An interview with Reshma Singh, architect and entrepreneur

Reshma SinghReshma Singh’s work is at the intersection of design, technology and international development. She is a co-founder of LBNL Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies (LIGTT), taking technologies from concept to reality. She holds a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from Harvard University, a Bachelors degree in Architecture from New Delhi, India, and is a LEED Accredited Professional.

Reshma’s experience in development work includes leadership in The Boston Pledge, an organization that promotes grassroots entrepreneurship to serve resource-challenged regions around the globe; working with migrant communities in slums in India to design innovative shelter systems; and working with inner-city residents in Massachusetts towards urban revitalization solutions.

Previously, Reshma has designed buildings and landscape, as well as taught graduate seminars on Architecture and Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Her work was published in Mutations, a significant book on architecture and urbanization. Apart from her professional life, she teaches dance and recently co-produced an acclaimed children’s musical, “The Royal Falcon,” about diversity and compassion. She also founded the award winning community organization Khelmel, dedicated to bringing Indian culture to families.

Living in California’s Bay Area, Reshma recently spoke with the Sikh Love Stories Project to share more about what motivates, drives and inspires her.

Favorite drink:

Smoothies

Favorite book:

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse; A River Sutra by Geeta Mehta

Favorite thing to do when you are not working:

Dance, hike, or sing on a mic.

Profession:

Architect, Social entrepreneur

What do you love about your family:

My husband, Indermohan, is my pea-in-a-pod and I love that he is an out-of-the-box thinker. I love my daughter Sufi’s poise and compassion, and she’s only 12. My son, Ronak, is nine and he has a such a sharp wit. My parents, Inder Mohini and Bhupi, are the voices in my head and my daily inspiration. I have a much older sister, Charan Kanwal, and an older brother, Chandan, whom I learnt everything from when I was growing up.

Current Passion Project:

“Afia” (Swahili for Health) which is a solar vaccine fridge that will allow life-saving vaccines to reach children in the remotest areas.

Who were your greatest influences growing up?  Why?

I have a celebrity mother-Inder Mohini, who along with her identical twin Man Mohini were the sports queens of India; they were record-breakers in athletics in the 1950s. At that time, the Oberoi twins were darlings in the national and international press with pictures and stories of them winning medals in their magnificent short shorts, holding aloft the Olympic torch, or hobnobbing with the Prime Minister Nehru in their graceful saris. My mother was a trailblazer, but she chose to gracefully give it all up to raise her family. From her accomplishments and sacrifice, I have learnt the meaning of discipline, health and focus.

Another strong influence was the principal of my school, Dr. H. S. Singha. He was a strategic thinker and visionary who transformed a small school into a well-respected Sikh institution. His half hour, all- school, morning assembly talks in 100 degree weather made some kids faint, but they made me swoon at his intellectual ability and charisma.

And who are your mentors today?  How do they support your goals/dreams?

Very simply put, my father. Dr. Bhupinder Singh selected the backward state of Odisha as his cadre to serve the most backward tribals in India, even when it wasn’t fashionable to do so. He rose from studying under street lights in a pre-independence Punjabi village to the heights of power where he was feted, quoted, and loved. He laid down his own rules and stepping-stones in multiple dimensions. And then, if that were not enough, he connected these milestones with the tensile fabric of personal charm to catapult himself into ever-higher orbits. He is an administrator, author, activist and now his latest avatar is being a champion nurse for my mother. He guides my goals by living his own with joie de vivre. Hopefully the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree!

What were some key moments that inspired your path as an architect?  

One of my first “Aha!” moments was a visit to Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright. It is  minimal, esthetic and powerful.

Today, I marvel at the rich tapestry of traditional homes wherever I travel.

What three traits serve you as a successful architect/designer?  

During architecture school I loved the quote “Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination and creativity will take you everywhere.” So I make this my motto in every design–think logically, create intuitively, and also make it cost-effective!

How does Sikhism serve you professionally and personally?  

It keeps me grounded and disciplined and it helps me to be collaborative.

When I am reading Sakhis to my students at the San Jose Gurdwara Khalsa School, I become intrigued by the organizational brilliance of our Sikh Gurus and their ever-expanding circles of influence. I would love to learn more about these aspects of successful institutionalization and management skills.

Tell us how you take care of yourself so you can thrive in your life?  Your self-care routines, please name your top 3:

First is food for the soul so I start my day with Japuji Sahib and end with Kirtan Sohaila.

The next part of my routine is exercising, which I really enjoy; it’s however I can sneak it my day whether that’s sports with kids or yoga or a gym class like “Body Pump.” My minimum threshold is Pranayama, which is 90 times breath of fire, which helps me keep ahead of my allergies.

Last is relaxation which could be weekend hikes at the Stanford Dish or Berkeley’s fire trails,  or even a jam session with close friends.

How do you recover from disappointment, loss, and things simply not going your way? 

I like to dance it off with loud music, go for a walk, or talk to my husband Inder. It just depends on what’s in the closest range!

Two-part question: What do you want to see for Sikh women and girls as a collective and in relation to the larger community?

I want to see Sikh women and girls be the change we want to see by treating and training our sons and daughters equally for home and professional lives.

As part of the larger community, I would like to see more encouragement and women helping other women without envy or pity,  and embracing them as sisters. We need to nourish and validate each other.

What would you like to experience in your relationships with Sikh women and Sikh men? 

The Sikh diaspora has a lot of amazing people with great passion and energy and it would be so great if we would collaborate for greater common good, and to do that we’d need to leave egos and personal organizations aside.

How did you fall in love with your husband? 

Softly and gently.

What do you hold sacred in your relationship with your husband?

Celebrating the smallest joys together and not going to bed without resolving a fight. Also, cherishing the days he’s not on travel.

How do you re-connect with one another?

Weekend getaways!

Give us one word/phrase to describe your relationship:

An ever- growing friendship

Name three things you want your children to embody when they leave home?

To be Nirbhau: Shubh karman te kabhoo na daron; to be Nirvair and touch each life they encounter positively and compassionately; and to have the Sikh spirit of excellence.

What is your superpower?

My Waheguru within.

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3 thoughts on “An interview with Reshma Singh, architect and entrepreneur

    • I am very interested in your landscape architect skills. We live outside Pittsburgh, PA on a 36 acres wooded area on a hill. My dream is to create a mixed community of Sikh/Punjabi/Americans with a [passion for Geothermal. Solar and wind for conserving energy. Also to have trails for walking, a community indoor swimming pool, an acre or so of community garden.

      Simran, Sewa and Sangat come together to assist in sharing the Guru Nanak’s Mool Mantar in the community.

      Sangeeta Luthra is our daughter and we visit her in winters. We are so proud of her and her involvement with Sikh Love Stories…..

      If you are in East Coast in Pittsburgh area, please visit us.

      Guru Fateh!

      Manmohan Singh Luthra, MD

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