'History is history. Let's now build the future'

Updated: Dec 01, 2019, 08:40 IST | Prutha Bhosle | Mumbai

Karim Rashid makes his second visit to Mumbai, notices the high rises, but scoffs at their lack of context. Contemporary design that speaks to the city it inhabits, is what the man who loves pink, advocates.

Karmausoleum
Karmausoleum

For their 100th cover, Elle Decor India in June 2018, celebrated the milestone by inviting Egyptian-born, Canadian-raised industrial designer Karim Rashid to bring alive his vision of India on their cover. A prolific designer of his generation, Rashid decided to revisit India's sacred building, Taj Mahal. Designed with lightweight cement and displaying perforations inspired by the jaali work of the original building, Rashid offered a 21st-century take on the landmark and called it Karmausoleum. The contemporary design, Rashid, 59, said, was driven by his need to "see people live in the modus of our time, to participate in the contemporary world, and to release themselves from nostalgia, antiquated traditions, old rituals, kitsch".

The University subway station has Rashid’s artworks as part of the Art Station Line 1 project in Naples
The University subway station has Rashid’s artworks as part of the Art Station Line 1 project in Naples

Minutes after wrapping up his talk at I'M DESIGN, a conference and workshop held in collaboration with the India International Furniture Fair (IIFF) at Goregaon's NESCO last week, Rashid is in the VIP room telling us why he thinks nostalgia is dangerous. "It [nostalgia] forces us to believe in or empower the past. Soon, we start to believe the past was better, but it was not. I think that humanity has come a long way, and if we keep looking back, we will never evolve. If we copy the past, we are not really designing. We are making a cheap replica of what already exists. Instead, we need to design something original, nuanced, different and life-changing."

It's the advice that Rashid gives young designers he meets at guest lectures at universities and conferences globally. There is no need to be over-inspired by history, he convinces them. If you want to make a global mark, you should be making contemporary designs. Rashid, who is based in New York city, is behind over 4,000 designs, has won 300 awards, and worked with clients across 40 countries in a career spanning three decades.

Digital Nature, an installation at the Venice Biennale 2016, was designed to be a fantastic visual space that "captures the essence of multisensorial living in our digital age". PIC/Getty Images
Digital Nature, an installation at the Venice Biennale 2016, was designed to be a fantastic visual space that "captures the essence of multisensorial living in our digital age". PIC/Getty Images

This is Rashid's fourth visit to India, and second to Mumbai. He is privy to the presence of the cluster of Victorian and Art Deco buildings in the Fort precinct and Marine Drive. When asked about the risk involved, in case Mumbai and its people want to break themselves free from this rich tradition, he says, "There is no risk involved. We should preserve such structures, of course. But remember, with every tradition we love, we gain a new one." So is the coveted UNESCO World Heritage tag overrated? "No," he clarifies quickly, "History is history. Let's work on building the future now."

Garbo waste bin. PIC/Getty Images
Garbo waste bin. PIC/Getty Images

This time, he says development is evident, especially near a hotel in Goregaon, where he is put up. "Skyscrapers are going up. But they are all banal. They could literally be in any part of the world. They have no relationship with Mumbai, its history and people. It's like we are losing context," he says, disappointed.

So, what would he change about the city's architecture, if he could. Surprisingly, he picks low-income housing. Rashid is a staunch believer in the dictum that everyone deserves access to great design, no matter what their budget. He calls this "designocrasy". "It is interesting how you can build beautiful things from very little. I've done similar projects in Manhattan."

Kasm, concept hotel and condo in Morocco
Kasm, concept hotel and condo in Morocco

When asked to pick his own favourite design, he puts the Garbo on top of the list. Designed almost 25 years ago in America, the stylish and glamorous waste bin has been sold to over a million households. For the longest time, Rashid was worried that the huge success of Garbo would overshadow his other work in furniture, lighting and architecture.

On this note, as the man—known to bring more pink into the masculine world—makes his way to another interview, we ask him if he could give a colour to Mumbai city, what would it be. He does not waver. "I'd give this city a tall, pink building. Or I could build a mini, pink Taj Mahal!"

Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

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