Quirky architect-designer-photographer Arjun Rathi talks about thinking outside the box

He is an architect working on a bungalow proposal in Faridabad, a container freight station in Mundra using wind-tower technologies researched from ancient Iranian Ice Houses to naturally cool the building, a budget business hotel proposal in Mumbai, and is advisor for master planning in an educational institute in Indore. He is working on modular lamp systems and a Media Facade prototype for an exhibition during India Design Week. He is exploring vertical and terrace farming ideas in urban centres and researches paper architecture systems and origami furniture. He is designing a project called 'Apartment for the Night', a 2BHK flat with all non-structural walls broken and spaces segregated through movable screens and shadows generated by soft ceiling and floor lighting.

You could be excused for thinking that we are talking about many people here but it’s actually just the one person. Meet Arjun Rathi. A Mumbai-based architect, industrial designer, photographer, a description that just about makes it into one business card! A student of Mumbai’s Kamla Raheja College for Architecture 2010 and the Berne School of Applied Sciences, Switzerland, Rathi travelled in Europe on an internship, which significantly influenced his design ideology.

“By the end of junior college, I was quite sure I wanted to contribute to the city skyline,” says Rathi. His famous Refrigerator Table, made of a vintage Kelvinator door, won him the First Place Peoples’ Choice in the Eco Art Awards, US, 2012. He is working on a series of Ambassador lamps as an ode to the good old Ambi. A table lamp, created from the headlight of the iconic Royal Enfield bike, is another eye-catching design. Both can be used for mass production. Says Rathi, “I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and I see products of that era in scrap markets. The refrigerator tables and headlight lamps are a tribute in a way, but they are also about the concept of recycling industrial design.” He is working with his team on interactive urban furniture. Can urban furniture, apart from being functional, solve issues like power, water and air pollution? “One such project was for the Driss El Jay Market proposal in Casablanca, where a rain-water harvesting tree installation was designed, around which the open market was organised. The water was purified through the trunk and available at ground level through taps,” he says. Coupling origami with architecture is another of his key strengths. For example, the Origami Cafe in Andheri, Mumbai, was a concept café for a client with a very low budget. “It gives the interiors a unique quality of weightlessness and delicacy. Through weeks of research we were able to achieve paper origami work made resistant to water and easily cleanable,” says Rathi. The project was unfortunately scrapped mid-execution due to a property dispute. Rathi is now exploring paper made from crushed stone. And has proposals for using origami in housing projects, airplane hangars and temple forms. Rathi says India has a vibrant and talented design scene but fewer platforms to showcase out-of-the-box work. “That is changing rapidly with design events like India Design Forum, Kochi Bienalle and India Art Fair,” he says with optimism. Find him at arjunrathi.com.