portrait of Fauzia Khanani

Specify Hot List: Fauzia Khanani

The founding principal of Manhattan-based Studio Fōr has a background in public health, which has led her to specify materials according to data and her conscience.

In choosing any product, designers at Studio Fōr first consider its impact on the planet and on everyone from users to the assembly-line workers who make it. The founder, Fauzia Khanani, shared this process with Specify.

Specify: Before earning your MArch from UC Berkeley, you had a career in social science research and public health. How has that shaped your approach to design? 

Fauzia Khanani: Yes, before grad school I worked as a researcher for Westat, a company that supports research and data collection for studies conducted by state and federal agencies and institutions. During the latter part of my career, I began to make the direct connection between health/wellness and shelter. The idea that space has a fundamental impact on our health and well-being—be it physical, mental, emotional—became more apparent as I began to study architecture. We, as designers, have the power to create spaces that contribute to positive public health outcomes for the people that experience and use them. This notion is foundational to my practice. 

Specify: What does it mean to apply that view in practice? 

black chairs at a wooden table.
To furnish contract interiors like financial index provider MSCI’s Budapest office (below), and residences such as this one (above) in New York’s Hudson Valley, Studio Fōr picks companies it considers ethical.

FK: Coming from a background in sociology, I think about most things from a research and data standpoint. Research and engagement were fundamental parts of my previous career, and I’ve tried to carry that over into my architectural practice. 

This manifests in spending significantly more time with clients before we delve into design. We try to learn their current needs, what’s working and what’s not, and how we can best plan for their future. We do this information gathering via interviews, focus groups, workshops, and observing and spending time with them in their respective space. The most important part of this process is relationship building with clients and stakeholders, which creates a space for us to learn from each other and to subsequently create a design process that is collaborative and inclusive. 

Specify: Please tell us about your process for vetting products. 

FK: Whether it’s vendors, collaborators, consultants, or even clients, the first thing we look for is a set of shared values. Our core values are based on tenets of change, collaboration, care, and craft. We often try to identify whether our collaborators are acting as agents for change in the industry with regard to diversity and inclusion internally and externally. Or if they are putting forth sustainable practices—not only in their products but their processes as well. A really important question we ask is “Will they be a good collaborator that is invested in working with our team and supporting our ethos?” 

Specify: In what ways is the process collaborative?

FK: We strive to have our clients alongside us every step of the way in the design process, whether it’s helping us develop the best ways to collect information and initial concepts, or designing specific elements of a project. We want the whole team, which includes clients, to feel ownership in the process and final product. 

Specify: Can you share some specific ways you’ve supported inclusivity in your firm and the practice at large?

FK: Within Studio Fōr, the majority of our team has historically been women and BIPOC, while also spanning four generations from an age perspective. We come from various backgrounds with some being immigrants, some first-generation Americans, and others whose families have been in this country for many generations. This kind of diversity not only brings a richness to our internal relationships and conversations, but also influences our external relationships and practice by offering a multitude of perspectives and considerations. Inevitably, this also provides a certain synergy to clients. 

felt chairs in a blue office space
Top: Fauzia Khanani founded Manhattan-based Studio Fōr to foster a connection between good design and good stewardship among specifiers.

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