| by Jamila Sidhpurwala | 1 comment

Globalization of interior design – preserving identity in the Instagram age

Did you think I am about to appreciate the way we are adapting the same designs everywhere in the World because of globalization? Sorry, but no. Don’t get me wrong, I love that we live in a world where it’s possible to get the same materials, technology and love for spaces, be it in India or Italy. I love that thematic spaces have become a reality because of the internet revolution and we are able to constantly keep track of what’s happening abroad in terms of design and tech. However, that has saturated our minds to the extent that original ideas are being tossed out in exchange of blind imitation of more successful designers. The globalization of interior design has led us to slowly design non-places as Marc Augé talks about in his book – Non Places. Let’s discuss!

It is a no-brainer that spaces like airports, malls, fire-escapes or cinema halls are being designed similarly around the World. If you’ve been to one mall in one city, you’ve been to them all. Its obvious because these are highly universal spaces and quite appropriately so because a wide variety of people use them. Thus, it is logical to design these spaces in the some language so as not to cause mass confusion. There are also big technicalities in a place like an airport or movie hall and these are strict standards to be followed to achieve a usable output. The result is a non-place, defined in the book as ‘a place with no real identity, a ‘cataloguish’ space which can be found anywhere’. Rightfully so, escalators and lifts are same worldwide, so are car parks, ramps, security rooms or smoking areas. Forced originality can also be a bane.

Yet, what irks me is the mindless copy paste of spaces which could’ve been more than a Pinterest bookmark. I have mentioned earlier that there is a fine line between inspiration and duplication. That line becomes more and more blurry every day when we move away from vernacular, local methodologies and towards aping aesthetics. This is not a revelation for today, but has been going on for several years when under developing countries adopted the tech and advancements from the developed ones, which led them to design, construct and live like them. This can be seen not only in architecture and built form, but also in art forms like books, movies, graphics and so on. Interiors is no different.

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Many designers in India today lament this very phenomenon – the globalization of interior design. Even if they want to create original designs, complimenting our ethics and sensibilities in India, the clients just don’t go for that. Their image of a good space comes from what they absorb on the internet, or through their travels to foreign countries. However, what glitters is not always gold. The designer of that particular space which impresses them, lent a great deal of thought to the space, the context, the climate, budget and material availability. But, an imitation of that same design in India wouldn’t be contextual or smart. It would also gradually start limiting our thirst for newness or reasoning.

This trend seems to be taking root in the interiors of the rich mostly – people who have seen and visited beautiful places and want to recreate them in India. It is not wrong to want the comfort and synergy of developed countries. But, the process and the approach towards every space needs to stem out of the space itself. Similar to airports and malls, the interior landscape is also turning into a non-place. This is to say that if we have visited one bar or retail store – we’ve seen them all. Another downside of this copy-paste culture is that people who come to visit these places have also seen the Pinterest/Instagram original of the same. This leads to a deja vu feeling even on the first visit. The same designs for furniture, walls, color palette and decor is tried and tried again everywhere making the once sought after design – a mere repetition.

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What works and what doesn’t work? Following current trends and being in the same design era as all others in our community is inevitable. Yet, we need to broaden our research methods and start asking ‘why’ more often. Research doesn’t end online, it is a continuous process which is central to the design outcome. Original thinking and idea generation is what interiors is truly about. Using modern technology to mould the materials we find in India, recreating trends with a ‘desi’ twist, adapting colors and decor to our society and giving others something to copy are some methods which might actually work. 

Contemporary Indian designers like Eugene Pandala, Habeeb Khan, Gayathri and Namith etc. are trying to bring back vernacular design. They are proving that in order to make buildings more Indian, it isn’t necessary to shun modern tech and comfort. Indian buildings when imagined earlier were mud or wood houses, brick buildings with ‘Kavelu’ roofs and courtyards or ‘Angans’. Busting these old-school images are interior designers like B.V. Doshi, Sanjay Puri, Morphogenesis, SOM, Cadence, etc. Thinking about Indian context, climate and usage is a key USP of their designs. Mind bending interiors albeit in a ‘desi’ context which people can relate to, marks the authenticity of their thought and design. Something to learn from (not copy).

Author: Jamila Sidhpurwala

Jamila is one part artist, two parts foodie, and all parts traveler. She is a patron of good art and design and loves to immerse herself in books and music. Simplicity and minimalism is her motto as an architect. A writing enthusiast, she surrounds herself with all things creative. She actively shuns all “ists” and “isms” and firmly believes in a “no – label” world! She isn’t afraid to take risks, speak her mind, push forward and challenge preconceptions. She is currently pursuing Masters in Architecture at the University of Liechtenstein.

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