Jwalant Mahadevwala and Kanika Agarwal, the principals of the Ahmedabad based andblack studio, is a couple to reckon with. One of the most amazing feats that this couple has accomplished is a road journey that they took from London to India that lasted almost two months! “It was all about the journey for us, rather than reaching the destination within a certain time! We travelled over land using trains, buses, ferries, cars and auto rickshaws; apart from that there was also a lot of walking,” they share.
Successfully completing this trip did much more than just boost their confidence. In a subtle way, it left a mark on their design sensibilities.“We feel we know what is happening in other parts of the world today and that ends up giving us a very rounded approach towards design. Exposure to cities that have a pulsating art world and a unique design market has influenced us a great deal. Travel always helps open up horizons and it did exactly that for us. However, our love for travel is as strong as our love for design. So trips like these are something we like purely for the thrill of travelling,” they point out.
We look at some recent projects to better understand their design mindsets…
When one looks at a simple paper tube, one does not usually conceptualise it for use as a building material. But, andblack intends to demonstrate the building-use of paper tubes in an exhibition called Indian Design 2013 in Delhi. “We hope to invite interested people to use paper tubes to build various things such as kiosks, outdoor pavilions, gazeboes, stalls etc. Through this exhibition we will be able to display the true potential of the said material” they say.
Paper Tube Pavillion
The idea is to exploit the structural strength of paper tubes. There will of course be some metal joinery to keep it in place and to make it more permanent. The architects intend to constantly come up with never-seen-before ways of using paper tubes.
The pavilion seems to be a fluid, open and yet enclosed structure. “We wanted this pavilion to challenge all conventional and typical notions of both paper tube architecture as well as pavilions in general,” they explain. The interesting interplay of light and shadows on this fluid structure is also quite fascinating to observe.
The idea of a pavilion made with paper tubes was conceived by Sakthivel Ramaswamy, founder of a Chennai based company called Bio Incorporated who approached them for the same.
Pushkinsky Cinema is a competition entry that was executed by them along with Jackson Tan, co-founder of ‘in square lab’, a London-based architecture firm.
I question them on the challenge of retaining the past glory of this legendary cinema hall while endeavouring to give it a facelift. “When it comes to retaining past glory, more often than not it is an implied agenda that architects enforce. The public is often more happy to accept change,” say the duo.
Nevertheless, they agree that important landmark buildings evoke a certain kind of nostalgia and emotion which ought to be conserved and retained. They thus decided not to change the massing of the original structure. “Our idea was to have the newness in the existing structure in the form of an external organic growth that happens on the building,” they share. This external growth merges the new face to the existent and reconnects the cinema to its urban context.
Kanika’s passion for curating has found expression in “Design Emporia”, an online exhibition of lifestyle products. Having pursued curation at the Central, St. Martin’s in London, she uses her knowledge to good effect here. “I think there is a huge lacuna where curation for design is concerned. Art curation is a big industry whereas design is represented as an independent idea. Design curation will help India put its growing design market on the global map,” believes Kanika.
One of the challenges of the projects was to convince designers to put up their work for an online exhibition which is always less familiar than a physical exhibition, especially for larger and expensive items.
“I also tried to bring the mundane chair and table back into discussion. The design market today is flooded with accessories, but most designer furniture is imported from Europe. Through this exhibition I wanted to break away from that and showcase the future of Indian design,” she says.
Also, creating a selection for an online audience had its own challenges. “There is a very limited market that would use a portal like Design Emporia to buy expensive furniture. Nevertheless, I was very happy with my final selections and I think we were able to do substantial justice to the concept,” she states.
Now that the duo is back in India, they have completely immersed themselves in varied and interesting projects that include residences, commercial buildings and even a bamboo bridge for an eco-tourism centre! Jwalant is also involved with teaching and believes that it is a great platform to experiment with new ideas and brainstorm about things that are normally skipped in the professional world.
“We hope to continue making a difference through our work. If the design process is robust enough, it can easily impact something as small as a pavilion on one hand and something as big as a bridge on the other, along with everything that falls in between,” believe the duo.
Text By Dhanishta Shah
Photographs Courtesy andblack studio