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An Award Winning Architect: Suchi Reddy

Architect Suchi Reddy on pursuing a career that fulfilled her passion for beautiful art, literature, design and the wonders of architecture.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   03-06-2014
Suchi Reddy, principal and founder of Reddymade Design.
One of New York architect and designer Suchi Reddy’s favorite drawings is a pen-and-ink sketch of Nova Scotia by the Philadelphia-based architect Louis Kahn. “Seven lines and the man can tell you what he was looking at,” says Reddy of Kahn’s ability to capture artistic precision and minimalism. If all of Reddy’s own work owes a certain debt to minimalism, for most of her career the award-winning architect has pushed boundaries, creating something more lively and lyrical out of that tradition.
Reddy moved at 18 from Chennai to the U.S. and continued her architecture study at the University of Detroit-Mercy School of Architecture, which is ranked in the top tier of Midwest universities. After this formal training, she worked at Arquitectonica, Polshek Partnership (now known as Ennead) and Gabellini Sheppard before starting her own practice 12 years ago.

For two years in a row, Reddy’s company, Reddymade Design, was named an honoree in Interior Design’s “Best of Year” awards for outstanding residential work. The firm has done work as diverse as designing an art filled multiuse building in Chennai, and reconfiguring chic apartments and lofts for high-end clients in Paris, the Bahamas, India and New York.

The gifted architect talked to about early influences in her career and following her dreams. 

1. Did you always want to be an architect?

Yes, I realized when I was about 11 that I was different from my friends, and that I was different because of the kind of space I was used to having around me. I lived in a house that was open to its gardens and designed in every detail - and when my friends came over or I went to their houses, it gradually became clear to me that the way I “felt” was different, and I knew this was due to my house. When the time came, I told my father I wanted to be an architect, or anthropologist or an archaeologist. He took one long look at me and said “Darling, I think you are an architect.” I think what he was really saying is that he was concerned about conditions for women anthropologists and archaeologists in India on site at the time. I’m hoping things have changed considerably in the last 30 years for women in India in those professions; we need women professionals in all walks of life.

2. What prompted you to leave Chennai at 18 to move to the U.S. to continue your architecture study at the University of Detroit-Mercy School of Architecture?

I got married actually, quite of my own volition, but to someone my parents hoped I would marry and whom they introduced me to with that intention. So I left the School of Architecture and Planning in Chennai, and came to the States, where he was doing his medical residency in Pontiac, Michigan. I sat in on a critique at the University of Michigan to see if I wanted to go there, and was not compelled by what I saw and heard. So I picked U of D, especially because there were a few instructors at the time that also taught and/or came from Cranbrook Acadamy designed by Eero Saarinen, one of my heroes, which is one of the best schools for art.

3. Did the UDM School of Architecture ensure a balance between classroom learning and real-world practice?

Yes absolutely. Their architecture program was ranked quite highly, and part of its appeal was that they had two study abroad programs, one to Italy, and the other to Poland, and that they insisted on internships. I went on the study abroad program to Italy, and it was a complete eye opener, not just to the wonders of architecture, but to the wonders of the world at large. For someone who had never left India until I came to the U.S., traveling alone in Europe was an incredible experience. My internships were the same way, I learned so much from my bosses, and I worked extremely hard. The one thing anyone should know about the profession is that design is a time intensive process, and my internships prepared me for the realities of practice.

4. The U.S. has stringent licensing practices - so what is the overall route you followed to becoming a registered architect?

I took the exams like anyone else, in fact I took longer than most to complete them, because I was absorbed in learning and building and working and the exams take a lot of preparation and the formats change on a regular basis. My advice to any architecture student would be to complete them as soon as you get out of school and get them out of the way.

5. Were there any particular influences in your career?

My mother’s creative hand: I used go with her to Kanchipuram which is famed for its silk and gold textiles, and watch while she worked with weavers to weave her own sarees and my corporate lawyer father’s philosophic nature: he used to quote Plato and Aristotle and Sanskrit hymns to me on our morning walks and speak to me of astral travel.

The house I grew up in, designed by a friend of my father's who was an architect in Chennai, Mr. Govind Rao. An autodidact, he had an extremely wonderful sensibility for light and proportion and an Indianized-Japanese aesthetic. As my studies progressed I fell in love with Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, Louis Kahn, and the Mexican architect Luis Barragan.

Exposure to cubist painting and surrealist prose, and beautiful writing in general: Difficult Death by Rene Crevel was a huge influence on me, as was Antonin Artaud and Jean Genet. I was also hugely influenced by Rabindranath Tagore. I loved his paintings and writing. And art, always art, of all kinds, it made a big impression on me and continues to inspire and motivate my thinking.

6. What made you abandon the safety of a job at a top architecture firm to start your own architecture and design firm in New York?

Chance, that wonderful catalyst! The opportunity to design a house in Princeton came up, just as the firm I was in began downsizing due to the loss of a major client. I took the chance and seized the opportunity. The house was never built, but it led to other commissions and the firm has had an organic path from that point.

7. Any tips for a South Asian student wanting to study in America?

Break out of your comfort zone and pursue difference. Say yes to everything, you never know what you will learn.

8. What is the one thing you would recommend packing for anyone planning to go study in the U.S.?

Pack your charm! It goes a long way towards putting people at ease so that they open up to you and help you. Often when one is in a foreign place, the instinct is to close-up; my advice would be to do the opposite.

9. What are some of the opportunities and challenges your office faces now?

We are always interested in new materials and methods; they present us with new ideas and ways to accomplish the crazy dreams we have. With techniques like rapid prototyping and 3D printing becoming ever more prevalent, we are always inspired by the world of technology, and coming from India blending those ideas with the notion of craft and skill and tradition. In terms of challenges, growing to meet the needs of larger projects while keeping the bespoke and original quality of the design thinking in the studio requires a careful balance of focus, inspiration, recreation and loads of hard work, and we strive to keep that balance every day.

Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18s Firstpost news site. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism at the University of Westminster, in London. 



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shubham gori
hello mam , i want to do study in abroad .can you help me . how can i go to abroad
03 August 2014

Congratulations Ms Reddy on your many awards and having the ambition and talent to create your own design and architecture firm in New York. You are a great role model for Indian men and women. Thanks Braingain and Uttara Choudhury for a terrific interview. One of the best ones I have read on this site.
03 June 2014

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