From an introvert Kashmiri boy to a global architect, Tony Ashai is behind the breathtaking mansions housing who’s who of the world. After taking world by storm with his structural designs, the man is returning home to design a model colony, reports Saima Bhat
Tony Ashai, an award winning architect from Kashmir, is a brand in himself. The man has set a new benchmark in designing residential and luxury apartments, resorts, malls, five-star hotels, and tower developments worldwide. Behind his global creative designs, he believes, are his local artistic streaks.
Born and brought up in joint family in Kashmir, Tony, actually Aziz Ashai, was a dreamy kid who never played games. While everybody else played cricket or football, he would sit on the sidelines, sketching. “I was a chubby kid,” he recalls his childhood, “who always got kicked around.” His parents thought he was lazy, but they didn’t know, he was busy imagining. “I would imagine myself playing, but I never actually played.” His inability to hit the turf accumulated into a creative force.
Later Ashai, an introvert child, went for special classes at Srinagar’s art school in Rajbagh. Then, he was only in Class 6 and too young to get formal enrollment in the school. But sensing his creative interest, he was allowed to learn the arts with big boys. Till the time he passed his Class 12, he was quite clear about his career choice. He was 16, when he flew to Chandigarh to study architecture.
By 1985, he was a graduate. He soon travelled to Italy, France, UK and then to USA. While sketching at a local monument, Robert Shibley, the dean of the School of Architecture spotted him. Prof Shibley was impressed with his talent and realistic rendering. Later, he gave him opportunity to earn a Masters Degree in Architecture from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
A year later, Ashia was in Europe, scrupulously studying human behavior in urban spaces for six months. Among the few other skills he learned during his European sojourn were the nature of urban space, and its relationship to human psychology.
During those days, his looks gave him a new identity. His friends started calling him Tony—for his similar look as of gangster Tony Montana, a reel character played by the greatest American actor, Al Pacino in Hollywood flick, Scarface. Later he adopted this name officially—though he wasn’t a gangster substance.
Between 1989 and 1992, Tony worked on the renovation of the Chrysler Building for the architectural firm of James Barclay and Associates in Manhattan. By 1993, he formed his own an architectural design form, Ashai & Associates in Torrance, California. In an effort to ensure that his designs would be completed as he envision them, Tony in 1995 established a construction management firm, Ashai Construction & Development and a new design firm Ashai Design Corporation.
To begin with, Ashai Design designed high-end luxury environments enhancing the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Celebrities like AC Green, David Beckham, Chuck Noski, former vice-chairman of AT&T Corporation, reside in Ashai designed homes. His houses have also featured in the popular American television series The OC.
In 2006, Ashai Design Corporation expanded globally—securing large scale design projects in Pakistan, India and Dubai. Now, he owns his offices in these countries, employing over 40 people. Tony has already designed Dubai Lifestyle City and five eponymous Ashai towers.
His different approach to designing makes him a global rage. He trains his clients to visualize, making them close their eyes and explain their house right from the doorstep to the gardens. Even he asks them to imagine the colour of chandeliers and from which side it is hanging in the room. He sees himself as a chef. “You order, I cook!”
In California, Tony lives with his Kashmiri wife, Jamila, a doctor—and two children, daughter Simmone and son Billy.
Tony, who believes his artistic streaks could be genetic, feels his roots in Kashmir, a region famous for its art and culture, are behind his creative work. Perhaps that’s why he is now expanding his operations in Kashmir by designing a model colony in Srinagar’s Rawalpora.