Instilling fascination, elevating the human spirit and initiating conversation are the cornerstones of Urban Zen’s design story. A passionate proponent of independent thinking and creative change, Rohit Suraj, Urban Zen’s Founder and CEO, is a TedX Speaker and has been awarded as one of the Top 50 Architects and Interior designers of 2019. Apart from several national and international awards over the years, Rohit has designed and executed a vast spectrum of projects of varying scales and profiles. Starting from multi-million dollar international mega ports to masterplan developments, mid-rise buildings, niche villas and boutiques, Rohit has lived true to his belief that no challenge is too big or too small, engaging in the design process with equal enthusiasm. His level for attention and detail has been quickly noticed in the design fraternity and Urban Zen has come to be known for dramatically different designs that deliver a strong message. Urban Zen and its founder stay committed, now and always, to designing and delivering living environments that are timeless, experiential and on the leading edge of design innovation.

1) Tell us about what you do and what your work is like?

I am a passionate proponent of independent thinking and creative change and also the founder of Urban Zen based in Hyderabad. From conception to design detail to engineering and execution, Urban Zen offers a niche turnkey solution in the architecture and design space. We are a multi-disciplinary firm covering residences, retail, commercial, hospitality and institutional and urban developments across the complete spectrum of architecture, interior design and landscape design services.

2) What have been some of your most prestigious works? Projects you enjoyed doing?

Our project list spans gated communities, luxury and affordable residences, hospitality and commercial spaces. One of our more prestigious projects is an international award-winning residence in Hyderabad called ‘Overlapping Volumes’, which encapsulates the client’s vision of Big, Bold and Captivating. The design of another Hyderabad-based project, ‘Dancing with Nature, embodies a ballerina’s flawless leap, and was featured by NDTV and other leading publications. Other projects that have won critical acclaim include the House of Tropics, a residential property, and A Sky Full of Stars, a commercial project in Delhi. 

We have also designed a commercial building inspired by Marilyn Monroe’s iconic pose and have several other interesting concepts in process.

3) Tell us about your professional journey. How did you start?

I am a licensed master mariner with a masters’ degree in port design. Just out of college I started working with global shipping conglomerate Maersk. Design and unique living spaces are things I have always been passionate about. When I was building my home in Hyderabad, the architect left the project midway and I completed it with the contractor. Everybody who visited the house really appreciated it. It was the first time that I considered the idea of parlaying my passion into my life’s work.

Urban Zen came into being in early 2011 and has grown into a niche boutique firm that provides services to clients not only in India, but overseas as well. We are committed to designing and delivering living environments that are timeless, experiential and on the leading edge of design innovation.

Always ask yourself these questions, ‘How can we challenge the status quo?’, ‘How do we get this to be remarkable?’ and ‘How is it going to add value to people’s lives?’

4) What is the best advice you have received that has impacted your life/work?      

There is no substitute for hard work. Let it propel your ambition and desires rather than the other way around.

5) What would be one advice you want to share with our readers?

In a profession like architecture, success has a long lead time. So patience and  perseverance are key. It’s important to do work that is aspirational, inspirational and educational, and see success and critical acclaim as inescapable by-products of this ethos.

6) How important is it for you to integrate greenery in your projects?

As architects, we are in a position where we are actually shaping cities, shaping countries and, in many ways, shaping the future. Today, more than ever, it is extremely important to consciously integrate greenery in all projects. If we want to leave behind a meaningful legacy for future generations, it becomes our responsibility to do this.

7) Do you consciously create green spaces in your projects?

Apart from the aesthetic appeal of being surrounded by greenery, studies have established that being in a green space has a positive effect on the physical and mental wellness of people, and ups their happiness quotient.

Since our aim is to add value to our clients’ lives, it is only natural that we bring in these elements of greenery and natural light and open spaces where they can relax, unwind and feel at peace.

 8) What is your personal take on the impending environmental crisis?

Barack Obama said, “We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.”

I couldn’t have summed it up in a better way. The time to act is now. The need for change and action is imperative and a fundamental necessity. It is also a change that we need to see on an individual and grassroots level.

9) Your contribution is so great, do you feel good about being able to contribute and make it a breathable world?

Yes, of course. It is both our duty and the undeniable need of the hour to do everything we can to leave the future generation a greener, more breathable world.

10) What initiatives do you think we as a community should take to make a greener world?

First it needs to become a fundamental belief. Any initiative can only succeed thereafter.

11) Tell us about your journey.

Everything that I have created is from my own imagination, and has everything to do with my travels at sea. My travels helped me interact with many different nationalities and helped me see many places, and everything became a learning experience.

I am a firm believer in Steve Jobs’ dictum that ‘you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards’. So all the experiences in the early part of my  career played a huge role in shaping who I am today.

12) How did you know that this was the career for you?

As mentioned earlier, it was during the building of my own home that I realised that this wasn’t just an interest but a passion that later solidified into a career. A perfectionist, I always gave my best to every job I held, whether as a merchant mariner or a professor at a leading university. But it was only after I discovered the true joy of working at something that redefined my passion that I went from being a good employee to an aspirational entrepreneur.

Designing living spaces, ensuring an exceptional experience for the people using them and adding value to their lives is what I was meant to do. However, I want to add that all the other steps in my journey were essential in that they brought me here to where I was meant to be – at Urban Zen.

13) What would you tell your 18 year old self?

 “Success is a journey and not a destination”.

14) What are some lessons you have learnt for your personal life from your profession.

I believe it is important to try something, give it a shot before deciding it’s not for you.  I’d rather do it and know that I tried and failed than not try or know at all.

I also believe it’s important to have a sense of pride in whatever you are doing. I never like to be told that I am not doing things well. There’s a will to succeed that keeps me going whenever I take on anything, regardless of whether I like the activity or not.

15) If not a designer/ID/architect/builder what would you do?

I would think I would have been a sound / recording engineer and a performing musician.

I’ve realised I have a keen interest in engineering music after starting and becoming the frontman / lead singer of the band SIRIUS I founded this year. The nuances of having music connect with one’s soul is for me a revelation of sorts. It has become quite an obsession for me at the moment.

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