“I get the question ‘What’s your style?’ a lot,” says Suchi Reddy, with a weary laugh. It’s not a question any architect necessarily wants to answer. But for Reddy, it’s a particular challenge. Since founding her firm, Reddymade Architecture and Design, in 2002, Reddy has tackled a dizzying array of projects, from sprawling private homes to apartment interiors to commercial and institutional commissions around the world. Along with the diversity of her portfolio, the New York-based architect’s aesthetic defies any kind of easy shorthand: by turns refined and playful, inventive and familiar, Reddymade’s catalogue of built work is all but impossible to pigeonhole. But she does have a preferred descriptor for her singular approach. “In the end,” she says, “I say ‘I’m a Serene-ist.’”
The neologism feels pretty close to the mark—and it’s what makes Reddy’s recent projects seem so perfectly tailored to our current, all-too-anxious cultural moment. Since late last month, Reddy’s serenity-spreading mission is on full display in Washington, D.C., where the Smithsonian Institution debuted a new exhibition at its flagship Arts & Industries Building on the National Mall. FUTURES is an eye-popping survey of emerging technology, which includes giant room-size drones and wearable strength-enhancing exoskeletons. At the very center of the exhibition space, operating as the literal and metaphorical heart of the show, is a Reddy-designed, user-driven artwork that brings people together in a shared experience that Reddy calls “really heartwarming—all these people watching something they created.”
Titled “me+you,” the piece—“a sculpture people can talk to,” in Reddy’s description—consists of a nineteen-and-a-half-foot tall pylon in gleaming, diaphanous white, with a bristling base of fiber optic filaments and glowing, lily-like projections. Visitors are invited to address the audio-sensitive flowers directly, telling the sculpture their hopes, fears, and predictions for the future. In response to their words, the piece then lights up in an array of different colors, acting as a sort of gigantic mood ring for the audience’s collective psyche.
“I think of it as an interactive mandala,” says Reddy, referring to the age-old spiritual icons of South Asian religious art. That’s a cultural context the architect knows firsthand: Reddy was born and raised in Chennai, India, remaining there until she moved to the United States to pursue her architectural studies. Her formative years were a key factor in her decision to become an architect, and in her methods and style. “It was really because of the house I grew up in,” Reddy says. “It made me different somehow.” With an interior created by her artistically-minded mother, Reddy’s childhood home featured a mixture of old and new, Indian and Western, and it had a powerful impact on the budding designer, persuading her that, as she puts it, “an environment can have such a profound effect on you, can make you feel better.”
In her latest interior projects, Reddy has demonstrated just how adaptable her feel-good philosophy really is. Last summer, the architect completed work on the first-ever retail storefront for Google, situated inside a former industrial building in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. Selling everything from VR headsets to watches to in-home virtual assistants, the location is a veritable temple to all things G-emblazoned—but unlike other high-tech shopping venues (say, those sporting a certain fruit-shaped logo), Reddy’s design jettisons slick surfaces and industrial materials for a woody, homey feel, with curving desks, plush seating, and a playroom-esque profusion of interactive games and objects. As with her Smithsonian piece, Reddy says that the real pleasure the space imparts comes from “seeing people with all different backgrounds engage with it,” the sense of community reinforcing the overall mellow vibe.
Perhaps the premier expression of Reddy’s architectural values to date has been in her residential work. “In some ways it’s the easiest format for me,” says the designer. “People come to us and they say, ‘I want a place I can relax.” In July, Reddy completed a unique collaboration with the acclaimed artist Ai Wei Wei, a modest yet gracious house extension in the upstate New York hamlet of Salt Point. The new structure takes the form of a long hexagonal tube, launching out of the flank of the existing building and fronted by a glazed façade that affords striking views over the rural landscape, as well as the outdoor artworks installed there by the collector owners. Featuring a warm, unfussy interior of living and sleeping spaces, and clad in off-the-shelf aluminum siding, the design threads the needle between rustic simplicity and arty sophistication, a balance that seems altogether fitting for a high-culture client’s woodsy retreat.
Ongoing residential commissions elsewhere—including a pair of projects in Northern California, one an interior renovation and the other an ambitious ground-up development—lend further proof to the broad appeal of Reddy’s practice. “The word ‘serene’ can mean different things for different people,” says Reddy, and her ability to cater to all may have something to do with her own preferences, as evidenced by the 375-square-foot apartment in downtown Manhattan she’s called home since 2009. “It’s a kind of a Japanese white box,” says the designer, “except I really love craft and having lots of objects.” To have her cake and eat it too, Reddy kitted out the immaculately minimal interior with a profusion of built-in shelves and drawers, allowing her to keep her artworks and tchotchkes out of view but easy to reach whenever she needs a little artistic pick-me-up. “For me, I guess serenity includes inspiration,” says the architect.
Right now, Reddy appears poised to carry her practice into new terrain, putting her architecture of tranquility in the service of larger and more complex projects than ever before. Upcoming institutional commissions include a new office for San Francisco non-profit the Young Women’s Freedom Movement, an arts-and-sustainable-food complex in Wisconsin, and a collaboration in upstate New York with another agricultural enterprise, the sustainable farm group Universe City. For Reddy, scaling up doesn’t mean losing the quiet and calm that have always been at the core of her work; instead, she seems convinced that the bigger and more inclusive the audience, the greater the cumulative quantity of joy. “I just want to amplify all of it—to start creating communities,” she says. “That’s what I want the arc of my career to be.”