Kavitha Marudadu is Inspiring Through Architectural Storytelling
Every story is a series of events tied together into a plot. For architects, each project is actually a series of stories tied together- including the client's vision, the environment, the materials, and the narrative created on how the space will be used.
Kavitha Marudadu, AIA, LEED, Associate Principal for DMAC Architecture. Photo courtesy of DMAC Architecture/Anthony Tahlier Photography
And for Kavitha Marudadu, AIA, LEED, an accomplished architect and inspiring storyteller, her personal story, which began in India, came full circle when her latest architectural project brought her back to her hometown.
Kavitha grew up in Chennai, India—a dense urban city. It was there, amongst the rich history and plethora of architecture, that she became interested in architecture and creating design solutions.
That interest became a passion fueled by the impact architecture can have on people's lives. She says architects are storytellers whose job it is, is to tell the story in a meaningful way that is sensitive to context and incorporates the human aspect- because, in the end, it is the human behavior of that space that can influence an emotional connection.
A leader in her industry, Kavitha was named one of the Women of Influence in 2020 by GlobeSt, a team of industry experts that provides the commercial real estate industry with comprehensive coverage, analysis, and best practices to innovate and build their businesses.
Kavitha is an associate principal of DMAC Architecture in Chicago and has worked on notable projects for the architectural firm, including the newly opened Midtown Athletic Club and Hotel in Chicago. Having belonged there many years ago, Midtown is unrecognizable. It is truly magnificent, and Kavitha was involved in all aspects of its design, including the 55-room Hotel and its 250,000-square-foot, six-story wellness club.
Kavitha shares her passion for design, her inspiration and how the Midtown Athletic Club project brought her full circle and back to her hometown.
What inspired you to pursue your career?
I grew up in Chennai, India, which is a dense urban city in India. Southern India is a beautiful part of the country rooted in deep history. It is very rich in culture, heritage, and architecture- and I was always drawn to the beautiful architecture.
How has your industry changed for women over the years? And what's been the biggest challenge?
There has never been a better time to be a woman architect. We are seeing more and more women take on leadership roles in the design industry- as we are better prepared to face the challenges that women in the profession have previously encountered.
One of the biggest challenges women face is the work-life balance, and many times that is a deterrent that keeps women from advancing in their careers. Women have been faced with choosing between motherhood and having a career, which is a difficult choice to make.
Personally, my passion for the profession has played a vital role in overcoming the internal challenges that I have faced, and these are also what motivated me to give my best. Having the support of the family and the firm definitely helped me work through this obstacle.
What advice would you offer to a young woman in the industry?
If you have the passion and drive, nothing can stop you. When you are creating something, you are giving back.
It brings immense pleasure to see something come to life- to see sketches and lines on paper take shape into a physical space when completed is very gratifying and brings me great joy.
What has been your proudest professional accomplishment thus far?
The project closest to my heart is the recently completed Midtown Athletic Club and Hotel in Chicago. The 55-room urban boutique hotel and its 250,000sq.ft wellness club is a perfect example of a truly integrated design, wherein the core design idea is carried through from the building exterior to the interior spaces all the way to furniture design.
It is truly rewarding to have nurtured it through its various stages, from conceptualization to design, construction, and completion.
I genuinely believe architecture can tell a story.
Midtown is a collection of many stories, one of which strikes a chord very personal to me. This particular story took me back to my roots, my hometown of Chennai.
We were deep into the design of the hotel lobby and decided to clad a 30ft-wide wall behind the reception desk with granite panels. An installation of this magnitude was an ambitious undertaking. We faced a challenge in sourcing the granite from quarries in the US.
We were able to locate a granite quarry in southern India, close to my hometown. We identified the quarry and a week later, I was there selecting blocks of stone that were split away from the mountains and having them cut to size and shipped to Chicago.
It was an experience interacting with local craftsmen at the UNESCO heritage site Mahabalipuram, famous for 7th and 8th-century art and architecture. These are the craftsmen, generational stone carvers, who shaped a 10-foot block of stone that is now happily situated at the Midtown lobby as the reception desk. It came full-circle for me.
The Lobby at Midtown Athletic Club Chicago. Photo courtesy of DMAC Architecture/ Anthony Tahlier Photography
What are you working on at the moment that you can share with us?
Unfortunately, all the current projects are still under an NDA, so I can't share much. All I can say is one of the projects I am working on is a luxury airport lounge.
But a wonderful project that we are close to completing has been a 6,000sq ft lake house in Union Pier, Michigan. It is a modern structure with clean, pure volumes and a glass exterior facing the lake. The devil is in the details here- there are many thoughtful details in the design, and when it all comes together, it will be a piece of art.
What is your dream project?
As architects and designers, we bear a responsibility toward environmental sustainability. While I am generally a conscientious designer, sustainable choices in real practice are still limited.
My dream hospitality project is to design an off-the-grid eco-resort.
Many years ago, a friend and I participated in a competition to design an artist community in an abandoned railway trestle. Although not specifically a hospitality project, it was idealized and theoretical, and, in the end, we realized it was not far-fetched. So, if or when the opportunity comes, an off-the-grid eco-resort would be perfect- with a tree-house for my son.
Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?
Undoubtedly my mom is my greatest inspiration. A committed educator, she has touched many many lives over the last 50 years as a teacher, so much that she travels to visit students in other countries, and they make it a point to visit her and stay in touch.
She was a working mom and very committed to her profession and home. She instilled those values in me and gave me the reason to believe that you can indeed have it all.
What has been the best advice you've received, personal or professional?
I honestly cannot remember who gave me this advice – but I consider this the best advice I have received:
In the end, we only regret the chances we didn't take. Don't be afraid to take some risks.
Is there a cause or an organization you are passionate about that you would like to bring awareness to?
I am a Board member of a Chicago-based non-profit arts organization, The Center for International Performance and Exhibition, also known as Hothouse.
Last year, Hothouse pivoted from an exclusive traditional brick-and-mortar model and created an online streaming platform called Hothouse Global to present artists from across the world, free of charge and attracted millions of viewers.
Hothouse global facilitated donations to hundreds of musicians facing the crisis of lost income during the pandemic. It was an incredible way to connect under-recognized artists to a broader audience and have hundreds of listeners tuning in, from around the world, to this portal to appreciate global music together.
What advice would you give your 25-year-old self?
Get those ARE licensing exams out of the way! Life gets busier later. And.... Put yourself out there and give it everything you've got. You will likely get it. If you don't, you will know that you didn't want it so bad after all.
Who are the Five people- living or dead- you would invite to your dream dinner party?
Ah! Tough one.
Leonardo da Vinci
Kamala Harris (her mom happens to be from my hometown)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Do you have a daily practice that inspires your day?
I always wanted to be one of those early risers and struggle to do so until we got a dog- his name is Atom. I have grown to really embrace my morning routine with him over the last year. The morning walk with him is my time to internalize and plan the day ahead. Every day is a new day for him. I love how he lives in the moment and looks at every mundane thing with a new sense of appreciation. I learn from him every day and have learned to pause and really appreciate the ordinary.
More photos of the new Midtown Athletic Club and Hotel in Chicago.
The Wellness Club at Midtown Athletic Club. Photo courtesy of DMAC Architecture/ Anthony Tahlier Photography
The Indoor Pool at Midtown Athletic Club and Hotel Chicago. Photo courtesy of DMAC Architecture/ Anthony Tahlier Photography
The Exterior Pool with views of the new Hotel at Midtown. Photo courtesy of DMAC Architecture/Anthony Tahlier Photography