Rooted in Curiosity

Multifaceted award-winning designer Satyendra Pakhalé talks about his work, passion and guiding principles in an interview with ANUJA ABRAHAM

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Satyendra Pakhalé has gained a reputation of sorts for designing diverse product typologies, pushing the limits of technology and materials.  Though he established his practice in 1998 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, he has always been active internationally in the field of industrial design, transportation and architecture design. He was trained at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and later at the Art Centre College of Design Europe, Switzerland. After a stint at frog design inc, he was instrumental in conceiving project ideas in digital communication and transportation at Philips Design in the mid 90s.

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Today renowned companies such as Alcantara, Cappellini, Franke, Fiam, Hästens, Moon Life Foundation, Poltrona Frau, Novartis and TOD’s rank among his clients. In 2008 he was selected as one of L’Uomo Vogue Magazine’s 80 most influential creative people in Design and Architecture worldwide. Recently he received the prestigious ‘IITB – Distinguished Alumnus Award 2013’ for exemplary achievements in the field of design, the ‘Bharat Samman 2013’ and ‘NRI Award 2012’ by Non-Resident Indian Institute, London.

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The evolving self

Following a series of projects in electronics and transportation design, his first-ever interior product was the Fish Chair which is produced by Cappellini, Italy. Though it was designed in the 90s, it was launched in the early 2000 in Milan which thereby met with an overwhelming market response. Recently, they celebrated the 10th anniversary of production of Fish Chair. He strongly propagates curiosity, deep engagement and an ability to question everything (particularly conventions and traditions) as essential to being a designer. That kind of mindset prepares one for innovation and creation.

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Design as a profession has a profound cultural contribution to any given society. “For us a design project itself is a cultural act,” he states. “Good design touches lives of people and goes beyond utility, in a true sense it becomes part of life, creating a lasting impact on culture and way of living.” In that sense, he doesn’t overtly indicate ‘styles’ instead comprehends design as an expression of modernity that has something new to offer to life.

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Surprisingly, his source of inspiration stems from ‘curiosity about human condition on our tiny planet.’ His work ethos is strongly driven by this curiosity – the perception of atmospheres that evoke all senses including the ‘sense of thought.’ “What I am after is to create a ‘poetic sensorial quality’ in every project,” he avers.

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Several designers from the past and contemporary eras have left a lasting impression on him including the likes of Shiro Kuramata from Japan and George Nelson from the USA. “If we could think of collaborating with a designer, that would be Issey Miyake from Japan for his deeply rooted yet state-of-the-art industrial technological products, but collaborating with film director could as well be wonderful” he says.

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Designs in the offing

At any given time, Pakhalé and his team are involved on a wide range of projects – that can broadly be clustered together as industrial design, technological ventures and architectural projects. They will soon be launching a new version of Assaya, the centenary armchair with puff, side table and lap tray for Poltrona Frau at Orgatec 2016 in Germany.

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“Right now we are engaged with innovative technological product design that can be manufactured in a new way with venture capital support. Besides we are engaged with resolving the complexity of air travel and transits at mega airports and how to make it more human and enjoyable. As regards architecture, we are conceiving a multi-use cultural centre where the practice of creation is core. We are also focused working on putting all the body of works in a ‘monograph’ with the international publisher ‘SKIRA’,” he informs.

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At the Venice Design 2016, Pakhalé will be integrating his innovative add-On Radiator produced by the Venetian design manufacturer TUBES Radiatori into a tectonic space, nearly three metre high. ‘Carving the Senses’ – as he calls this archi-sculpture – will invite viewers to experience its atmosphere through form, colour, texture and light by evoking all senses at once. He explains, “The moment one puts an object in space it already becomes architecture. Architecture is not merely a building, but the expression of the human ability to inhabit the space through form. As a consequence, for us it has been a natural progression to be engaged with architecture over several years.”

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On his journey

Pakhalé has lectured throughout the world on platforms such as CeBIT Germany, Casa Brasil and Future Design Days Sweden. “‘Design as a universal poetry’ is an issue close to our heart. How design can connect people from around the world and how is the human condition on our planet is our deep curiosity. This has been the continuous thread in all our design activities, let alone conference papers,” states Pakhalé. Despite professing design, he is averse to giving advices. He believes ‘advice is a bad voice’ as every individual needs to carve their own path.

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His notable works are on display at some of the most prestigious museums around the world which includes the Victoria and Albert Museum London, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Centre Pompidou, Paris.

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On being asked to share an anecdote that entails his success, he quips, “Unlike professions like cinema or music where one project can make you a ‘star’, in design it is quite the opposite. It is an artist’s repertoire that ‘makes’ him. So to tell you of all the incidences spanning over a quarter of a century now, I might as well pen down an autobiography.” A proposal he sincerely considers…

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