During my time at RV College of Architecture, design was more about a balance between books, exploring and creating. Instead of the rigid academic approach in architecture, I found industrial design more intuitive and versatile to my liking. Right from my childhood, I was an autodidact; once I developed a liking for a certain discipline then I learned and pursued it myself.
Racing and riding have always been a great passion and motivation. Fortunately, during my second semester, I was a part of the Formula Student Racing team of the Mechanical Engineering department at RVCA’s Ashwa Racing, India’s premier Formula SAE team.
My work involved driver ergonomics and safety, packaging, chassis, brakes, suspension geometry and body design. It was a great formative time to acquire the skills in design and manufacturing, while the exposure to different materials and processes was amazing.
Later a selected few from Ashwa Racing, including me were part of VDS 2.0, an initiative of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) with other universities to develop a multi-platform urban commuter for the emerging economies, focusing on alternative fuel technology.
My thesis in college was quite challenging and high-tech in orientation, Flexitecture – Flexible and Adaptable Urban Dwelling. Aiming to address the issue of rising need for housing and sustainability, it is based on the principles of ‘Cradle to Cradle’.
The design in response to the occupants’ needs evolves and changes in time and space easily throughout the lifetime. The elements of the buildings can be reused in different configurations and contexts. Ar. Arun Swaminathan and industrial designer Anuradha Dinesh, who have been my mentors, aided me on this.
This project was nominated for Be Open Future Awards 2012 and was exhibited at 100% DESIGN London and shortlisted for IDF Awards 2013.
With my background in racing and architecture, it was difficult to find a firm where I can engage in different disciplines. So I had to initiate something on my own – that’s how Saif Faisal design workshop took off.
My wife who’s an architect is also a part of this venture. We call ourselves ‘design workshop’ as we have a very hands-on approach to design with processes, materials and prototyping.
Now we are into architecture, furniture, lighting, products, jewellery and automotive design. Inspiration to us comes in varied forms – a social concern, a beautiful material, an inspiring craft, a practical need, a curiosity. I learn from tradition, but look beyond with a fresh and unrestricted perspective and no cultural complexes.
The String Table explores the concept of ‘doing most for the least’. The least amount of materials and flat-pack assembly make it a very sustainable design. The heart of this design is a single string that keeps it all together.
All the bits and pieces here play their roles like elements in nature – everything fighting the other, yet finally coexisting in perfect harmony and balance while serving their unique purpose.
Shelfie and Alhazen were the winning and runner-up entries respectively at I Design Awards 2014, while String Table just got a Design and Design Award, which will be launched by Godrej soon.
The Alhazen lamp is reminiscent of the Jedi swords of Star Wars; a synthesis of technology and craft. The acrylic LED tube and wood base create a harmonious and dynamic task lamp with just the essentials, making it as practical as it is understated.
The need for dismountable furniture gave rise to Shelfie – a customisable and light bookcase with easy assembly. The side frames can be ordered to required dimensions, while the shelves are customisable with various woods, widths and finishes.
Despite our high-tech industrial approach, I was always drawn to crafts. But the Indian craft design scene was never that inspiring in its interpretation of contemporary design. During the India Design 2014 a very enlightening conversation with Patricia Urquiola and Giulio Cappellini who liked our work at the exhibition encouraged me to explore crafts.
After spending my childhood in Bidar, it was only natural that I try something with Bidriware. About three months before, we collaborated with the artisans there as I wanted to bring something new to the craft. In our explorations we came up with a very unique process of selective oxidation. This is now applied on accessories and contemporary jewellery. We are developing some furniture in Bidriware too.
Currently, we have about 12-14 products we are working on from last year ranging from contract furniture and lighting to small accessories. One of the special projects involves refraction of light, an innovative and playful approach to lighting.
By Saif Faisal