When Le Corbusier was commissioned by the Mill Owners’ Association (MOA) in 1954 to design their headquarters in Ahmedabad, the architect decided that the Sabarmati River would dictate his design. He noted that the river furnished “a picturesque spectacle" of cloth dyers drying their cotton materials on the sand bed in the company of cows, buffalo, donkeys half immersed in the water to keep cool. “Such a panorama was an invitation...to frame views from each floor of the building," he observed in his complete writings Oeuvre Complète.

Some 60 years later, the dyers and the languishing cattle have vanished. The iconic structure has fallen out of use, no longer housing the offices of the MOA. But, in the course of a weekend (30 November-1 December), the building found new purpose as a platform for a design showcase called Raw Collaborative.

Conceptualized last year by interior designer Tanvi Karia, Raw Collaborative is keen on bringing emerging and established Indian design studios under one roof in Ahmedabad. Right from the outset, one could perceive the sense of intimacy that pervaded the design event. At the registered stalls on the lawns, it was interesting to note the number of young practitioners and design students, in block prints and breezy handloom saris, buzzing around. Ergonomics, the studio practice and the opaqueness of a certain type of glass dominated discussions rather than prices and sales.

Karia launched Raw Collaborative last year with the support of some prominent sponsors, and partnered with the W-Project (a design curation studio by Priyadarshini Rathore and Vishwa Bhatt Weir) to curate and support logistics.

Tanvi Karia (middle), the founder of Raw Collaborative
Tanvi Karia (middle), the founder of Raw Collaborative

The focus is on design showcase rather than sales. It is in that spirit that their second edition, in addition to the stalls, had a dedicated pop-up design gallery by Mumbai-based architect and interior designer Rooshad Shroff .

Over coffee in the backyard, Karia said the venue reflected Raw Collaborative’s purpose. “Right from the raw silk sari I am wearing, to the name of the platform, the word ‘raw’ is important. This building, too, for that matter. When I invited designers and architects to be featured here, the building was a huge draw. Raw Collaborative was a tribute to this modernist architecture that Ahmedabad has forgotten and this became a chance to experience this building," she said.

Karia, a former Mumbai resident, practised in London for a while. About 13 years ago, she moved to Ahmedabad with her husband to set up their project management firm. It was during this time that she realized that there was a demand for unique, custom-made design pieces.

The MOA Building with the Sabarmati in the background
The MOA Building with the Sabarmati in the background

Some of the stalls boasted of strong design practices in furniture and interior pieces. Most were crafted out of natural materials, and were tastefully understated. For instance, there was Ahmedabad-based Tectona Grandis Furniture—the brand name might be clue enough. Their products rely on streamlining the inherent beauty of pure teak into statement pieces. Further into the building, there was Mumbai architect and designer Arjun Rathi, whose imposing chandeliers stretch from floor to ceiling, embodying the pancha bhootas (the five great elements) and sacred geometry.

Karia is conscious that platforms such as Raw Collaborative are needed to revitalize Ahmedabad’s existing design energies. In the process, Raw Collaborative may well distinguish Ahmedabad’s design event culture from its glossier counterparts in Mumbai and Delhi. After all, this is the city that houses pioneering institutions, such as the National Institute of Design and Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) University. This is also where the Calico Museum of Textiles, that sanctum of Indian textile history, is located.

Le Corbusier drew from the view of textiles drying in the sun to recreate textile-like surfaces for the MOA Building. In French, it’s called the palais des filateurs, referring to the process of spinning. It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s the same attention to material and process that Raw Collaborative is intent on following.

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‘Not just handmade or craft’

Last year, at the first edition of Raw Collaborative, architect and interior designer Rooshad Shroff showcased his new furniture collection, which explored French knots and zardozi. The showcase took on the format of a design gallery.

This time around, Shroff was invited by Raw Collaborative as the curator of a pop-up design gallery where he selected about 40 leading practitioners from India to showcase their work.

Highlights included a two-way steampunk-ish swing chair by Veeram Shah’s Design ni Dukaan, a resplendent peacock-shaped lighting piece by Klove, and Aziz Kachwala’s sleek wardrobe. There was also Shroff’s whimsical pressed- flowers coffee table, made in collaboration with Ambrita Shahni. Lounge spoke to Shroff on the sidelines of the event. Edited excerpts:

Is the concept of a design gallery still new in India?

In India, we have art galleries but we haven’t yet touched upon design. And, when furniture is showcased within art galleries, people often assume that the work is art. For lack of a design platform, we often see works in isolation and not within an exhibition format where one piece responds to another.

How did you go about curating this design gallery?

Inspired by design galleries in the West, the idea here is to showcase works that don’t necessarily fit within the retail format. The gallery is intended to celebrate design from India within the last decade, ranging from established designers and architects to younger talent who are all investigating the role of furniture design today. We often have different designers working with the same medium or concept but produce drastically different works, so the pairing becomes interesting. For example, a day bed by Alex Davis is more of a traditional charpoi but made in a polished stainless steel as compared to AndBlacks take on a day bed, with woven wood but the form finding is through 3D computations.

What’s “contemporary" about Indian design today?

When one thinks of Indian design, it’s often associated with ethnic or attributed to craftsmanship. While this is part of design in India today, there are many more directions that designers pursue within their own practices. The role of the gallery is to highlight that versatility of contemporary Indian design.

The writer attended the design gallery at the invitation of Raw Collaborative.

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