Bangalore the ‘design city’ of the future

Asked to imagine the design city of the future, you might have visions of glittering, iconic towers, sleek hover bikes and elegantly minimal white uniforms.

You probably wouldn’t think of the busy flower market in Bangalore, India. Yet Bangalore was heralded as a future design city in Design Cities: Where Next?, a debate held at the Design Museum in London last month.

The debate followed the Design Museum’s current Design Cities 1851-2008 exhibition, which argues that seven cities have each enjoyed a ‘moment’ when they have affected the history of design.

The culmination of a partnership between the Design Museum and the British Council, the debate pitted four international experts against each other to champion a city of their choice as the world’s next design hub. Professor MP Ranjan, of Ahmedabad’s National Institute of Design, was the clear winner, trumping the arguments made for Moscow, Beijing and São Paulo with his presentation on Bangalore.

For Professor Ranjan, Bangalore represents not only India’s rapidly expanding economy, but a socially conscious community that can teach the world about what he calls the ‘intangible’ aspects of design. The city’s vibrancy lies not in an industrial revolution, but in design solutions being implemented on a local or household level. ‘Design at that level is not about aesthetics,’ he says. ‘It’s more about how you understand feelings.’

As a real-world example of this theory, the professor cites the Industree Craft Foundation, an enterprise in Bangalore that harnesses the skills of local and rural artisans to produce a range of woven bags, lamps and furniture. The company has created employment for 16 000 rural women.

‘They applied the design mind and this is what they came up with,’ says Ranjan, ‘I’m not saying it couldn’t happen somewhere else, but in Bangalore it has already happened. And it’s wonderful.’

Another company, the Daily Dump, has designed an innovative range of home-composting products that help to reduce and recycle household waste, which in Bangalore is 70 per cent organic. Both these projects are, according to Ranjan, evidence that if design attends to small-scale details it can produce globally inspiring solutions. ‘This is a local design resource,’ he says. ‘If we understand not to imitate, but to integrate it into our thinking and respond in a new and contemporary way, we’ll have a new mode of expression.’

Ranjan believes that everything from post offices to airport security checks can benefit from the application of the ‘design mind’, and that the purpose of a design city is to provide a proliferation of alternatives, rather than a paragon of practice. ‘The assumption is that you need one little peak to set an example,’ he says. ‘This belies the fact that, in design, you can have many winners. In that sense, we have the possibility of many design cities, design villages, a design neighbourhood.’

Design Cities – the runners up

Moscow – The Russian capital has seen a sudden boom in design in the past decade after a stagnant period in the 1990s, and is now ‘ready to inspire’, according to Denis Cherdantsev of design website
Beijing – Editor and graphic designer Ou Ning argued for Beijing’s patronage of daring architecture and ability to combine the latest in design with traditional Chinese ideas
São Paulo – The favelas and colourful traditions of São Paulo provide exciting challenges and opportunities for the designer, says architect Ruy Ohtake. He called for the adoption of an exuberant ‘baroque’ aesthetic that could challenge the strong Modernist tradition of this city of 27 million

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