A Seat at the Table

At McCullough, India native Maha Balachandran finds acceptance and success.


When Maha Balachandran said she was pondering a career in architecture, her family wasn’t exactly thrilled. In Chennai, the southern Indian city where she was born and raised, carrying on the family tradition of teaching or engineering was a more popular choice.

But architecture?

“As a profession, architecture has yet to be acknowledged strongly in India,” Maha explains.

Nonetheless, Maha eventually convinced her family of her passion. Having grown up observing the degradation of open space in her homeland, Maha felt concerned — and a pull toward the landscape. The memory stuck with her. Even now, as an associate in the Northern California office of San Diego-based McCullough Landscape Architecture, Maha approaches projects with the thought “how can we maximize the open space here?”

Maha joined McCullough, a valued partner of the San Diego Architectural Foundation (SDAF), in 2012. With her she brought an eye for detail and an understanding of the design process.

Multiculturalism Embedded in Company Culture

McCullough specializes in landscape architecture, environmental planning and urban design. For a company with just 12 employees, it has a notably diverse work force. Nearly everyone employed there outside of its leaders, Catherine and David McCullough, has some sort of foreign background. Nicaragua, Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Germany and Russia, all are represented. Not to mention, the entire staff is bilingual or trilingual.

Maha herself seems to be a citizen of the world, having lived in India, Finland, Canada and the U.S. She brings a unique global perspective to her role, and it’s one she cherishes.

When she moved to the United States with her husband, Arun, she wasted no time in immersing herself in the community here. As a newcomer to any city, taking the initiative to connect with others is instrumental, she says.

“Establishing a sense of belonging in your own neighborhood can be an important first step toward change,” she says. “I take responsibility for putting my best foot forward, even if change doesn’t happen. The world’s not going to come to me.”

Maha brings that same initiative to her work, believing that communication is the key to success in everything. In the new conversation taking place on race and equality, Maha says that with globalization, diversity is something that should be spontaneous. “It’s a sense of belonging, a sense that you acknowledge the other person as a human being.”

Diversity at McCullough only has enhanced the business model there, Maha says. It’s facilitated collaboration, evoked innovative perspectives, and contributed to a portfolio the whole company can be proud of.

“Having different perspectives at the table gives birth to new ideas,” she says. “Every firm should collaborate this way. It shouldn’t even be a question.”

Learn more about the philosophy behind McCullough Landscape Architecture.

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