Meet Edina, Architect

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EdinaFull Name: Edina Kacani, AIA
Title: Vice President of Project Delivery, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield

I am a NY/NJ Licensed Architect and Vice President - Project Delivery at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. My 15 years of professional experience have been mainly focused on commercial and retail architecture, with emphasis on project management. I am a member of the American Institute of Architects (NY Chapter), NCARB certified and LEED Accredited Professional. I was born and raised in Albania and migrated to the United States at the age of 14, along with my parents and younger sister, whom I am very close with. I reside in northern NJ with my husband and two sons, ages 3 and 1.

In your own words, give us an overview of your career story. 
In 2006 I graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture (magna cum-laude) from the School of Architecture at New Jersey Institute of Technology. As the top-ranking student in my graduating class, I received the American Institute of Architects – Henry Adams Medal and Certificate of Merit which is awarded for general excellence in architecture throughout the professional degree program. Immediately after graduation, I was offered an entry position at GreenbergFarrow, a national architecture firm that is known mostly for commercial and retail architecture. GreenbergFarrow was one of many firms that participated at the Career Fair at NJIT and one I applied to. While completing my 5-year undergraduate degree, I opted to participate in the dual degree program offered by NJIT, which allowed me to take graduate level classes while still a undergraduate student . I received my Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering/ Construction Management in 2007, just one year after receiving my undergraduate degree. At GreenbergFarrow, I worked on many ground-up, retail projects, as well as commercial base building architecture projects, mostly located in New York City. After 5 years of valuable experience gained and a promotion to Project Captain, I decided to look for other opportunities. By 2011, I had successfully completed all 7 of my architectural licensing exams and had officially become a Licensed Architect. In 2012, I was offered a position as a Senior Project Manager at Kenneth Park Architects, a national retail architecture firm. At KPA I was managing the design and documentation of various projects for a handful of major clients. Two years after joining KPA I was promoted to Director of Projects and promoted again to Associate Principal two years later. My exposure to different aspects of architecture, people and client management, as well as business development, were incredibly beneficial to my professional growth. While at KPA, I fostered very close professional relationships with a few of my clients, one of them being Westfield Corporation (now Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield), a commercial real estate company. In 2017, I was offered a position as Vice President of Design / Project Delivery at Westfield (URW), which slightly changed the direction of my career path. In this role, I no longer practice architecture in it’s true sense, but instead become the Owner’s Representative in development projects, where I am a Technical resource for the Owner’s development team, as well as manage the documentation of architectural projects through third party consultants. This is my current position and I have embraced this role because it is an opportunity for me to continue developing various professional skills in management, design and construction, from an Owner’s perspective.

Who/what influenced or inspired you?
If I had to pinpoint, my passion for the built environment was sparked the first time I visited New York City. Coming from a small town and country where the tallest building was 5-stories high (at the time) and made of brick, I was in absolute awe of the city's skyscrapers. The idea of seeing one’s grand ideas and vision take such an imposing physical form, was very captivating to me. I do not think I knew I wanted to pursue a career in architecture at that exact moment at 14 years old, but I clearly remember the lasting impression that somehow manifested itself years later. To answer the “Who” question, it has definitely been my parents who have inspired me throughout my whole life. Their sacrifices, struggles, unconditional love and support in anything my sister and I do, have been my inspiration to aim higher, do better and most importantly believe in myself.
What do you love most about your job? What are its biggest challenges?

What I love most about my job is seeing projects come to life. It takes an incredible amount of teamwork, dedication and a lot of problem-solving to take a project from beginning to end, but seeing it complete is one of the most enjoyable moments for me.

How did you gain entry into the industry? What was your big break?
There was no “big-break,” just a series of experiences that led to learning a whole lot about the profession, hard work and perseverance. In my third year of architecture school, I applied for a part- time, intern position at a very small architecture firm. I did not have anyone to make a “phone call” on my behalf or recommend I get hired, I just responded to an ad, interviewed and got offered the job. During my two years there I did not get to work on any glamorous projects, but I valued the experience and tried to learn as much as possible. Since it was a small firm, I was exposed to a lot of different aspects of technical drawings, code research, but more importantly, working in a professional office setting. Most of the time, there is no “big break”, there is just you advocating and opening doors for yourself.

Are there certain things/events that happened in your life that have informed who you are or what you are doing in your life/career? Or what barriers have you faced and how did you overcome them?
For me, it was my family’s struggles and my upbringing that have informed who I am today and the choices I have made in my personal and professional life. I grew up in a small European country called Albania, which at the time was governed by a dictator. Like most families in Albania, we were poor, censored and struggling to make ends meet. Food was rationed, opportunities were non-existent, and freedom was a forbidden dream. Shortly after the 50-year long dictatorship was overthrown and Albania was going through a tumultuous transition, my family won the US visa lottery. Imagining the vast possibilities and opportunities that my parents had only dreamt of, they decided to leave their entire life and families behind and seek a better future for me and my sister. We moved to the US with nothing and no one, just hope. I was 14 years old and started my high school freshmen year speaking very little English. Understanding and appreciating my parents’ sacrifices, I knew that I had to work hard and do my best to take advantage of the opportunities ahead. Needless to say, the journey was not easy for an immigrant teenager with no career guidance. While my parents were beyond supportive and encouraging, they were at a loss when it came to providing education and career guidance in a country they were not familiar with. I had to figure things out on my own, from what classes and tests to take in high school, to what colleges to apply to and ultimately what career path to take. When I decided to pursue architecture, there were family acquaintances that cast doubt in my aspirations. I was told it would be too hard for me and it was a “men’s profession”, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I guess that just fueled my desire to succeed even more, I trusted my ambitions and followed through. As a woman architect, I have had my share of experiences where people have tried to ignore or discredit my professional opinion. The way I overcame them is by being confident, speaking up for what I believe is the right approach and standing my ground.

What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?
I like to travel, enjoy the outdoors and love to spend time with my family.

Do you have any words of advice? Anything you would have wanted to know before starting your career journey.
My biggest advice would be to believe in yourself, follow through and be confident. Yes, there will be challenges, the road to success is often long, it takes time, hard work and dedication. Don’t waste your time looking for “short cuts”, you owe it to yourself to go through the journey and take pride in your accomplishments at the end.

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