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Think design, culture

Godrej, a 118-year-old group, reinvents itself with timely initiatives such as the Godrej India Culture Lab, Design Lab, and Innovation Centre.

September 18, 2015 02:34 pm | Updated 02:34 pm IST

Hubble at Godrej

Hubble at Godrej

For Navroze Godrej, ‘collaboration’ and ‘disruptive innovation’ are keywords. Godrej and Boyce, founded in 1897, has a rich history. As executive director, Strategy and Innovation, Navroze created Hubble — a space for innovation and to re-imagine the corporate environment and workspace relationships. Further, Navroze sought to spark confluences between art and technology. With the theme ‘Restore. Reflect. Reimagine’, the world’s only typewriter sculptor, Jeremy Mayer, was invited to create art with defunct Godrej typewriters. Mayer used 60 typewriters and each of the 15 petals of the Lotus sculpture had more than 200 parts. In August 2015, the 13 feet tall Lotus was inaugurated at Hubble, symbolic of Godrej’s increasingly fluid and dynamic work culture.

When abroad, Parmesh Shahani was selected as a Ted Fellow in 2009 and this influenced his ideas about facilitating creative exchanges. When he came back to India in 2011, he wanted to create a new kind of space. He says, “I felt we needed a broader space and had to break the boundaries of the silos we live in where academics talk to academics, creative to creative and corporate to corporate. It would really benefit groups if they interacted with each other.” Dedicated to this idea of cross-pollination, Shahani met Nisa Godrej with the idea of setting up ‘shape-shifting spaces’ for performances, exchanges, and talks. As founder and head of Godrej India Culture Lab, Shahani’s radical idea was to creatively use existing spaces and auditoriums in the Godrej campus at Vikhroli (Mumbai) as venues. Godrej employees, professionals and many individuals from Mumbai’s distant precincts, from Baroda even, gather for invigorating experiences, which can range from Haiku challenges to intellectually stimulating talks covering evolution, lifestyle changes and fusion music performances. A talk by Henry Jenkins on convergence media attracted a crowd of 600. Engaging with urban and rural landscapes with a thrust towards a culture of thinking characterises the Lab. Shahani says, “In a way, Godrej has been the incubator of cool ideas.”

The Godrej Design Lab was conceived in 2013. Deputy GM of Godrej Interio, Khushnuma Jamasji says, “We wanted to create a platform for designers who did not have the right opportunity or resources to launch themselves — to take their ideas further, co-create and collaborate.” Along with Elle Décor, Godrej put out a call for entries for a mentorship programme. Architect Rooshad Shroff, a Harvard University graduate who was selected, says, “It is a fantastic idea to have a competition like this to help develop a prototype and provide manufacturing capability.” For Shroff’s origami chair in stainless steel, Godrej identified a special vendor who came up with feasible ways of producing the piece. “For me, furniture is the expression of a certain idea that goes beyond function. No one else in the country is doing this unlike in the West, where international firms collaborate with designers. This was a first big step and all eight entries brought diverse media and materials to the table,” says Shroff.

The designers were encouraged to pursue unusual and daring pieces that were showcased at India Design ID 2015, at Delhi earlier this year. Saif Faisal who worked closely with mentors Navroze Godrej, Khushnuma Jamasji and Hemmanth Jha, was more comfortable making his prototype from his home in Bangalore. A race-car driver in another avatar, Faisal drew heavily from his automotive racing experience for the structure and construction of his String Table and Alhazen LED Lamp. “Alhazen draws inspiration from the Jedi Swords of Star Wars fame where they put up their light sabres as lamps,” says Faisal. He agrees his style does not borrow from any traditional trope but instead leans towards the clean lines of Scandinavian design, clutter-free practical furniture.

All programme spaces are fluid and re-imagined. As Khushnuma says, “Design Lab and Culture Lab are not physical spaces but titles of initiatives.” By providing a holistic support system, simultaneously encouraging futuristic designs, Godrej Design Lab pushes designers to a whole new level.

Call for entries are now open to designers in the categories of furniture, lighting, furnishings, home décor and accessories. Log on to www.godrejdesignlab.com for details.

The writer is a city-based writer and visualiser. She studied furniture design at NID and is graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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