Elizabeth Hardwick: I went on a long trip to South India and then I was drawn to take up a yoga practice. Since I had been to India and visited many temples and religious complexes, it felt completely familiar.
SH:When did your paths as yogi and architect cross?
EH: Early in my practice, I began to investigate the geometry and thought behind the creation of Indian architecture, which struck me as quite harmonious. The Vedas and ancient Tantra include architecture and design. There is a long history where physics, philosophy, art, architecture, and a firm devotion to the Divine all meet. The Meenakshi Amman Temple complex in Madurai, India was a revelation to see in person, and embodies these multi-disciplinary concepts. In so many aspects it is constructed to use physical expression to lead the worshipper to an understanding of the non-physical reality, which is the main purpose of the Indian temple complex design.The North Indian city of Jaipur was also based on these principles, and in fact, the founders planned the city layout to follow a mandala design.
SH: When did you design your first yoga space?
EH: I was practicing at the Jivamukti on Ninth Street when a plaster area of the ceiling fell. That opened the door and I designed their other space on Lafayette. It was definitely a peak experience in my career because many things came together —a lifetime of practicing sacred geometry, studying sacred forms and building styles that are harmonious to the earth like American Indian construction. All of this was applied, appreciated, and understood. That was really the magical moment.
SH: Your style is very playful and colorful. You use colors that pop like oranges, pinks, and lime green as well as these really saturated blues.
EH: It is so easy to fall into doing something that is white and pretty, but a lot of spaces need something because they are not naturally beautiful. Our culture is not very colorful; we do not live in the Caribbean or in India where there are major amounts of color. Color is a way to get people to be present.
SH: You have developed a subtle level to your design process that is very unique.
EH: Yes, on a subtle level, the space can embody a vibration and feeling that comes from the intention set by the designer. That includes holding the highest thoughts while planning the space, as well as overlaying the drawings with certain geometries so the room adheres to standards that are known to mimic dimensions found in nature. It also includes the flow of the spatial sequence that is planned out for the yoga students to experience as they enter the space.
SH: Can you give me an example?
EH: The Yoga High “blue room” is based on a Mandala. You can say every room has a fan in the middle and has lights all the way around and it probably has a window and a door. However, the room was oriented so that the teacher is in one-way and each wall has a feature. The east wall has the altar because from the East is the rising sun and, in most cultures, is considered sacred. The windows are on the north wall because that is the direction the cool, the ancestors, and reflected light and inspiration comes from. From the South comes language, so the music, the script, and the painted OM occupy that wall.
SH: How does the yogic path affect the way you run your business?
EH: Truth, Simplicity, Love and Service are the basics. I try to do no harm, and in built form that means living lightly on the earth – wisely making use of materials, and seeking longevity in the design. Devotion is central to my daily mindset. That manifests as my commitment to helping the client manifest their vision to the very best of my abilities by living a life of pure service. Life is karma yoga, so whatever needs to be done, I do it!
SH: How do you help your client manifest their vision?
EH: I try to get the client to say, “Who am I, what is my style?” I never just come in and say, “this is what I’m doing,” because they may not feel comfortable. They may feel like they are in some sort of showroom that they do not own.
SH:You seem like a very open and laid-back architect.
EH: Yes, I’m not here to be some sort of a “Starchitect,” I’m here for god-realization. When I die, I am not going to be carrying the Cooper Union with me. I will carry the spirit with which I did my job.
SH: You really put the yogic principles to practice. I have been told that you have a way of gracefully dealing with project set-backs.
EH: Once you find yourself on the path, when situations arise, there is no other way. I try to say, “Oh joy!” when the contractor runs off with the money, when the plumbing leaks into the unit downstairs, when the situation is almost unbearable. Construction is a wonderful place to practice this, because there is always something happening that is a near disaster! Oh, joy!
SH:I love the name of your firm, Giants in the Dirt, where did it come from?
EH: It is found in a poem by William Carlos Williams, called “Kora in Hell,” which is about an ancient time when gods and goddesses ruled the earth. A project ends well when you have two feet on the ground and your head in the clouds.