Q&A with Material Immaterial

Coinciding with the London Design Festival this week, Indian Design Platform presents Transformation, an exhibition of objects and installations by contemporary Indian designers whose practises give a second lease of life to unwanted materials.

In curator Arpna Gupta’s words, ‘the exhibition takes inspiration from the culture of recycling and reuse that exists to the extreme in India, exploring the ways in which artists and designers have reinterpreted humble, discarded materials as design objects.’            

We interviewed Nitin Barchha, co-founder and designer at Mumbai-based design studio Material Immaterial whose papier mâché lamps will be on exhibition.



Who makes up Material Immaterial? How did you begin to work with each other?

The Material Immaterial studio was founded by myself and my partner Disney Davis. We met while working together as architects in a studio and then founded our own architectural design practice 'The White Room Studio'. The main motive behind establishing Material Immaterial was to create work that could offer the end user spatial experiences and get them closer to nature through small objects of daily use. The studio aims to go beyond a definitive material or definitive process and aims to focus purely on ideas, limiting the material to be a mere medium of expression.

The studio is built on the basic principles of exploring the bare beauty of materials. As designers we are essentially minimalists and our design approach has always been of what to leave out, rather than what to put in. This reduction process is what takes one through a mirror, emerging out on the other side to discover richness, like in the subtle differences between five shades of grey or in different textures of concrete. Through our work the studio strives to challenge the purpose of material and lets design be at the helm of things.

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What are you exhibiting at Transformation?

The Bell Flower Cloud lamp is ceiling mounted with clusters of bell flowers drooping down, they incorporate the texture the buoyancy and the feeling of lightness.

The Mushroom lamp is inspired by a real mushroom taking form and its intricate texture replicating gills with its stalk. The light is hidden, and only the glow visible once the lamp is fixed onto a wall.

The Trumpet lamp is inspired from the flower Angel's Trumpets. It is suspended from the ceiling and has mirrors inside which reflect and focus the light downwards. The texture on the outer surface is smooth and the texture inside is made rough.



Where do your ideas come from?

For the Organic collection they came from nature, be it mushrooms, mosses, ferns or flowers.

How are your products made?

The products are made from recycled newspapers which is then ground into a pulp mixed with glue and converted into papier mâché.

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What led you to work with papier mâché?

The Organic collection is the first product line from our studio. We used papier mâché as it gives us the flexibility of use and allows us to explore different possibilities of form and texture inspired from nature.

We wanted a material that was lightweight, flexible (so that we could create organic forms) and is inexpensive (raw material). We started experimenting with paper in different forms and eventually landed at papier mâché. This was the only material that had all the qualities that I required and was also easily available.

The first experiment using papier mâché was a pen stand that still stands at my studio. Slowly over time, we perfected the techniques required trying various permutations and combinations. After about two years of continuous experimentation, the resulting papier mâché was exactly what we were looking for.



Name three local designers to keep an eye out for?

Devyani Smith studio pottery
Ajay Shah from ASDS
Aziz Kachwalla from At-Tin

What is good design?

Good design is minimal, aesthetic & forever.


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Photography by LOVER studio for Create Culture.


Transformation is the second edition of Indian Design Platform, an exhibition by Create Culture at The Guardian Gallery, London between 19th and 25th September. More details here.