We had the good fortune of connecting with Amit Upadhye and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Amit, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I think, having one’s own practice is one of the most fulfilling things. It’s like having a child—you do whatever it takes to raise them. I was drawn to Architecture because of its creativity but it was only after I met Glenn Murcutt in Sydney, Australia in 1995, who has a solo practice, that the dream of having my own studio began to become a reality. Glenn Murcutt, now a Pritzker laureate, is someone who conceptualizes, draws, and executes to maintain full control over the entire process. I was sitting in his yellow Citroen when he pulled out the most beautiful hand-drafted drawings from the back seat and unrolled them on the steering wheel. He said, “I was working on these till 2 AM last night.” I saw the spark of passion in his eyes. This interaction left a mark on me and gave me the courage to start my own studio almost a decade later. Today I look at my architectural practice as very meaningful and fulfilling. I never set up my practice for shrewd profit-making. What drives me is my passion to build with unfretted creativity. After a presentation on Architecture and Yoga, my yoga mentor said to me, “Work is Worship for you”. I see Architecture as a window through which I can blend my vision for a more sustainable world with a client’s pragmatic needs.
Please tell us more about your career. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
My story is that of an immigrant who came from a traditional background but who today has evolved into someone with a much wider perspective. What sets me apart is my background and international exposure to different cultures that makes my work a unique blend of the East and West. The East gave me the ancient wisdom while the West freed my mind and opened me up to a plethora of liberating works of Architecture. It widened my horizons to think big and to strive for the impossible. Yoga deeply influences to the substratum of my being which lead me to become a certified yoga alliance instructor (RYT200). Minimalism is not a goal, but a derivative of the process of reticence, similar to the minimalism at the core of the system of yoga, which focuses on the un-conditioning of the human psyche. Intrinsically, yoga, and architecture are monastic in nature. Both are practices striving to attain inner and outer minimalism. Architecture represents the art form as the extension of the human body and the human body as the extension of the Being. The space stays as the common denominator in both. The journey to where I am today has been both challenging but rewarding. Working in different cultures and countries has given me different skill sets such as cultural competence and malleability. I will never be that architect who succumbs to mediocrity for the sake of financial gains. Rather I have the ability to weave my and my client’s story into a work of Architecture. I believe that each individual is the product of one’s background, thoughts, and actions. With emotional intelligence and sensibilities, I personalize projects with cultural adaptation. Every time I set out to design, I approach every project from the perspectives of the local culture, ecology, poetry, locale, metaphysics, ethos-pathos-logos. I typically restlessly churn my thoughts, until the essence is distilled into a built form. Several of the homes that I have designed in Arizona bear this juxtaposition of the East and West. For instance, a home that I designed for an American family of Italian and East Asian descent, infuses their cultural ethos with modern aesthetics. Called “The Essence of the Desert,” the home in Scottsdale, Arizona is an abstract representation of a Dragon as a subconscious response to the client’s Asian background. It also incorporates the classical proportioning systems that are deeply rooted in Greek and Roman ancient architecture. But in addition to history, the home pays homage to the Phoenix sun. The sun rays join the family in celebrating their wedding anniversary by illuminating a window at sunrise on that specific date. At the end of the day the sun sets in a notch on the wall of their backyard. The home also celebrates equinoxes and solstices in the Valley of the Sun. The home is powered by the sun. Besides the poetics, through this, I have also harnessed the pragmatics of the sun. I see the home as an offering to Architecture, to my mentors, and to the sun. Another project is the Summers residence in Arcadia, Phoenix. It celebrates the traversing sun through the sky as the sun rays brightly illuminate a glass shower bench in the morning. As the sun moves to the west the light on the bench gradually diminishes in intensity. In 2013 the bench was listed as one of the ‘Top 10 wow factors of Arizona’ by the Arizona Republic, a local newspaper. The house is powered by solar panels and harvests rainwater for landscaping. The Leaf House is being designed to be entirely off the grid. For inspiration, I turned to the Saguaro cactus that stands alone in the Sonoran Desert. The Lap House also under construction is studded with intricate custom details as a celebration of the views from the lap of the Phoenix mountains in Paradise Valley. Other projects, the House of Courtyards and the Ashar residence in Chandler, Arizona, respond to my client’s Indian roots in the vast American soil with hints of Indian touches such as niches, idols, colors, and Kota- an Indian stone flooring. My mantras are: Everything is a detail and a detail is everything. The devil is in the ‘detailer’ and Architecture, therefore, manifests in the detail.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have been influenced in many ways by several people in life. I am indebted for life to my parents who stood by me until their last breath. My dad was an Indian Airforce war veteran. He taught by example. He was disciplined, tough, and handy who maintained our ancestral home with his own hands. He was the one who planted the idea of Architecture in my mind. My mom hailed from a royal background from the state of Maharashtra, India. Her parental home is an architectural and historical icon. It is a 400year old citadel with tall cyclopean stone masonry walls housing gun slots. Its masculine rugged beauty and monumental doors with intricate carvings influence my work. Besides my parents, my mentor in India, late Prof. Anant Raje (protege of the late Louis Kahn), encouraged me to come to the USA for graduate studies. Prof. Raje perhaps saw me worthy of passing down his torch to carry his legacy forward. I am also forever grateful to my wife, Shilpa and daughter Anuka. Our family considers ourselves as modest and minimalistic with our lifestyles and this, I am able to leverage to serve Architecture. My wife has been a solid anchor with a steady job who held the fort down during rough times. In the US, chronologically, I met mentors such as late Prof. Kramer Woodard, Marwan Al-Sayed, Rich Fairbourn, Andy Byrnes, Eddie Jones, and the Pritzker laureate Thom Mayne. They have all shaped my thinking and opened my eyes to the world around me. They freed my mind from the shackles of conservatism and preconceived notions about Architecture. Philosophically, I owe a lot to the philosophers such as Jiddu Krishnamurti, Satyanarayan Goenka, Ramesh Balsekar, Eckhart Tolle, and Osho, whose books and extemporaneous talks laid the foundation for my journey into yoga and spirituality. These principles influence my work of Architecture at a conceptual level and through architectural expression. They also bring about sensibilities towards subtler aspects of creativity such as poetics and metaphysics that ultimately lead to phenomenological experience in the space. This experience transports the observer into an aesthetic trance at times. Susan Felt, the then chief editor of the Arizona Republic once stepped into my debut residential project, The Essence of the Desert, for an interview and within the first minute of being inside, she said to me, “Amit I want to meditate in this house. It feels so calm and peaceful here.”
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If he/she is an architect, then I take them to different places than those that are not architects. For Architectural inspiration, I like to take them to Taliesin as the masterpiece by Frank Lloyd Wright, Phoenix Art Museum, and Phoenix Central Library for these buildings’ unique materials, textures, the play of light and form. Other places include ‘The Knight’ an installation by James Turrell for the surreal experience of shaping the everchanging sky, The Biltmore, trailheads like Gateway Loop Center, and Browns Ranch to experience the vastness of the Desert through nicely crafted portals. I also love to showcase some of the works where I was part of the design team such as the iconic Tempe Center for the Arts. We like to savor food and drink at a few places such as Culinary Dropout, Clever Koi, Postino, Pane Bianco, Ocotillo, House of Tricks, T-cooks at the Royal Palms. The Farm at South Mountains and Singh Meadows inspire me to be the urban farmer who grows his own vegetables. Urban farming is another labor of love of mine.
Website: www.architecture.yoga, www.amitupadhye.com
Prof. Megha Budruk, PhD of ASU (who helped restructure the content and proofed it)
Matt Winquist, Amit Upadhye, John Fasolino, Sandeep Mawalkar,