Salt Point House, designed by Suchi Reddy. Modern, white house with large windows
Credit: Ashok Sinha
Salt Point house.

Design Changemakers 2023: Suchi Reddy Explores How Design, Emotion, and Technology Intersect Across the Globe

published Feb 14, 2023
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Credit: Photography: Chloe Horseman

Apartment Therapy’s 2023 Design Changemakers are all about evolving their industries, from architecture to carpentry, curation to interior design. They’re doers. They’re disruptors. They’re total risk-takers. And you’ll want to get to know them stat.

Who: Suchi Reddy, architect, designer, and artist
Where to follow her: Instagram at @reddymadedesign

Suchi Reddy has been on the global design stage for more than two decades, but it’s perhaps in this last one that she’s seen the culmination of her work, purpose, and creativity come into full — almost divine — alignment. 

The architect-slash-artist had a renaissance upbringing in India surrounded by beautiful buildings, philosophy books, and meticulous artwork, which informed how she sees design today. “[It] gave me a little bit more of a holistic approach towards what I do than I think most people have,” she explains. For Reddy, design isn’t just about making something look pretty — it’s about how it makes you feel.

In 2002, Reddy founded architecture and design studio Reddymade with a focus on neuroaesthetics, a discipline that examines how the brain responds to art and beauty. Since then, she’s worked across oceans and time zones. In 2019, along with Google and John Hopkins scientists, she designed “A Space for Being,” an exhibit in Milan, Italy, that explores how aesthetic experiences shape our well-being. That same year, her liminal sculpture “X,” an expression of love and unity, debuted in New York City’s Times Square. In 2021, she unveiled an interactive sculpture called “me + you” at The Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., that mirrors feelings in color and light using artificial intelligence. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “Design isn’t really as subjective as we think it is,” Reddy says of her forward-thinking creative approach. “It has a real impact.”

Credit: Emanuel Hahn
"A Space for Being."

This trickles into another layer of Reddy’s design philosophy. She is an ardent believer in an idea she coins “design justice,” which means that everyone deserves a space best-suited for them. This translates to both her commercial and residential projects. “I think design is a big tool to influence both people’s sense of themselves and their sense of community — and of larger ideas of being empathetic to other people,” she says. “The compass has to be pointed towards how design can make us more of ourselves.”

Julia Gamolina, founder and editor-in-chief of Madame Architect and a 2021 Design Changemaker, calls Reddy “the ultimate changemaker in the best of ways.” “Suchi Reddy has her finger on the pulse of how we are evolving as a culture and as a society, and is able to translate that into the built world in the freshest and most sophisticated way,” says Gamolina, who has interviewed Reddy for Madame Architect and recommended her for 2023 Design Changemaker consideration. “Her focus on well-being is especially crucial today, and her design work across both scale and typology creates multiple levels through which to evolve our collective human experience for a better world.”

Ahead, Reddy shares more about her unique childhood inspirations, the future of technology and design, and favorite projects thus far.

Apartment Therapy: Tell me how, when, and why you got started doing what you’re doing. What inspired you?

Suchi Reddy: It goes back to my childhood. I had the good fortune of being raised in a house in Chennai, India, that was designed by my father’s friend, who was a really amazing architect and very influenced by Japanese design. Being raised in this place made me very sensitive to space because it had a big, open area in the middle and opened to gardens on four sides. I remember at about the age of 10 having an epiphany that my house was changing me — that it was making me different than my friends. And it wasn’t necessarily a judgment. It wasn’t better or worse — it was just different. So, my first environment was the thing that led me on this path.

AT: What were your design inspirations growing up?

SR: I was always really interested in art. There was a whole school of Bengali paintings and drawings that we had in the house that inspired me quite a bit. I was also a bookworm. My father was a lawyer, but he was also a philosopher. I grew up engaged in the writings of Sri Aurobindo and people like that — learning about ideas of consciousness and emotion, how the whole being fits into space and the world we’re making. My mother was also super talented. She never went to school, but she learned seven languages and did all the interiors in our house. She came up with these amazing terrazzo patterns that she made up — and she had never been to Italy. So, I give credit to her for my design skills.

Credit: Ashok Sinha
Tilting Rock residence.

AT: What are your inspirations now? 

SR: Modern art was always a huge inspiration to me — both contemporary Indian modern art as well as Western art and music. I then eventually started my practice in New York, and being in such an amazing, culturally vibrant city leaves an impact. In the same way that my house influenced my being, being in New York City influences my being. It makes us feel different, work differently, be different people. I have the firm belief that we build our worlds out of our bodies. We start with our body, our clothes, our homes, our cities, our towns, our countries. And I think all of those are really important layers that we need to address as people who make place and space. We need to take it very seriously — the effect that we can have on people. 

AT: Who do you look up to?

SR: Oh, wow, I have a lot of design greats. Dr. Balkrishna Doshi just passed at the age of 95 — our Pritzker Prize winner from India. He was incredible. I always appreciated and admired Zaha Hadid, if not so much for her style but for her presence and attitude and ability to make things happen. But one of the first architects who really inspired me was Luis Barragán, the Mexican architect. I try to make a pilgrimage to one of his houses called the Casa Gilardi pretty regularly — almost every three years or so — because there’s a swimming pool there, which is maybe one of the most sublime pieces of architecture I’ve ever seen. In the design world, there are Japanese designers like Tokujin Yoshioka or Nendo whose work I really admire. That’s one of the nice things about being a creative — the world of inspiration is really large and pretty amazing.

AT: What would you say sets you apart from your peers? What do you see as being your special thing?

SR: Over the last decade, this interest in emotion and feeling began to meld with my interest in science because I came across a nascent field called neuroaesthetics that looks at the intersection of neuroscience, art, and architecture — and how these things are affecting our brains and our bodies. I wanted to really explore that when I first heard about it. I was super excited. That, over the last decade, has developed into a place that can change the way we think about design. So, we’ve done some trailblazing projects related to that. 

AT: Is there a specific project of yours that you think is indicative of who you are or what you’re trying to do? 

SR: We’re actually working on a multimodal center at Johns Hopkins to reduce the stress of healthcare workers. Some of this work tends to coalesce in the healthcare industry because they pay attention to well-being. But we bring these elements into all realms. Like, when we design an apartment or house for someone, I’m still looking at how someone feels in a space. If I place a piece of art in a certain location, it’s not just because I need to fill wall space. It’s also looking at, ‘Is this a creative space? Is that encouraging a person to expand their sense of what they’re trying to accomplish there?’ 

Credit: Steve Benisty
"Shaped By Air."

AT: What’s your favorite project you worked on in 2022? 

SR: We did an installation for Lexus in Miami during Art Basel. It was in the Sculpture Garden of the Institute of Contemporary Art. It was a very quick and conceptual project. I enjoyed working on it and seeing it come to fruition as well as the number of people who have interacted with it.

AT: What three words would you use to describe where you see the design world going in 2023? 

SR: Incorporating experiential aspects.

AT: What do you think you’re doing to impact the field you’re in? What changes do you hope to create?

SR: I would like to reorient the thinking in the industry from designing for the least common denominator towards a larger idea of design justice. I think everybody has the right and the need for a space that’s designed for them — to make them feel and do their best. It’s incumbent on us as designers to use all of the tools we have to try and make that change in the world.

AT: How do you define success in your field? What makes you feel successful?

SR: There’s this huge sense of fulfillment that comes from the realization of a project, particularly when it turns out like it started in the mind’s eye. Over the years, we honed that ability in the studio, and it’s been really gratifying to see projects come to life the way they’re envisioned.

AT: What makes you feel at home in your own space?

SR: What makes me feel at home is a sense of serenity. Most people ask me, ‘What is your style? Are you a modernist? What are you?’ And I always say, ‘I’m a ‘serenist.”

AT: How do you see artificial intelligence influencing spaces currently and in the future?

SR: I think we’re only beginning to see the effects of that. People like to talk about educated appliances that can understand you or — now in the line of ChatGPT — some kind of a design bot that can create designs for you. I think they can be very useful tools — I’m not a naysayer. I believe in the human ability, though, to interpret something emotionally in a way that I think AI is a very, very long way from being able to do. Although, I made a sculpture about using AI and ML [for The Smithsonian] to interpret people’s emotions — I know how far it can go. But I think we have some distance yet to cover.

AT: Do you have any big plans for 2023 or beyond you can share with us?

SR: We have lots of exciting things on the horizon. The closest one that I can talk about is an installation at the upcoming Dhaka Art Summit, where I’m creating a piece about the human ability to imagine and showcasing three beautiful little architectural objects as mirages. You’ll have to wait and see.

Interview has been edited and condensed.