Spreading good design.


A person’s passion, dedication and greatness can be often seen and need not be spoken for. In fact the respect that is seen for someone is more evident when that person need not shout to be heard, need not speak to be asked, and need not order to get things going.

I have the privilege of knowing few such people. And also having met some great masters who were similar – Geoffrey Bawa and Laurie Baker. And what a coincidence that today’s presentation was done by one such person, who also happened to show work done by Bawa.

In fact, I was invited for two presentations today. One by a person for whom I have tremendous respect, which keeps growing by the day. I’m talking of Shrikant Nivasarkar, who was wonderful enough to invite me to come see his presentation and that of Ambrish Arora’s (the second presenter). I consider myself lucky to be at an event which was closed doors and for select people only.

Over the past few years that I have known Shrikant, I have only learnt and kept learning. One can sit and listen to him for hours, because he makes so much sense, and has such tremendous knowledge on most subjects. Whether it has been at project meetings, Pune Design Foundation events, IIID programs or general interactions, we’ve (and I speak for Mukund too) got great insight into architecture and design through him.

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At heart, he’s a furniture designer. And a very good one at that. But he’s more renowned as the first Indian to be the President of the International Federation of Interior Architects/Designers (IFI) and Executive Board Member of International Design Alliance (IDA); also the Immediate Past President of the IIID, India.

In many ways, he’s an idealist. But someone also who is ready to be in a system, understand it well and then try to change it if need be in his own soft spoken way. For a long time, he has been propogating that all design disciplines must come together on one platform, and not be so disconnected as they are here in India. And I believe in some parts of the world too. In fact, he has been the strongest propogator of good design, and one that is complete in all ways. One that comes from the core of the person, and as a responsible response to people’s need. And I very strongly believe that Shrikant is one such person who has actually understood design in its true form. And who is also ready to share it with whoever is ready to listen.

He talked today of reworking and thinking long term for the education system in India. But what he presented also applies to designers and design firms. He spoke of humanising spaces, and in this ‘space’ means the context or environment, rather than the physical space itself.

His respect for the field was evident, when he kept emphasising on how the profession we are in is a never ending journey of service to people. He quotes, ” Our profession is a service. We should never forget that. And that’s when our focus changes…we can never be careful enough in understanding the needs of people. And it is through design that one expresses this service- to people and to society. Development of society depends on our value-based approach to work.”

As he rightly pointed, “New materials and technology will always impact our profession. And this will further complicate the different kinds of design disciplines around. What we do is a responsible service to society, and we (architects/interior designers/product designers) are but one part of the entire canvas; there are other fields also working at the same time. And we should never forget that.”

I’ll briefly touch upon what he spoke today.
1. Understanding of total space: Understanding of inter dependency and inter connectivity of different disciplines in spaceto emotion
2. Relationships of Space to Life: Understanding the relationships of physical & emotional space of various kinds of people in various situations.
3. Hands on Experience: Developing knowledge of materials, technology and skills.
4. Lack of observation skills: Need to align exercises with active participation. Developing the ability to observe, in order to develop the ability to analyse.
5. Have a ‘Research Attitude’ : need to encourage working on multiple options to design solutions.
6. Values : Appropriateness of exercises and assignments.
7. Communication skills: Methods of making detailed drawings. Also understanding differences of scales of various design disciplines.
8. Management: Need to understand value of man hours spent on project and the management.
9. Methods: Process driven working methodology. Rational and Intuitive.
10. Action needed: Understanding of context, resources, technology and responsible design.
11. Context of education: Need to envision big and long term.
12. Content & Methodology: Larger understanding of a creative profession. And project evaluation. Catering to pyschological and emotional needs.

Again going back to what I had mentioned earlier – the spreading of good design. It is so important to be able to share your knowledge and understanding of certain ideas, values, systems and even fields in order to spread the word in the correct method. And in order to promote the growth of good design, values, people and society.
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And since I did mention I was fortunate to see two good presentations, let me also talk about Ambrish Arora; whose work I have followed through the years. ambrisharora

He presented about 12 projects of his… each very different from the other, except for the underlying commitment to think beyond the brief and to be totally dedicated to the project and its context. And if this meant persistently bulldozing clients to see reason, or spending one’s own money to make prototypes and experiment; then hey, that is part and parcel of the work. And it was a brilliant showcase of work.

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I liked a line in his presentation. It read, “… designing a space offers the opportunities to build in layers.” And for many of us doing everything in a space and not being able to tell someone what it is that we ‘exactly do’; because they might think we do not ‘have focus’, this is a great line to use. Like I always tell people who ask me, “We provide solutions through design- and these solutions differ according to context and space.” We live in a world that is going back to where design started of, being holistic; when each architect was also a designer, an engineer and an artist. Where the potential to design is tremendous and varied. So why be stuck with a label?!

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Anyway, back to Ambrish. Like Shrikant, Ambrish’s passion for his work and field shines on his face. And the fact that in each of his project he’s tried to come out with wonderful, innovative solutions through use of limited and local materials and technology is what sets his work apart. It’s a classic case of conserving the old by using it, and also changing or developing it to suit modern contexts, bringing out a new defined vocabulary. It’s not about being modern for the sake of it. But being able to understand the context, the material, the technique, the need of that particular project, client’s brief and being able to balance them all with our own design sensibility and knowledge.

What was most important, in both presentations, was the understanding and acceptance of who they really are. And also to be able to be afraid, make mistakes and rise above them. It is this honesty that showed through their work and made these two presentations so worth watching.

PS:
When Ambrish’s presentation ended, most people were spellbound and astounded. And began asking questions and commenting. That’s when I was surprised. Because the kind of questions or comments that came forth were from architects and designers alright, but who also, it seemed, had not stepped out on a site for years. For most of them, what was shown was something they had either never seen or never considered as a design option.

And then came the sad realisation that we expect our young generation to know and use new technologies, practices and methodologies, and also to grow to become responsible designers… but we fail in the very basics of teaching them because we are not learning/ empowering ourselves first. We cannot teach them wrongly and then condemn them when they go wrong, because the fault lies with us to begin with.

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