Prem Nath

REIMAGINE with American Hardwoods launches at INDEX Mumbai

Annkur Khosla, Naresh V Narasimhan, Prem Nath, Sanjay Puri and Sonali & Manit Rastogi unveil their designs for the traditional jhoola in collaboration with AHEC and THINK! Design

Five of India’s best-known architects unveiled their designs for the traditional jhoola (an Indian swing seat) at a gala launch at INDEX Mumbai, which took place at the Jio World Convention Centre (JWCC) from May 26-28, 2023. A design collaboration launched by AHEC and THINK! Design, the project challenged Annkur Khosla, Naresh V Narasimhan, Prem Nath, Sanjay Puri and Sonali & Manit Rastogi to recreate that quintessentially Indian piece of furniture using American hardwoods. AHEC’s biggest design collaboration to date in India, the swings were manufactured by Bram Woodcrafting Studio, based in Mysore, and with Melbourne-based Adam Markowitz serving as a mentor for the project.

Speaking at the launch, Roderick Wiles, AHEC Regional Director, said: “Jhoolas, which were a common sight in many Indian households, seem to have fallen out of favor in recent times. Nonetheless, they continue to have an allure on account of the memories they carry. For REIMAGINE, the architects were asked to draw on their childhood memories of playfulness, their teenage years of angst and to temper these with ‘grown-up’ elegance in a furniture piece for a contemporary context; a limited edition, legacy piece made out of American hardwoods. The architects were given the option to select from three species (a single species or a combination), which were American cherry, maple and red oak.”

According to Annkur Khosla, the inspiration for her design was the aspect of weaving and the entire process involving the warp and weft of threads. Woodworking at its inherent level of joinery doesn’t follow this as a process and the aim was to explode the limitations of woodworking whilst also pushing the limits of the material. Sanjay Puri’s swing was designed to look monolithic & fluid simultaneously with the seat, armrests and back merging into each other creating a sculptural look. Whilst it can be used as a swing, it is also designed to appear as an art form.

Commenting on his involvement, Adam Markowitz, said: “As both architect, furniture designer and craftsman, my role was similar to that of a language translator, acting between the architects and the manufacturer. As with any good translation - there is a bit of artistry required of the translator to communicate the nuance from one language into another and back again. Architects by nature of their profession need to be generalists in a huge range of areas that comprise the built form, and as a result often don't have the detailed knowledge of working with solid timber, which is a material that has great complexity.”

The design thought and inspiration behind Sonali’s piece was primarily focused on addressing the shift in communication caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. With physical distancing measures in place, the design aimed to create an opportunity for people to reconnect with their friends and close mates in a safe and socially distanced manner. The swing design was chosen as it provides a comfortable seating arrangement that allows individuals to relax and engage in conversation while maintaining the necessary distance. Additionally, the design of the swing incorporates aesthetic elements, turning it into a visually appealing piece of art when not in use.

“Solid timber needs to be worked with, rather than against - when you try to make timber do something timber doesn't want to do - the timber usually wins! Manufacturers therefore have a range of very real-world considerations determining their decision making - they want to make things quickly, efficiently and in a way that means it will hold together for a long time without any problems. However, sometimes the strongest, most efficient and longest lasting solution does not deliver the best design outcome. Mediating between these two sometimes polar approaches of design and manufacturing can be challenging, and requires flexibility and agility on the part of the designer, and sensitivity and an understanding of the bigger picture from the manufacturer,” added Markowitz.

The form of Naresh’s swing seat is derived from the Veena, a popular element in Hindola Raga paintings. In Indian culture, the swing was traditionally considered a luxury, mostly owned by royalty and placed in outdoor gardens and verandas. Historically, swings were often depicted in activities in Royal palaces in various forms of Indian miniature paintings. Ragamala paintings, a form of Indian miniature paintings, are a set of illustrative paintings of the Ragamala or ‘Garland of Ragas’, depicting variations of the Indian musical modes called ragas. His swing borrows ideas of movement, rhythm and asymmetry from the paintings; the intent of the form is to be able to choose the seating experience on the swing - fun, relaxed and playful.

“I've admired the many design initiatives AHEC has undertaken across the world for ages, and always wanted to see India on this elite chart. It's finally happened, at the highest level of concept and design with REIMAGINE. Curating and executing the initiative in India has been both exhilarating and traumatic, wonderful to see the concept unfold and gain form while undertaking the activity in the Indian milieu, with its several attendant challenges! But finally, such a sense of accomplishment and sheer joy and pride in what we've managed to pull off, together. Special appreciation to AHEC for their design-centric decisions, to Rod and Richard for their support, to Adam for his mentorship of the architects, Bram for his fabulous execution and to the architects for their profound concepts and stunning designs. It's been the most exhilarating, joyous, rollercoaster ride to high design!” stated Sylvia Khan, Founder & Creative, THINK! Design.

For Prem Nath, the Indian Swing is a feature of playful outdoor combination of strings and plank hung from the branches of tree or an ornate piece of indoor furniture, which gives thrills and gentle joys of swinging motion and mood. It’s an Indian traditional add-on feature of furniture in Indian homes of prosperity and relaxed, comfort and romance. Whilst thinking of his design and in trying to reimagine the design for the Indian Swing; time and again Prem’s answer was that the Indian Swing must look like an ‘INDIAN SWING’. Since new generation homes now have contemporary designs, away from the typical traditional designs, hence his design has been conceived with neo classical features with soft minimal Indian ornamentation.

“Working with the AHEC team on the REIMAGINE project, has been an absolute pleasure and a proud moment for the BWS team. To have indirectly worked on these 5 beautiful designs, it was amazing to see the final product come together and we are proud of what we had achieved. We are thankful to Adam for having enabled easy communication between everyone. At BWS, the team always looks forward to working with challenges, and crafting these pieces required various aspects that needed to be considered; taking into consideration not only the intricacies of the design, but also, the inherent constraints of woodworking. Not only was the integration process smooth and relatively easy, but we also received trust and time from the AHEC team that was invaluable,” added Bram Rouws, Founder and Director, Bram Woodcrafting Studio.

The architects, when designing for this project, were asked to factor in both the environmental impact and human health and well-being. While non-wood materials needed to be used, such as metal for framing and fixtures, glues, resins and coatings, AHEC encouraged the designers to consider the environmental impact of these materials in the overall design. American hardwoods have an extremely low environmental impact, and they act as a carbon store. The more wood used in each design, the more carbon is kept out of the atmosphere and the lower the overall environmental impact of the finished piece. AHEC would also like to acknowledge Abenaki Timber Corporation and Costaa Woods for providing the American hardwood lumber needed for the project.

“With REIMAGINE, our goal was to engage the A+D community and the public at large in the appreciation of sustainable hardwoods, of which the U.S. is a leading supplier. Bringing together the creativity of some of India's most eminent architects, we wanted to showcase the beauty of their work and the loveliness and immense capabilities of the hardwoods that have been used. We appreciate and are immensely grateful to the 5 architects for their vision, to Adam Markowitz for his skilled mentorship and to Bram Woodcrafting Studio for their master craftsmanship. With a low environmental impact, the hardwoods themselves are repositories of hope for the future of sustainable design,” concluded Wiles.