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Monday, October 1, 2007

The 'lota' ([in India] a small container for water, usually of brass or copper and round in shape) - Deepankar Bhattacharyya

Our built world grows in complex ways and at any given time seems to be a reflection of the sum total of the collective experience of a people. In traditional societies, qualitative change seems to come very slowly, ways of doing things get institutionalized, and rituals govern many actions.

Design develops within tightly defined parameters, slowly, predictably, with very little questioning of basic premise. Needs are defined as 'having been there always' and sometimes bear no relationship to actual, real needs that are new and have developed because of changes in the environment. 'Culture' in this context is focused on 'refinement' within given boundaries. So is 'design'.

The form gets fixed.

A good example is the Indian 'lota' that Charles Eames so eulogised and which became a mantra for many designers of a certain time in India. Design in this context focused on the qualities of the 'lota' that developed over hundreds of years - its refined form, its relationship with the materials used, it's place in the Indian psyche. The form was essentially unchanging although it had many variations - small tweaking in the relationships of its parts such as the vessel's neck, it's body, it's opening etc.

It used to be made of brass or copper, also clay.

Then came a new technology - plastic.

And 'lotas' started to be made of this new wonder material - easily mass produced in many different colours.

Why did this happen?

Why did this form, so unsuited to this new material persist?

What was the 'design culture' that enabled this?

Why did the 'lota' become a symbol for excellence in Charles Eames's mind? It was undoubtedly beautiful, the form was incredibly refined - it's relationship with the materials used was breathtakingly simple and so apt.

But what did it have to do with a modern society on the brink of rapid change where everything was open to question - isn't this what differentiates traditional societies from contemporary ones - modern, post-modern, what have you?

That 'everything' is open to question and new juxtapositions.

Do we miss the habits of continuous linear development in a given direction that we have formed over several years, and so hang on to old forms that have outlived their utility and are not able to see them become caricatures of their former selves?

I use the example of 'lota' as an analogy for many things. To try to understand.

Our rapidly changing cultural contexts don't give time for the kind of design that personified the 'lota'. That kind of refinement has become obsolete in the times of huge qualitative change.

So why are design schools still teaching design values that are rooted in the 'lota' paradigm?

What is the 'design culture' that is relevant to our times?

1 comment:

  1. The design values to achieve excellence - a well refined form, relationship with the materials used and understanding the context etc. The Indian "lota" personifies it all but sill we call it obsolete. Does that mean the design values have changed or the rapidly changing world has stopped valuing design ? Do we need to change design pedagogy or make it more influential ?


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.