Monica 1

Interview: Monica Kumar

July 1, 2021

—How have you man­aged with the effects of the pan­dem­ic in the last year?

Perkins&Will inte­ri­or design­er Mon­i­ca Kumar takes the oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cuss design as we emerge from the pan­dem­ic, what makes New York City so spe­cial, and life in Brooklyn.

As grate­ful as I am for a return to nor­mal’ on the hori­zon, there were a few pos­i­tives to come out of home office cul­ture. By remov­ing face to face” meet­ings from the equa­tion, I’ve been able to col­lab­o­rate with peo­ple across the coun­try and in diverse mar­ket sec­tors on projects that would oth­er­wise nev­er have exist­ed. I also have more lat­i­tude to bring equi­ty issues to the design table. It took a glob­al pan­dem­ic and pub­lic exe­cu­tion of George Floyd Jr. for the world to see that social jus­tice and envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice (and by exten­sion design) are inter­twined; what are we going to do about it? That keeps me up at night, and was a dri­ving force in get­ting me through the pandemic.

Most peo­ple don’t notice build­ings, even though we spend our lives in them. Mean­while, build­ings affect us in ways we are only now begin­ning to under­stand: health, mood, and even lifes­pan. Design­ers know this, but I’d love to bring this knowl­edge to an even wider audi­ence: every­one should be able to use the pow­er of design to envi­sion and cre­ate a more equi­table future — one where build­ings make us (and the plan­et) health­i­er, not sick­er. It’s the rea­son my col­leagues at Perkins & Will — Eri­ka Eit­land, Lau­ren Neefe, Anna Wissler, and myself— solicit­ed our firm, where we are work­ing on a pod­cast (launch­ing this Fall) to exam­ine some of these issues. 

I was jok­ing how we are both very slow read­ers, so we start­ed our own SSBC: Super Slow Book Club” where the dead­lines are very flex­i­ble, and hope to fin­ish our first book this year. We start­ed with Saidiya Hartman’s award-win­ning Way­ward Lives: Beau­ti­ful Exper­i­ments” a book about how black women lived in Philadel­phia and New York at the begin­ning of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry and how they were per­ceived and accept­ed in pub­lic space.

—What makes liv­ing in New York City so special?

After liv­ing in Man­hat­tan while I was a grad­u­ate stu­dent at Par­sons, New York City changed me. It becomes the lens through which you see the world. It chal­lenges me to be a more defined ver­sion of myself every day, and to con­stant­ly seek out new expe­ri­ences. I chose Park Slope in Brook­lyn as an anti­dote to the peren­ni­al­ly cool life of a design­er. I love that I can enjoy trendy restau­rants and gallery open­ings through my indus­try, but I also love a greasy spoon din­er, hav­ing boxed wine pic­nics in Prospect Park, and see­ing three gen­er­a­tions on the street at once. I love com­ing home late from work to a neigh­bor­hood where every­thing clos­es at 9 pm. All those things bring me back down to earth, which I find is so nec­es­sary when liv­ing in this city

New York­ers are ridicu­lous­ly com­mit­ted to eat­ing out: this shut­down proved that. My part­ner and I were ded­i­cat­ed to sup­port­ing local din­ing cul­ture and ate out every Fri­day night of the lock­down, rain or shine. I’ll nev­er for­get din­ing at our favorite Ital­ian restau­rant, Pas­ta Louise in 38 degree-freez­ing rain, with two lay­ers of ther­mals, two pairs of pants, and three blan­kets (and still freezing!) 

—What are some favorite recommendations?

In terms of exhi­bi­tions, the Whit­ney Museum’s Mak­ing Know­ing: Craft in Art” (until Feb­ru­ary 2022) is a real­ly provoca­tive look at craft’ ver­nac­u­lar in the con­text of fine art’. The pol­i­tics of that blurred line always fas­ci­nates me, and this exhi­bi­tion has stayed with me, even a year after I saw it. Go see it! 

I love rid­ing the sub­way in the oppo­site direc­tion’ from Man­hat­tan, and dur­ing the pan­dem­ic I felt like I trav­eled to far­away places. One of my favorite week­end trips was to take the Q sub­way to Brighton Beach, get beers at Okto­ber­fest, a mas­sage for $30 at the place next door, and then sit on the beach. For anoth­er trip, I final­ly vis­it­ed Jack­son Heights in Queens to get a dose of South Asia. My three favorites are: Himalayan Yak for tra­di­tion­al Nepali Thalis; Mahara­ja Sweets (7310 37th Avenue) for their North Indi­an snacks and sweets (pap­di chaat is my all-time favorite Del­hi street food); and, Fuska­house, a street cart out­side the Duane Reade at 37th Ave and 73rd St, for clas­sic Ben­gali street food like Fuchka.

Anna Zap­pia is dig­i­tal con­tent strate­gist at Google and the edi­tor of Offi­cein­sight.

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