Architect Nisha Mathew Ghosh showcases indigenous concepts at London Design Biennale’s India Pavilion, to spur divergent approaches to sustainability

The India Pavilion on the ongoing London Design Biennale 2021 (LDB) is mapping ‘hero stories’ — from innovator-engineer Sonam Wangchuk’s ice stupas (which soften in summer season to generate water) to smokeless chulahs. All creative, indigenous, and sustainable concepts developed in varied components of the nation in the previous few years. “It is quite an ‘aha’ moment to see what India looks like through the lens of its people and their efforts to make a sustainable world,” says architect Nisha Mathew Ghosh, 52, who has curated the pavilion. “It is exciting to imagine a future of collaborations to build this world of better ecological stewardship together.”

The pavilion at Somerset House, titled ‘Small Is Beautiful: A Billion Stories’, includes 150 entries segregated into 5 classes: Clean Air, Clean Water, Clean Earth, Clean Energy, and Forest. Ranging from product innovations to materials explorations, every responds to the overarching theme of ‘Resonances’, as chosen by LDB’s creative director, Es Devlin.

Back to nature

The India Pavilion engages with the concepts of sustainability by means of efficient design. “All these projects are reactions to situations and contexts. For example, the Story of Fish [by landscape architect Prachi Chopade Wakaley] uses art as strategy — making a fish from waste glass bottles to remind people to keep their water sources clean; Pollinator People [by landscape architect Vidisha Barwal] uses the logic and process of pollination to offer a design for the recovery of ecosystems; and Forest Cabin [by Architecture Brio], shows you how to build lightly in a forest setting with least impact,” says Nisha.

Among the plethora of intriguing tasks, Bamboo Toilet — an initiative by Tata Trust, and designed by Delhi-based Shift Studio — has piqued curiosity. The temporary was to construct a bathroom that may meet the wants of rural India, and Mayank Mishra of Shift Studio says they got here up with a design that used bamboo and EcoSan know-how (dry bogs that don’t use water). Ideal for locations which have shortage of water, it converts human excreta into compost and fertiliser. “An individual unit will cost anywhere between ₹12,000 and ₹24,000, which can come down when built and managed by the community,”explains Mishra. “It was challenging to evolve processes to elevate bamboo from a craft material to an engineering level [meeting the needs for structural constructions].”

Travelling tales

Speaking of the showcase’s engagement with viewers at Somerset House, the place the assorted tasks are being screened on a big projection, Nisha explains, “It’s a showcase that is packed with ideas and needs a couple of hours to fully watch and observe.” Beyond the Biennale, she feels that the concepts, which have emerged from conventional knowledge, scientific mood, and the communities’ wants, have to be shared with the whole nation. “We could do a travelling exhibition,” she says. “These stories can be vital to bring about a change. People must know what’s happening in various parts of India.”

Moreover, she believes the present scenario underlines the necessity for options which can be native and interconnected, whereas nonetheless recognising the worth of the massive scale. “The two need to work together for the preservation of our resources. If an earlier Indian austerity could be referred to, it was doing the most with the least, and I believe design will respond in this manner given the conditions around us. We don’t have a choice but to re-look at maximising the potential of our natural resources for the benefit of communities post pandemic, and this has to begin with great ideas.”

Green interventions

Had it not been for the pandemic, LDB would have had a enjoyable, interactive, two-winged bamboo-and-fabric set up known as Is It a Bird? Is It a Windmill? “[Referencing the concepts of flight, windmills, and the traditional punkhas] it was meant to engage with visitors and play on the idea of clean energy, water, and air,” explains Ghosh. The enjoyable would come by means of the toy-like interplay: guests might tug on it and make the wings transfer (by means of a pulley and counterweight system).

Ghosh collaborated with architect Soumitro Ghosh (as an advisor) and Bengaluru-based Sandeep Sangaru, who lent his expertise as a furnishings designer to implement it. “The human interaction brings dynamism to the installation [4 m tall, with a wingspan of 7 m]. It shows the possibilities of sustainable design, and makes you rethink traditional ways of making but in contemporary contexts,” says Sangaru. Ghosh plans to unveil the set up at one other location and occasion sooner or later.


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