Here at The List, we’re ever-curious about the culture of design, so who better to survey about the field’s current state than those currently working at the top of it? In Need to Know, we pick the brains of best-in-class creatives to find out how they got to where they are today—and to share an insider’s perspective on the challenges and highlights of their particular perches in the design world.
Suchi Reddy’s designs have you in mind.
As the founder and sole principal at Reddymade, Reddy’s projects—which include architecture, interior, product, and installation—all revolve around one mantra: Form follows feeling.
Lately, through her work at Reddymade, the converse—that feeling follows form—has also proved true. Reddy’s exploration of the intersection of architecture and science has manifested in neuroaesthetic-minded structures. This focus on neuroaesthetics—or the interplay between aesthetic appreciation and positive psychological responses—has elicited more academic collaborations, such as “A Space for Being,” Reddymade’s recent Milan Design Week installation with Google and the International Arts + Mind Lab at the Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins.
Surface sat down with Reddy to discuss her foundations in aesthetic appreciation, helming her firm, and how she arrived at her unique architectural perspective.
I’m wondering if your upbringing influenced the way you experience—or think about—design?
Absolutely. When I was 4, my father engaged a friend of his, an architect named P.S. Govind Rao, to design a house for us. Rao was a fan of Japanese architecture and gardens, an autodidact who was incredibly talented. That house opened onto gardens on three sides and had light and air everywhere. Growing up, I had a feeling that the way my house was made me was different from my friends; not better or worse, just different. And I don’t know how I [intuited] that the house was different, to tell you the truth, I just did. And that really, really, really, made me want to be an architect.
My mother had a huge influence on me as well. Although she never went to school—ran away from it, in fact!—she spoke several languages and had a natural and extremely sophisticated eye for color and design. She was instrumental in the design of the materials in our house and used to take me with her to the fabled town of Kanchipuram where she would have her saris woven. I get my design chops from her.
You started your namesake firm in 2002. What was that process like?
I have this theory that the only way to do anything is if you don’t know how hard it is going to be. I started my practice organically—one project led to another, and now—17 years later—I have a team of fifteen very talented and dedicated people. It is not the easiest road to be an immigrant, a woman architect, and a sole principal of a design firm, but it is an incredibly satisfying one.
What advice do you have for young professionals in the field?
Write poetry. And always believe in the power of architecture to catalyze change.
Some of your more recent projects touch on neuroaesthetics. How did you arrive at this way of thinking, and why has it resonated with you so deeply?
One of my nephews posted an article about neuroaesthetics via the family WhatsApp group. And my sister-in-law, who’s known me since I was 8, wrote back to me, and she said, ‘Suchi, this is so great, because this what you’ve been doing for years, and now there’s a name for it.’ It really touched me because I’ve always thought about space and architecture in terms of feeling. That’s not particularly unique to me, I think architects do that. But I do think the way that it drives me to create is a very different mode. I’m always sensitive to what space or material is doing, but not just from a formal or functional perspective; there’s always a resonant perspective.I think you could break neuroaesthetics down to a kind of resonance that people have with spaces.
It’s not just an abstract ideology that you apply to your work. You work with scientists, which is so incredible. And I actually saw a comment recently that read, ‘we should actually regard the STEM field as STEAM,’ and think about it terms of art, as well.
I’ve always loved physics, I’ve always loved astronomy, I’ve always loved architecture. I’m telling you, the universe is made of particles, and that makes so much sense to me. All we’re doing is organizing these particles into different shapes, configurations, and forms—and those things all have electromagnetic properties. They have tactile qualities—they have sensory outputs.What’s really interesting about working at this with scientists and people I respect, is also this spectrum on which the arts and the sciences kind of come toward the same knowledge. And the closer we get from both ends of the spectrum to the middle, I think will be the point from which we can really depart to somewhere.
What do you want future generations, way after we’ve come and gone, to take away from your creative contributions? Or what do you hope your legacy will be?
I want people to, through the work, discover something that’s essential about themselves.