One of the great things about being an entrepreneur is that you get to meet, even socially, some really interesting people. One such person whom I met last week is Ranjan De, whose chequered career includes design, advertising, education and engineering, all suffused with loads and loads of creativity.
When we met last, Ranjan showed me the work he has been doing in designing cardboard furniture. To be more precise, cardboard carton furniture, which is created out of two large unfolded cardboard cartons, which are manipulated without using any glue. This is like doing origami on an industrial scale.
This work was done by Ranjan and his students at the Pearl Academy of Fashion, where he taught till recently. First, Ranjan introduces his students to the manipulation of spatial structures, and concepts of rigidity and fitting. He then encourages them to come up with concept sketches, and build small, scale models out of ivory card. If these models are able to withstand load – he places his palm on top of the model and presses down, and if the model buckles it must be redesigned – the next step is to bring them to life with real cardboard.
Here are a few examples of his students’ work:
The work of Ranjan and his students is phenomenally inspiring. They do not look as furniture as something that occupies space; they look at space as something to be molded by furniture.
It is also mind-boggling in its implications. Already, Ikea and their ilk have ‘liberated’ furniture; it is no longer necessary to be very, very rich to have beautiful furniture in your house, and you can pack an entire drawing room of furniture into a lie-flat box which can be assembled in half an hour with nothing more than a Phillips screwdriver and an Allen key. With the kind of ideas that Ranjan is talking about, though, you don’t even need to have a fixed idea of how you want your house to look. Think about it: ten housefuls of furniture folded and stored in the loft, looking like nothing more than cardboard sheets, but every season you could rearrange your house by dragging out the appropriate couches and coffee tables and futons, and inflating them. And if you want a new couch or a bedside table, you can buy one – for six hundred rupees. Furniture: the new clothing.
And what better option, really, for the environmentally conscious? As whole new hordes of people move into the house-owning, furniture-shopping classes, instead of cutting down trees to lounge on or eat food off, we would just reuse the boxes in which our washing machines and refrigerators arrive. Moving house would be so simple: put the electronics and movables into the furniture, ship it away, and reconstruct everything when you reach your new house.
Ranjan’s work reminds me of a couple of other things I have seen. One is the work of my friend, fellow-inventor and frequent collaborator, Ramesh Manickam, who runs Centroid Design. A few years back, he built a reconfigurable hotel room which worked almost like a pop-up book; press a button, a wall slides, and out pops an office table, chairs and a bookshelf: instant office. Press another button, and another wall slides down, all of the office furniture pops back into various nooks and crevices, and a bed, a closet and a couch pop up: the office is now a bedroom. Ramesh’s hotel room was solid engineering, built with heavy motors and steel walls, and an ingenious creation.
And that, in turn, reminds me of Gary Chang, who, in a wondrous act of partition and reconfiguration, converted a 344 sqft apartment into 24 different rooms.
Now if that isn’t playing with space, well, what is?!