts with the touch of a hand to give access to an appliance garage,” she says of the automated storage unit. Her homes have become the testing grounds for technologies like artificial intelligence cameras and other smart amenities sought by her clients. “I think technology is playing a huge role in architecture,” she says. “Right now, we are looking at this system where a drone can do the surveillance of your house. These are the things that are exciting people—in this valley, at least.”
Junaid grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, before coming to the U.S. to earn an architecture degree at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge in 1998. A move to California with her husband two years later fueled her passion for sustainable architecture. “I was fascinated that solar panels were widely used, and water usage was carefully reviewed,” she recalls. “I wanted to make sure our projects were sustainable as much as possible.”
She focused on cost-effective measures, like gray water recycling, green roofs and solar energy in her commercial and residential projects. In 2009, Junaid founded the Green Learning Institute in California to promote sustainable building practices and a year later earned an Environmental Quality Award from Menlo Park for the most sustainable single-family home in the city. “We have a very important role in the world to help reduce the impact of construction on our resources and on the environment,” she says. A visit to the World Green Building Council conference planted the seed for her next endeavor. “I remember waiting for all the countries to be announced. I thought, ‘Oh, my god, Pakistan is not even in it,” she recalls. The Pakistan Green Building Council, which she and her husband founded in 2010, is now a thriving nonprofit run by its own elected officials.
For her growing family, Junaid created one of the first green-certified homes in downtown Los Altos. “It’s fully run on solar panels,” she says of the home. “We designed a ventilation system with a whole house fan above the garage attic.” Despite the region’s warm climate, air conditioning wasn’t even a consideration; instead, the design focused on the orientation of the house, the placement of windows and insulation. “All the projects that we do, we really try not to put mechanical air conditioning in,” she says.
The home’s open design, meanwhile, stemmed from a desire by Junaid and her husband, both big on family and entertaining, to be connected as a family. “As a joke, we said: ‘Just like on a ship, the captain has a visual of the deck in front,’” she recalls. Humor aside, the curved kitchen became “like a helm of a ship,” she says, from which nearly every area of the house could be viewed. “Even the two exhausts over the stove give the impression of two towers of a big cruise ship,” she notes.
In addition to sustainability, Junaid has learned firsthand how to design for livability. She was expecting her second daughter when designing the Los Altos home and, tired of her commute, she transformed three of its seven bedrooms into a home office with a connected playroom. Minimal decor and easy-to-clean materials like custom stainless steel and ceramic tile flooring also made the home suitable for her two small children. “We didn’t have anything where we could tell the kids don’t do this or don’t touch that. Everything was easy,” she adds.
Charities dedicated to the well-being of children are among her most passionate philanthropic causes. She is president of the Silicon Valley Chapter of Development in Literacy and sits on the board of a nonprofit in Pakistan to help educate girls there. “The beauty of living in the U.S.,” she says, “is that this country empowers you to help others.”
Originally published in the January/February issue of Silicon Valley