Monday, September 8, 2008

Interior Design in India: SID Research Conferences

Design for India

School of Interior Design: Interior Design Traditions in India and their Publications Programme

Image: SID Conference on “Interior Design Traditions” in progress at the Ravi Matthai Auditorium at the IIMA. It was good to see my auditorium chair design in use almost ten years after they were designed and to see that the canvas fabric has aged gracefully, just like a well-worn pair of jeans.

A three-day conference on “Interior Design Traditions” ran its course at the Ravi Matthai Auditorium of the IIMA from the 31st August 2008 to the 2nd September 2008. Theory of design, Reflections on design practice and Case studies and Retrospectives from distinguished practitioners from the field of Interiors and Architecture dotted the proceedings. Some of these presentations were by the first generation of graduates from the School of Interior Design coming back to share their experiences for the first time with their Alma Mater and with students and faculty from a large number of schools of design assembled in this third conference in the series.

Image: A large contingent of students from Pune in blazers and in a group photo outside the hall. Faculty and students interact during the tea break.

The visible group of participants was the large contingent from the B.N. College of Architecture since all the students came in uniform, wearing the school blazer, and sitting in a group giving the conference a very corporate look. The other big group was of course from the School of Interior Design itself and being the organizers they were all active as both organizers as well as participants with a high degree of motivation. The next vocal group of students was from the Indian Institute of Crafts and Design from Jaipur who asked questions in most of the sessions and generally played an active participant role during the event. The auditorium was quite full and the three days saw a high level of participation both inside as well as outside the hall.

Image: A panoramic view of the IIMA Auditorium interior from a display photograph in the corridor and views to the left and right of the main entrance lobby showing the administrative block and the main building of the IIMA in the distance.

Three days and ten sessions in all was quite a handful, not all of it was interesting but some presentations made the conference really worthwhile. Presentations by Aman Nath and Ratan Batliboi were particularly stimulating since they drew from their life experience and shared insights and achievements that were substantial contributions to their field. Nath shared the Neemrana Hotels story with the underlying philosophy of heritage conservation that goes back over twenty years when the first hotel was established by the conservation and reuse of the dilapidated old fort, the Neemrana Fort and since then the same methodology has been repeated over thirteen times at various heritage locations across India, all done through the private initiatives of Nath and his colleague working as concerned and motivated entrepreneurs. Nath called it passion to conserve. Ratan Batliboi shared the work of his office, starting from humble beginnings from a small studio; the office is one of the leading architecture and design houses in India. The work, which started with small domestic buildings, have grown to include hi-tech networking centres to over 35 railway stations in New Mumbai and New Delhi for the Dwarka – Delhi metro system. The insights from these journeys were inspiring and do give the young student participant a sense of confidence in their own ability to change the world, if they so wished to take this path. The other interesting presentations included those by Prof Uday Athavankar on the Crisis in the Indian Identity which dwelt on the theory and insights from his product semantics research in India, and another by Jacob Mathew from IDIOM spoke on the Changing Face of Retail based on his considerable experience of working with Kishore Biyani and his Pantaloon and Big Baazaar group of companies. Two other presentations that held my interest were made by SID alumni Vishal Wadwani who has done interesting work on modular light weight structures and the other by Vaibhav Kale who has now set up a company to explore bamboo architectural structures in the area of low cost housing.

Image: Sale of books and research publications from the School of Interior Design at CEPT University, Ahmedabad. This exhibit drew as many enthusiasts as the main conference. On the right are the cover pages of the two conference proceedings from 2006 and 2007 and at the bottom are the major thematic research publications from the SID Research Cell.

While many more presentations went on in the hall as the conference progressed the SID research and publications counter drew my attention. Located outside the conference hall, this counter offered another kind of excitement. The SID had on display some of their student works dealing with Indian Traditions, which is the theme of the three conferences over the past three years. However the real excitement was in their publications that were on sale all through the three days at their sale counter facing the display of Ravi Matthai’s photographs in the entrance lobby of the IIMA auditorium. For me it was particularly stimulating to see these research publications since I have been actively championing the production of such publications at NID and calling for such an active programme from other design schools in India. It seems that the SID in Ahmedabad has taken a huge lead over all their counterparts when we look at the quality and content of the research publications that they have on offer and with more in the pipeline. In India, we now have as many as 25 design schools (if not more), 150 + schools of architecture and as many as 900 + schools of engineering and technology, but few of them can boast of a publications programme that can match the results shown by the SID in Ahmedabad. I do hope that some of the schools will take a leaf out of the SID agenda and get their own faculty and students to publish more effectively in the days ahead.

The SID books can be obtained from the SID Research Cell and they can be contacted by email at the following address:
research.sid (at)

or through the CEPT website at this link below
CEPT University Website:

Design for India

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