Paola Moya: An Insider’s Look

Paola Moya square

By Camila Atkins

During the opening night of the Women in Architecture Lecture Series, Paola Moya, designer and principal at Marshall Moya Design will share her passion for all forms of design and her insight into the business of architecture.  As a business owner, self-made woman and entrepreneur, Paola is an authority on the business of architecture.  I just can’t wait for her lecture!  In the meantime, I can’t help but to wonder about Paola’s experiences and decisions that have shaped career thus far.  What kind of advice would she have for someone like me? For emerging architects? Paola was kind enough to answer my questions.  I hope you find her insight as helpful as I did…

  • Knowing what you know now, if you were starting out as a woman intern architect today, what would you do differently?   Nothing.  I would have done it all the same, even though there were many things I had to sacrifice in my life in order to finish my education and gain professional experience simultaneously.  When I started my education, I found a job in an architecture firm so that I could gain experience through project management. By the time I finished my community college education I was able to start working as an intern architect; and once I finished my Bachelor’s degree I knew I wanted to have my own business.  The same year I finished my Master’s degree, I became Partner of my firm.
  • What is the best career advice that you have ever received?  When I first got to this country, I was told it was foolish to pursue a higher education degree because of the cost of an American degree. Fortunately for me, my dream and goal of being in this country was to fulfill my education, so every time I had a bump on the road it was a beautiful reminder that giving up was never an option and that focusing on my higher education goal was the reason I came here in the first place.  I never knew exactly how I was going to get there; I simply knew I had to keep on the journey.
  • If you were mentoring a young woman architect, what career advice would you give her?  Don’t ever feel at a disadvantage due to gender, race, or social status. Today’s global society is about who is the best in their work field. Expect people to doubt your capabilities, expect people to question your background, but make sure you prove them wrong through your work.  At the end of the day hard work speaks for itself.
  • Would you say you ever had a mentor that made a genuine difference in how your career turned out? If yes, please describe.  Absolutely. It was a fortune having met my business partner Michael Marshall during my master’s education. Michael knew I had big dreams and he was never intimidated by goals.  With Michael it was never an issue that I had big dreams, he simply wanted to know how big they were. When we started working together, only the two of us in the company, I had dreams of working in different fields of design: architecture, graphic design, and product design.  I had dreams of being an architect that had different typology of projects because it stimulates our creativity.  And I had dreams of manufacturing our designs and selling them to the public.
  • Who are/were some of the women that have had the greatest influence on your work?  With no doubt my mother. She is an incredibly brave woman and my greatest inspiration in life.  Her support- since we came to this country and from the time I was working in a kennel taking care of dogs, up to this date- has been remarkable.  She has taught me the beauty of business and the excitement of making a deal.  She has also taught me the importance of compassion and care for others, and reminds me that we are a lucky family. She has also taught me to be resilient and strong in life, ever since I was little.  I remember when I was playing as a little girl and fell on the ground, she did not run to pick me up like other parents would.  She simply looked me in the eyes and said: “get up.”
  • Think about when you started out in the architectural professional field.  Now think about the new female designers just starting out. What is different now compared to when you started?  I don’t feel there is a big difference between my generation and the new generation of female architects. I do think young architects need to breathe and dream design at all times. Architecture does not end when you leave school; it does not end when you leave work; it is a 24/7 mental process.  Design inspiration happens in the most unexpected ways, and at the most unexpected times.  It is our responsibility as designers to be attentive to these moments.
  • How do you balance your family, career and public commitments?  It is a very challenging dance. I do try to be as disciplined as possible to carve out time for my personal and family time. The great thing about my family is that they also love architecture and are passionate about design, so work and play fit nicely on many occasions.
  • Have you faced any special challenges as a Hispanic woman architect? What advice would you give other minority architects?  Of course we are always tested.  But I don’t see race as being part of a special challenge. I have never felt inferior for being Hispanic, and as a matter of fact, I think it is an advantage. I feel I bring another flavor to business and a different set of tools in my profession. 

My advice is this: embrace who you are and where you come from… as long as you set the standard high, people will remember you for the quality of work that you deliver; not the color of your skin or your accent.

  • What has been your greatest frustration about trying to get new business or new clients?  Not getting a chance to compete. I have seen projects given to out of state architects without consideration to in-state firms.
  • What have been your greatest challenges and rewards in owning your own business?  The greatest challenge is to get paid on time by clients.  If there was one thing I wish I didn’t have to worry that would be it.  There are countless rewards! I am privileged to have an amazing team of talented professionals that are deeply passionate about design and the work they do. The greatest reward is doing what I love and loving what I do.  Every day, I look forward to discovering what is next.