Avid Learning’s online webinar Design Futures: Collaboration and The New Normal in November presented interesting trends and practices in the field of design. Despite the lockdown, due to the pandemic, designers worked their way around challenges and sketched out new solutions and projects, all while being steered by he new experiences and emotions that the pandemic brought with it.
The session had Architect and Interior Designer Kohelika Kohli, Architect and Interior Designer Ashiesh Shah and Product Designer and Visual Artist Akanksha Deo Sharma discuss how the pandemic impacted each one of them, their design practice and how it shaped the new projects in 2020. The session was moderated by author and columnist Aparna Piramal Raje, and was part of an online series Creative Collaborations 2020, hosted in collaboration with the Kala Ghoda Association from November 16 to 30.
We list the innovations and design evolutions that were highlighted during the talk.
Using timber to construct homes
Daughter of Padma Shree awardee and Interior Designer Sunita Kohli, Kohelika Kohli, is an award-winning designer. The CEO and Creative Director of K2India, Kohli has been fascinated with wood since her childhood days.
The pandemic gave Kohli the time to reflect on her past body of work and relook at the ideas that were unsuccessful in the past. She was working on a holiday home in the hills two years ago and wanted to do a wooden roof.
She went around looking for timber construction and found that all those that existed in the hill station were done by the British, many years ago. They were not able to find the right material and the right contractor in the right price range to do the job. During the pandemic, she restarted the conversation she had been having with a company called Artius, which has been focusing on timber construction.
Together, they are trying to devise modules in which timber construction would work in different environments within India. “We are trying to reduce our footprint of concrete in our projects.
We use glulam for the columns and the beams, and different variety of woods for ceiling and floors,” shared Kohli. Processing wood uses less energy as compared to other building materials like steel and concrete, resulting in a lower carbon footprint. It also takes less time to build with wood as it can be manufactured off-site. The wood can later be reused or recycled.
Kohli now is keen on reaching out to the architect community to make this design concept more popular in India and bring down the cost.
Furniture from moulded thread
Another exciting collaboration that Kohli is working on is with artists Gunjan Arora and Rahul Jain who specialise in thread art. Using resin and steel wires to mould and stiffen thread, the artist duo has been using simple thread to create stunning artworks. Kolhi has been collaborating with them for room dividers and art displays for her clients’ homes.
In June 2020, Kohli, Arora and Jain started working on a series of 13 pieces of furniture incorporating thread art in the design. These will be launched in March 2021.
Homeware made of rice straw residue
Akanksha Deo Sharma, a Forbes India 30 under 30 awardee for 2020, is a designer with IKEA. Sharma spoke about her most recent project for IKEA – Förändring, a collection of homeware made using rice straw residue. It is part of the better air initiative that IKEA started in 2018.
“The purpose of this collection is to highlight the rice straw residue that is traditionally burnt in North India,” shared the NIFT graduate. Burning the rice stubble is one of the prime causes of air pollution in Delhi-NCR region. “We wanted to look at the waste as a new renewable resource for IKEA and its future products. We experimented with the material and explored a lot of techniques.”
The homeware line has rugs, runners, baskets and lamp shades. The collection is now available in India and will be launched in Germany, Sweden, Poland and Spain next year. The collection won the Elle Decor EDIDA India award in 2019.
IKEA is also going to introduce handcrafted products to a worldwide audience. Usually the collections are smaller, but Sharma worked on designing two cushions made by women in Bikaner. The idea is to scale up production so that the women have work stability and security. Having worked on one collection with them, Sharma was able to plan the next one for 2021/22 through online meetings.
“I couldn’t go and meet these ladies but because we share an intimate relationship, we could digitally brainstorm,” adds Sharma. The designer noted that she needed to take the women’s views into consideration while designing the products.
Architect and Interior Designer Ashiesh Shah has been spearheading his design firm Ashiesh Shah Architecture + Design and handles various high-end design projects in India and beyond. He also runs his own Atelier.
Earlier this year, Shah contracted COVID and took to drawing and sketching as therapy. He would earlier sketch while meditating but expanded his styles during his illness. This impacted his thought process and designs.
Shah had completed designing Sequel’s fine dine and café space in Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai and had just started work on the execution when the pandemic struck. The firm worked through the tough times to deliver the project in October 2020.
Shah works with endangered Indian crafts, adding a new dimension to them. Shah has been working with craftsmen who create Channapatna wooden toys in Karnataka for a long time through his Atelier. For Sequel, he created a Channapatna light installation using wooden beads called manka, inspired by his meditative drawings.
Giving Longpi pottery a new dimension
In the past, Shah has also worked with Longpi black terracotta pottery from Manipur and was able to change the way the craft is practiced. “Earlier, they (Longpi potters) were never able to go beyond 12 inches in depth, size and height. We worked with them for 8 months, and with guidance from international potters, were able to help the potters create objects of about 3 feet. We are now working with them on new products,” said Shah.
He added that when he first approached them, they were averse to working with him as they felt intimidated and feared being cheated. “Over time, we have learned that we have to make them feel that we are here to learn from them rather than teach them, and need to be humble towards them,” shared the designer.