Saturday, May 31, 2008

Royal College of Art (RCA): Linkages with NID & Indian Design: Major Influences (Part 2/3)

Influences in the formative years at NID and in India

Picture: NID Lawns and Building

The design world has been a rather small place with a lot of exchange of ideas and with a considerable movement of people and ideas across boundaries, even during and after the wars. We now know that Charles Eames visited Ulm and interacted with Max Bill at about the same time as Raynor Banham and Bruce Archer traveled from London to teach at the great German school. Archer was a researcher and teacher at the RCA at that time in the early fifties before the setting up of the NID in Ahmedabad. Eames wrote the India Report in 1958, exactly 50 years ago, and his contacts with teachers at Ulm and the RCA must have shaped his ideas about design for a country like India when he worked on the report that proposed the National Institute of Design as a way forward for India in a period of rapid transition. That Charles Eames may have been influenced by the Ulm and RCA teachers is not documented but from the sequence of events that led to the India Report we can conjecture that Eames connected with both these great institutions before he finalized the concept of a National Design Institute for India in 1958.

NID Documentation 1964-69 (download pdf 25 mb) lists two people from the RCA of having contributed to the programmes at NID in the formative years. P P Hancock, wood working expert from the RCA was involved in the setting up workshops and furniture traditions at NID who contributed to training NID staff alongside George Nakashima whose furniture was batch produced by the NID workshops and Arno Vottler who was assigned the task of formulating the Furniture Design education at NID of which I was a student in the first batch, joining in 1969.

Bob Gill, Lecturer in Advertising & Public Communication, RCA and a professional designer of repute was involved Family Planning workshop and contributed to graphic design thinking dealing with substance and meaning rather than just form. Social communication was already at the top of the NID agenda in the early 60’s but most of the projects that came from professional contracts dealt with symbols and logos for Indian corporate entities, and a great many of such projects were carried out by the NID graphic design teachers and students.

Maxwell Fry & Jane Drew, visited NID in the early years of my study at NID and I remember attending their lecture at NID auditorium. According to Christopher Frayling in his book, Professor Fry and Jack Pritchard were responsible for bringing Walter Gropuis to London in 1934 to explore the possibility of his contributing to RCA education in art and design which did not however fructify due to the politics of the times.
Jane Drew Wiki:
Maxwell Fry Wiki:

For me the other reminder of the RCA influence on NID was the Ark magazine, a student journal from the RCA, copies of which were available at NID library, and a wonderful influence on some of us who were eager to know more about the nature of design in our formative years at NID. I was then involved in editing the first student magazine at NID, called SNID (Students National Institute of Design) in 1969 and 1970 along with a few colleagues, and I believe the effort was directly motivated by the presence of the Ark in our library and through our discussions of the contributions through our “bakwas committee”, or informal chat group as it was fondly called, which sat for hours on end at the Old Madras Café just outside the NID main gate in Paldi, to discuss all matters NID and design in those heady days of learning and exchange. The other influence was the Design Methods course conducted by Prof Kumar Vyas which was modeled after the structure proposed by Bruce Archer in his papers titled “Systematic Method for Designers”, 1964, a rare copy of which is in the NID library.

Bruce Archer, one of the pioneers of Design Research and the Design Methods movement as a faculty at the RCA visited NID with a mission to deliver in person the Sir Misha Black Award to Mr. Ashoke Chatterjee for excellence in design education that was recognized at the National Institute of Design. Ashoke Chatterjee joined a long list of awardees and he has been active in his interactions with the RCA ever since and this has contributed to the strengthening of the relationship between the NID and the RCA.
Prof Bruce Archer Wiki:
Sir Misha Black Wiki:

Christopher Conford, Head of General Studies at RCA formulated a programme which was called Science & Liberal Arts programme at NID and the formulation was carried in an incisive report left behind after his brief visit to the Institute.

The other person of significance mentioned to me by Askoke Chatterjee in his recent communication was Frank Height who according to AC is “the most important remaining link with the great years of Misha Black and design education at RCA”. AC attended the Misha Black memorial Dinner in London in March 2008 for the award ceremony for this year.

Sir Christopher Freyling visited India in 2001 and participated in the CII NID Design Summit at Bangalore and followed it with a visit to NID, Ahmednabad to sign an MOU on an era of cooperation between NID and the RCA.

Picture: Prof John Chris Jones at the British Library in 2004

I was happy to meet John Chris Jones in London during my visit there in 2004. We met in the British Library which was the location suggested by him for a meeting that was set up over a round of email communications prior to my visit. I had written to John Chris many years earlier when a former student of mine who was studying at the RCA told me that he was the best person who could help us formulate new directions for the use of digital resources at the IICD Jaipur where I was officiating as the Director. Nagraj Seshadri had told me that JCJ was perhaps the only person in the late 90’s who had a deep understanding of the internet and could help us develop strategies for its use in the crafts sector in India. I wrote to him and shared our IICD reports with him but due to his involvement with the book, Internet and Everyone, at that time he was not able to participate with that effort. However he had been a strong influence as part of the Design Methods movement and his book on the subject and hid other books were much sought after at NID in the 70’s till date. Now many NID students regularly catch up with his writings on the web at his website called Softopia.
JCJ Softopia:
JCJ on wiki:
JCJ conversation on NextD:
JCJ Design Methods on wiki:

Jasper Morrison – Furniture Designer visited NID very briefly and I spent one evening with him at Ahmedabad over dinner at a friends home. He is one of the influential young minds that RCA has produced and his influence is very strong through his work as well as his exhibitions such as “Super Normal” which was curated with Naoto Fukasawa.
Super Normal at Vitra 2008:
Jasper and Naoto Dialogue:

The other contemporary influence from the RCA was that of James Dyson – Product Designer, particularly through his book “Against the Odds” which is widely read at NID and all the design schools around the world
Dyson on Dexigner:
Dyson on RCA pages:
James Dyson Foundation:
Dyson School:

The other significant alumni of the RCA from India include Uday Shankar – Choreographer and Dance and Dhruv Mistry – Sculpture.

This post is the second of three such posts where the first deals with the early years of RCA and the influences on world design and the third with contemporary influences and the creation of a new generation of international designers from India.

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