In a press release by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), five India architects unveiled their designs for the traditional jhoola, an Indian swing seat, at a gala launch at INDEX Mumbai, which took place at the Jio World Convention Centre (JWCC) from 26-28 May 2023.
A design collaboration launched by AHEC and THINK! Design, the REIMAGINE project challenged architects Annkur Khosla, Naresh V Narasimhan, Prem Nath, Sanjay Puri and Sonali & Manit Rastogi to recreate that quintessentially Indian piece of furniture using American hardwoods.
This is said to be AHEC’s biggest design collaboration to date in India. The swings were manufactured by Bram Woodcrafting Studio, based in Mysore, and with Melbourne-based Adam Markowitz serving as a mentor for the project.
Speaking at the launch, Roderick Wiles, AHEC regional director, said: “Jhoolas, which were a common sight in many Indian households, seem to have fallen out of favour in recent times. Nonetheless, they continue to have an allure on account of the memories they carry.
“For REIMAGINE, the architects were asked to draw on their childhood memories of playfulness, their teenage years of angst and to temper these with ‘grown-up’ elegance in a furniture piece for a contemporary context — a limited edition, legacy piece made out of American hardwoods.
“The architects were given the option to select from three species, be it a single species or a combination, which were American cherry, maple and red oak.”
According to Annkur Khosla, the inspiration for her design was the aspect of weaving and the entire process involving the warp and weft of threads. Woodworking at its inherent level of joinery does not follow this as a process and the aim was to explode the limitations of woodworking while also pushing the limits of the material.
Sanjay Puri’s swing was designed to look monolithic and fluid simultaneously with the seat, armrests and back merging into each other creating a sculptural look. Whilst it can be used as a swing, it is also designed to appear as an art form.
The design thought and inspiration behind Sonali Rastogi’s piece was primarily focused on addressing the shift in communication caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
With physical distancing measures in place, the design aimed to create an opportunity for people to reconnect with their friends and close mates in a safe and socially distanced manner. The swing design was chosen as it provides a comfortable seating arrangement that allows individuals to relax and engage in conversation while maintaining the necessary distance.
The form of Naresh Narasimhan’s swing seat is derived from the Veena, a popular element in Hindola Raga paintings. Historically, swings were often depicted in activities in Royal palaces in various forms of Indian miniature paintings. Ragamala paintings, a form of Indian miniature paintings, are a set of illustrative paintings of the Ragamala or ‘Garland of Ragas’, depicting variations of the Indian musical modes called ragas.
His swing borrows ideas of movement, rhythm and asymmetry from the paintings; the intent of the form is to be able to choose the seating experience on the swing – fun, relaxed and playful.
For Prem Nath, the Indian Swing is a feature of playful outdoor combination of strings and plank hung from the branches of tree or an ornate piece of indoor furniture, which gives thrills and gentle joys of swinging motion and mood.
While thinking of his design and in trying to reimagine the design for the Indian Swing, time and again Prem’s answer was that the Indian Swing must look like an ‘INDIAN SWING’. His design has been conceived with neo-classical features with soft minimal Indian ornamentation.
The architects, when designing for this project, were asked to factor in both the environmental impact and human health and wellbeing.
While non-wood materials needed to be used, such as metal for framing and fixtures, glues, resins and coatings, AHEC encouraged the designers to consider the environmental impact of these materials in the overall design. American hardwoods have a low environmental impact, and they can act as a carbon store.
Working with solid timber
Commenting on his involvement, Adam Markowitz, said: “Architects by nature of their profession need to be generalists in a huge range of areas that comprise the built form, and as a result often don’t have the detailed knowledge of working with solid timber, which is a material that has great complexity.
“Solid timber needs to be worked with, rather than against — when you try to make timber do something timber does not want to do — the timber usually wins.
“Manufacturers therefore have a range of very real-world considerations determining their decision making — they want to make things quickly, efficiently and in a way that means it will hold together for a long time without any problems.
“However, sometimes the strongest, most efficient and longest lasting solution does not deliver the best design outcome. Mediating between these two sometimes polar approaches of design and manufacturing can be challenging, and requires flexibility and agility on the part of the designer, and sensitivity and an understanding of the bigger picture from the manufacturer.”
Sylvia Khan, founder and creative, THINK! Design, said: “Curating and executing the initiative in India has been both exhilarating and traumatic, wonderful to see the concept unfold and gain form while undertaking the activity in the Indian milieu, with its several attendant challenges. But finally, such a sense of accomplishment and sheer joy and pride in what we have managed to pull off, together.”
“Working with the AHEC team on the REIMAGINE project, has been an absolute pleasure and a proud moment for the Bram Woodcrafting Studio team,” added Bram Rouws, founder and director, Bram Woodcrafting Studio. “To have indirectly worked on these five beautiful designs, it was amazing to see the final product come together and we are proud of what we had achieved.”
“With REIMAGINE, our goal was to engage the A+D community and the public at large in the appreciation of sustainable hardwoods, of which the US is a leading supplier,” Wiles commented.
“Bringing together the creativity of some of India’s most eminent architects, we wanted to showcase the beauty of their work and the loveliness and immense capabilities of the hardwoods that have been used.”
AHEC would also like to acknowledge Abenaki Timber Corporation and Costaa Woods for providing the American hardwood lumber needed for the project.