Final Project for IndiaEX

Concept for the reflection piece about our trip to India:

This installation is my analogy for the life in India as it unpacks more meaning the more one interacts with it. At first glance, the disarray of elements seems random, that is to say, to the foreign eye India can appear chaotic and lacking infrastructure. However, upon taking a journey and experiencing the culture for yourself, you gain another perspective: the “random” pieces line up to create a geometric shape and reveal order amongst chaos. The geometry in the linking fragments is derived from the Flower of Life in the Sacred Geometry that is present in Indian architecture as well as in the design of the Lotus flower, a national symbol of India.

Although not perfect, there are, in fact, systems in place. They are different than what we are used to in the west, and they work.

Still, the system is handling more people than what it was designed for and can bear; the forces of tension and compression in the installation represent that strain.

Using reclaimed materials is intended to point not only that the system is old and has flaws, but also the opportunities within it. Recycling industry is a prominent business in India. Discarded goods are salvaged by people, pulled apart and sold for parts or recycled. Thus, used materials are not necessarily disposed; instead, everything that can be sorted is put back into the system. Likewise, I have recovered old lumber and repurposed it to make something new.

If you follow the blue footsteps, your journey will lead you to discover another vantage point to understand my story.

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Order in Chaos

My experience with Design Abroad: India had been epic. It deepened my perspectives and made me reevaluate my position in life, including my values, goals, preferences, and the way of living. It solidified in my eyes the importance of system thinking- how each element exists and connects to the wider network, and ultimately impacts it, whether directly or indirectly. I am determined to pursue a design practice combining exploration, transformation and contribution; one that addresses real issues and aims to improve both, the habitat for humanity and for our planet.

My project development had been an epitome of my experience in India from the fuzzy end of scattered ideas to completely changing direction of my concept, to sourcing reclaimed materials and depending on other people’s timeline for it, and finding alternative options of making where facilities were inaccessible.

What touched me the most in India was the energy of the people- warmth and friendliness and that strong sense of community that had become a common theme amongst our reflections. So originally I wanted to create an experiential installation that engaged the people and invited to experience a “taste of India”- a feel for that strong sense of community.

I was trying to understand how that sense of community was being cultivated in India and perhaps how can it be invoked here in the west where alienation is predominant. Population and dense living quarters may contribute to communal bonds, however the same can’t be said about small communities with sparse population who also develop strong ties.

Some of my ideas that tied into those concepts were to come up with some game where people would be engaged to perform certain tasks through a chain of communal effort. Maybe playing with light and shadow several people at once to recreate certain shapes of Indian culture and another group drawing out the shape and guessing it. If it were interesting enough, it would distract them from thinking too much, and join in instead of being withdrawn, and have strangers inside your personal space, which is practically non existant in India! 😛 I was playing with using Indian fabrics for this, or even things like rice bags that would pile up to create thresholds and spaces. I was thinking of searching for sponsors and afterwards, donate them to the needy, so I would go back full circle to the notion of contributing to real issues. But I have some experience with requesting the donations, and the process is too timely for this project, so I abandoned that idea.

In other words, I had to reboot…

I made a mind map of my experiences and looked for things that spoke to me and made connections.

There is so much going on in India that it was difficult to filter it into a concise message. That’s when I zoomed out and began to think about the bigger picture, system scale.

>>This is when I accidentally clicked on “view post”, and I thought I deleted all 1000 words of my blood and sweat writing effort! Almost had a heart attack… :-O  >>

With so much going on in India, it may suffice to say that the rule is that there are no rules! But it may just as much suffice to say that in India, there is order in chaos.

Originally I planned to make a suspended installation, but OCAD may have restrictions about it, so I couldn’t rely on it.

My final installation is a free standing structure that is an analogy for the life in India as it unpacks more meaning the more someone interacts with it. At first glance, the disarray of elements might give the impression of randomness and chaos as the pieces seem detached, and the angles create dynamism and movement. Similarly, in India things are always happening; and with one of the densest populations in the world, you’re always amidst the action! The way people drive there seems how the rest of India functions: rules are loosely followed, and it’s “whoever can get wherever”.

In the above image I was looking for a source of inspiration and ideas for potential materials.

A possibility was to work with cardboard and slot the pieces together without requiring extra materials for connections.

In the above, I was exploring interactive environments and looking to tell a story within it.

My ideal material would be plastic because of it lightness and I could paint it different colours to reflect the vibrancy in India. But it second-hand plastic couldn’t be found. I refused to buy new because it would lose the story, and painting a beautiful old lumber is just wrong.

The final installation is based upon the forces of tension and compression that speak to the existing setting in India. Although infrastructures are in place, they handle more people than they can bear. Yet, somehow it works. Still, the system is old, and it was not designed for the modern bustling India. That aspect is communicated with a 100 year old lumber used as the main structural material, while a new cable is integrated for stronger support and an aspect of modernism similar to India’s current projects of rejuvenation, such as building a new highway and an airport in Mumbai, as well as the planned city, Navi Mumbai, to accommodate the growing population.

Using reclaimed materials was intended to point not only that the system is old and has flaws, but also the opportunities within it. Although there is a lack of infrastructure for waste management, for people it serves as an incentive to make profit. Recycling industry is a giant business in Dharavi slums in Mumbai. Hence, the waste does get managed, but in a different way by people collecting and processing plastic themselves. Thus, used materials are not necessarily disposed; instead, they are put back into cycle within the system. Such was our experience when visiting a scrap yard to source materials, also reflected in my choice of reusing second- hand materials for this project.

The shape of the structure is intentional. On the outside, it appears erratic. However, upon entering and shifting the view upwards, one may notice the elements combine into a geometric shape to show that there is order in chaos. The geometry is derived from the Flower of Life in the Sacred Geometry (as religion has a strong presence in India), which is present in Indian architecture as well as in the design of the Lotus flower, that is also one of the national symbols of India.

As sporadic as Indian living may seem to a foreign eye, there are in fact systems in place, and they are working. However, to gain this perspective, you have to live amidst the elements and let them surround you; that is to say, you have to experience India for yourself as it changes the way you see the world.


India. No words can begin to truly describe the whole spectrum of experience on this trip, so you are ought to travel there and discover it for yourself. A country with rich cultural traditions, historical monuments, warm and friendly people, strong community presence, flaws and contradictions, India has touched my heart; but it had also left me with many questions. What creates this strong community bond? Will it change as the country’s infrastructure changes and becomes more modernized? How can it be cultivated in other parts of the world, including here in Toronto? I think the influence is rooted in childhood and is spread laterally from kids interacting with other people in their environment, but also with the built environment; and most importantly, it is instilled through the parents and the primary caregivers.  Thus, change must come from multiple aspects, which all combine into a network that becomes a force and a driver of progress. India has the potential to have it all.

Over the course of this trip, I was impressed with the warm energy exuding from people anywhere we went, especially children. In comparison, the same is not true for Russia, where people live as humbly, but behave rudely and pessimistically. From the slums to posh neighbourhoods, I’ve felt that people are generally happy. Simple living creates opportunities for meaningful goals and genuine relationships that are not centered around status objects. However, the media is not as conservative. Western tactics are densely present in the media, conditioning people’s thinking and value systems. As well, society is partially transitioning into the modern realm of empowerment, equality and agency for women, while others are still practicing arranged marriages and child marriages, hence the contradiction.

My Indian friend told me that the driving in India is the way the entire country functions. It’s chaotic, there are no rules or rather the rules that do exist are loosely followed. It’s “whoever can get wherever”. India may be lacking proper policies, political stability, safety and good infrastructure, yet people are very entrepreneurial. Wherever some may see lack, they see it as opportunity and seize it. Entire industries are based on that in Dharavi. If the infrastructure for garbage and recycling is not set up, at least people engage in collecting it themselves with an incentive for profit.

Also, I’ve been inspired by the work of local organizations that we have visited, that are created “by the people for the people” so to speak, and make a real difference in their communities. It was invaluable working with Mr. Ali and the boys from KESBO. These boys are bright, self-sufficient, inventive, and they know their priorities. Work done by Sadhana is also commendable and so important. I am proud of the Identity project that Sadhana group has accomplished. It engaged the community while conceiving an original concept with tangible results with logo printing, which has so much potential. For our side, working with KESBO was truly co-designing. I enjoyed engaging with them, and I want to carry co-designing aspect into my practice. It not only captures the needs and perspectives of the users to create a better solution, but also gives them a sense of ownership and responsibility, and allows more growth for the designer. A good design considers the whole system, which it will be a part of, and people make that system.

KESBO building day 2

Mumbai Tour

Saturday morning we were picked up by the auto from Malavli for the weekend Mumbai Tour. The scenery while driving was a beauty! Mountains wrapped around our road with a large dry ravine off to the side, which promises to turn lush green in the monsoon season. We arrived at the Hotel Neelkanth on Linking Street, the main shopping district of the area. We spent our lunch at an interesting place called The Unrestaurant with quirky design and world cuisine: our orders included thai curry, sizzling steak with mashed potatoes, pizza and more.

The highlight of the day was the tour of Mumbai largest slum area, Dharavi. We took photographs upon entering from the bridge, and selectively throughout the area with permission, but otherwise shooting was restricted due to understandable reasons of home privacy. It was striking to learn that Dharavi houses 1 million people in the 1.7 square kilometer area, and that 40% of it is industrial with over a billion-dollar profit. There are assumptions and preconceptions surrounding Dharavi slums, which I, too, had, that stem from not knowing its story. The expectations did not match the reality. This community was hardworking, self-sufficient, close-knit, good-spirited and vibrant. They had their own food market, school, hospital, and businesses. We came across the DJ blasting the tunes and couldn’t afford not to bust a move- just ask Sarah! I left feeling impressed and uplifted. Interestingly, Dharavi is positioned in a prime area of Mumbai, neighbouring very expensive residential properties. We didn’t get to see the inside of the houses, but our tour guide Fahim explained that if the exterior may look rugged and unsightly, the interior space is equipped with showers and toilets (for some), and kept very clean.  On the flip side, the industrial facilities had an intense working environment. Evidently dense and hot, the working conditions were also unsafe in terms of proper safe surroundings, safety equipment and procedures as well as exposure to toxic substances, like when melting the aluminum in order to recycle it. It’s unfortunate that the millionaire industry owners don’t invest into improving the workers’ conditions. As well, not many people who are born and raised in Mumbai visit the slums, repelled by its exterior veil of unsanitary environment. Our other tour guide was one of them; and this was the first time she visited slums at twenty-four years of age. “It was different than I thought”, she shared. Still, with all its controversy, Dharavi has a lot of potential. . This tour was eye opening into another way of life I’ve never seen.