DS Group Corporate Museum
Noida | 2014
The DS Group grew from a small perfumery shop in Delhi into a large enterprise that continues to diversify and expand today. Wanting a dynamic museum to bring alive corporate history from their origins to the present, we worked with the client reconstructing their story and conceptualising an immersive narrative through visual and experiential metaphors where history and the aspirations of all generations come together in a compelling storyline.
A storyline was established, and we designed using the widest range of media - art installations, hand-made crafts, realistic mannequins, accurate replicas of period artefacts, VFX and SFX, specially composed music, all integrated into a programmed dramatic and emotional show, an artistic representation of the company’s very essence and identity. The use of embedded technology emphasized different aspects of the story.
The Journey - the story of the DS corporate group is narrated as a powerful spatial experience in five sections, each unique in their treatments, experiences evoked, skills and technologies employed.
A conceptual holding area, the Forest of Fragrances depicts the bedrock of their business based on fragrances and their origins as purveyors of aromas. Inside an enchanted forest of eight fragrances an ambient soundtrack plays, embroidered and digital print fabric screens, inlaid stone pathways, wood-cut panels, handcrafted birds, flowers and a leafy canopy, motion-triggered scent machines, all make up the elements in the Forest.
The Introduction area leads in from the Forest, offering a glimpse into where the founder of the group worked. A theatre set recreation of the founder’s actual office and laboratory has him represented in a life-like mannequin seated at his original desk.
Next, Chandni Chowk takes visitors on a walk through where it all began. A dramatic re-enactment of the primary founder’s story beginning in 1929 old Delhi, recounts how a small trading enterprise becomes a large manufacturing concern. Designed as a modular theatre set, it moves visitors through events unfolding in an immersive timeline ending in 1969.
The next zone of the museum is the innovative telling of the corporate story from 1979 onwards, enlivened by a narration set in song. An encircling 360° cyclorama has 13 projectors beaming a film rich in computer graphics celebrating their dynamic spirit and growth, and their emphasis on quality, innovation and enterprise. The larger-than-life moving images transport visitors to the modern-day DS Group, a completely different world from the previous section.
Finally, the Treasure Room has the Group’s products showcased like precious jewels in glass cubes, uniquely designed like their products. A modern streetscape with a futuristic look and feel emerges between the cubes. This section, non-linear and unprogrammed, highlights brand personalities through artistic installations, kinetic sculptures and digital interactivity illuminating their present businesses and new ventures.
Sant Nirankari Mission
Delhi | 2013
The Nirankari Sarovar Complex in north Delhi is considered a holy place by followers of the Nirankari faith. After the River Yamuna changed course, the old riverbed was reclaimed and developed with great love by the Nirankari Mission into a large park that included other facilities. It is open to all, regardless of status, caste and creed. People visit it as a place of recreation, an evening out. Or they come as pilgrims, taking a dip in the water body, visiting the Museum which too was designed by us to learn about the Mission and Founder, attend formal gatherings, or to watch the amazing sound and light show at the Fountain of Oneness.
The Nirankari Mission wanted a water-based installation in the heart of the park to bring forth the essence of the faith, its core values. Oneness. The source of all humanity is one. In that sense, all are equal and so equality leads to peace and harmony. The Fountain represents this through a simple, illustrative graphic element of people in a circle joining hands.
In the midst of this circle is an authentically stained-glass double globe of the Earth. The outer layer conveys the impression of opening up to reveal the inner earth – the core, a metaphor for the soul, a recognition of Oneness with people celebrating all around. Signifying love for the planet, for the earth and love for all people. The lotus ponds surrounding this installation signify living waters. The misting around the globe adds an ethereal feel when the show commences with a beautiful song specially composed to deliver the message from Babaji, the living Guru. This seems to expand from the water to become a projection-based show that now shows Babaji in person.
Thousands of visitors see this show every weekend, heightened by water effects, water screens, water-resistant lights and audio enveloping the atmosphere in a warm glow.
Khalsa Heritage Museum
Anandpur Sahib | Punjab | 2011
To commemorate the Tercentenary year of the Birth of the Khalsa in 1999, the Virasat-e-Khalsa at Anandpur Sahib is an inspiring tribute to the heroic and poignant saga of the Sikhs and the Punjab. The building is designed by internationally acclaimed architect, Moshe Safdie.
We were given spaces as high as 18 metres and galleries of large volumes. We had no artefacts, memorabilia, antiques and similar items to go with. But given the extraordinary historical, emotive, spiritual, cultural content available, we decided to make it a dynamic, storytelling museum. By developing a language fitting with the architecture, we made it into a hand made museum. A severe lack of visual content led our extensive research to history depicted through art and folk stories, apart from documented history. Recreating history through artistic representation and craft techniques, the solution was unique as we stayed true to the form and style of the 15th century and later periods in each of the galleries telling the early stories of the Sikhs and the birth of the Khalsa. Film was used to animate stories, staying true to styles of relevant periods. Using available talent in India of both contemporary and folk art and craft, we created a unique Indian language which at the same time, remained true to Punjab.
Carefully inserting very savvy technology we emphasized emotional impact. Communication was resolved with sensor-activated audio guides and took visitors through story-telling environments within various immersive experiences. In the very first gallery, a non-linear experience using art, technology and music has no equal anywhere.
Visitors are primarily from rural populations and oral traditions, as well as urban residents, participating in an emotional experience of their story and not just an intellectual one. The success of our museum design is evident from the huge footfalls: 20,00,000 visitors in the very first year, and over 52,00,000 in the last three and a half years. For a remote location like Anandpur Sahib, this outstanding response is eventually due to good aesthetics and our innovative design in telling the story of Sikhism and the birth of the Khalsa.
Phase 2 of the continuing story of Sikhism at the Virasat-e-Khalsa museum is close to completion. The final total area of 68,000 square feet will rank it among the top museums of the world.
Sashu Vaswani Museum | Pune
Sadhu T. L. Vaswani was a prolific writer, a poet, a mystic, a sage, a social emancipator and a servant of the poor. A firm believer in the values of India’s ancient culture, inspired by the spirit of service and illumined by the love of God, he opened educational institutions, established ashrams and centres of spiritual culture and worked to serve the poor.
Sadhu Vaswani’s philosophy of life finds expression in multifarious activities in several social, cultural and spiritual activities of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission, under the present spiritual leadership of Dada Jashan. A renowned humanitarian organization headquartered in Pune, and centres all over India and abroad, the Mission strives to serve humanity in the fields of education, medicine, moral, social, cultural and spiritual awakening.
The Sadhu Vaswani Museum in Pune is dedicated to the noted Sindhi saint and scholar. A biographical museum, it offers an insight into the life and teachings of Sadhu Vaswani. The museum in a space of 10,000 sft, is on the first floor of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission Heritage Building.
A journey into Sadhu Vaswani’s life, the museum creates an entertaining, educative and moving experience for the soul through a series of immersive spatial experiences rich in audio, video and multimedia, culminating in where he spent his last years. It is essentially a repository of his teaching in the form of interactive and participatory exhibits engaging both young and old visitors.
Made at par with international standards, this museum uses a vast palette of technologies: animatronics, graphic panels, 3D projection systems, interactives, AV FX, et al. Dividing the space into a series of audio isolated zones, we narrated the story through a series of multimedia light and sound shows. Each space is unique in its design treatment where together film, sets, special effects, dioramas, art installations, and mannequins enhance and create an immersive experience.
The India Pavillion, World Expo, Aichi, Japan
The World Expo is the only non-trade fair of such a scale in the world, the first one held in Paris in 1851 at the peak of the Industrial Revolution. “During the long course of human history, the World Expo not only demonstrated the fruitful achievement of different times, but also reflected people’s deep understanding of industry, science and technology, culture and ethnicity. At the same time, the history of World Expo is also a history of people’s evolving and advancing evaluation of the civilization they have created.” In fact, the Eiffel Tower was originally built as a temporary gateway to the 1900 Exposition Universelle, the World’s Fair in Paris.
In 2005 the World Expo was hosted by Japan in the historical prefecture of Aichi, a place of natural beauty, rich in culture and tradition. The India Pavilion designed by Design Habit and built by Meroform India, had Nature’s Wisdom as its theme. We were short of time, with less than a year to put it together after ensuring that we followed all the exacting Japanese standards. With very low budgets, we developed a modern Indian contemporary language that celebrated the ‘spirit of the hand’ and nature. All the elements of nature used in the design of the pavilion were hand-made using popular everyday crafts.
In India, Nature’s wisdom is inherent in our way of life. We used artistic images of the flowering trees of India as the façade and a gateway of marigold garlands as the entrance. The Indian folk tale, ‘The Flowering Tree’ was the central link. A tree handmade with craft and placed in the centre of the pavilion represented the Bodhi tree in the centre of a village.
‘Under the Bodhi Tree’ was the title of the India pavilion. This instantly established the link between India and Japan through the Buddha. It turned out to be among the top four pavilions with the highest visitor flow.
MAHINDRA & MAHINDRA Corporate Exhibition
Auto Expo | New Delhi
A decade after designing and building exhibitions for the Mahindra & Mahindra group, we were given the responsibility for the Auto Expo in 2000. This was an important and significant project as M&M were to launch their new marque, the Scorpio. However, as things turned out, the Scorpio was not yet ready to be unveiled to the world, and we were in a situation where we had no ‘hero’ car to pivot the design on. We had the entire stable of M&M vehicles but not the one that would be the head-turner.
Nevertheless, we found a way to make the space exciting—an entire hall in New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan—and established the brand prominently in the auto industry. Taking a cue from Bollywood, we created a mix of sets and hoardings using their vehicles as props. A huge cube sat in the centre made of one way glass displaying the group’s new logo. Around this, scenes typical of Bollywood movies unfolded. A village fair attacked by dacoits it, causing two sons to be separated from their family. A chawl, a tenement setting in Bombay, where the lost son lives, driving a Mahindra auto, inspired by real-life actor Govinda. The other son, a police officer driving a Mahindra Jeep, inspired by a typical Hindi film character usually played by Amitabh Bachchan. Another scene follows in the dacoits’ hideout, with their leader riding a Mahindra sports Jeep. A beautiful young woman is held captive and both separated brothers, unaware of their common paternity, land up to successfully rescue her. Both brothers fall in love with her until the final scene where the brothers battle it out with the dacoits. A Mahindra armoured Jeep figures here. The dacoit leader dies as does the brother who was separated, and the other brother wins the girl.
A happy ending has as its finale a Bollywood style dance number choreographed by Astad Deboo. The dancers are in the glass cube and reveals them in all their filmy glory to the audience who they cannot see because of the one-way mirror. The dance energy is the climax to the show which made the Mahindra and Mahindra exhibition the most popular of that year’s Auto Expo.
Dance of the Wind (1997), Samsara (2001), Shadows of time (2004),
The Partition (2006), Last Days of the Raj (2006), Parched (Unreleased)
Production design for films is a natural extension of the work we do as designers of spatial communication. In this medium, we work with pre-assembled storylines and the director’s vision. We realise visual spaces for the film by adding physically to the look. We work in envisioning the characters, their personalities and each scene and location from a spatial point of view, looking at colours, sets, props and so on.
Our work has spanned creating conceptual spaces as in ‘Dance of the Wind’ and ‘Samsara’, both Indo-German productions, where we had to work with real spaces and be highly sensitive to the choice of colours, props etc. all blended seamlessly with the story to establish the given spaces, to the exacting standards of German films like ‘Shadows of Time’ where production design was planned and executed to the T.
‘Partition’, a Canadian production, required us to build a village from scratch to be set in a 1947 scene. We did that, successfully ageing the sets and props and providing an authentic look and feel to the film. In ‘Parched’, an American production, we also built a village with a dance hall which featured as an important element in the film.
Our production design work in films has been exciting, opening up new vistas as we worked with international film makers in India.
Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1989
1989. Forty years after the Constitution of India was formally adopted by our newly independent nation. That year, the Victoria and Albert Museum wanted to dedicate a gallery to their Indian collection and for the inauguration they wanted an exhibition to depict modern India.
As a country we were celebrating forty years as a republic, and were also marking the centenary year of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India and the acknowledged architect of the nation moving into modernity. We used huge heights of up to 60 feet to put up scaffolding as an apt metaphor to show a nation under construction and upon which we mounted the exhibition. The floor plan as the layout of a mandala, depicted our ancient civilisation. The central area had the four pertinent questions Nehru put to the nation in his seminal work, ‘Discovery of India’. These led to four non-linear galleries on ancient India, India’s struggle for freedom, India now, and the modern India represented through poetry, art and creative writing. Hand-woven fabrics, offering a tactile experience, hung from the scaffolding and they acted as metaphors for the old and new country striving for an equitable balance.
The late Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister of Great Britain, inaugurated the exhibition which was well received by all visitors.
Travelling Exhibition, Festival of India, USSR, 1988-1989
Soon after Mikhail S Gorbachev set in motion his policy of ‘perestroika’ and ‘glasnost’ in 1985, the Festival of India in the USSR took place over 1988 and 1989. ‘Gandhi: An Indian Revolution’ was part of this exhibition, opening in Moscow on Gandhi’s birth anniversary and travelling to the site of the largest and bloodiest battle in the history of warfare in which the Germans were routed in the Battle of Stalingrad leading to the end of World War II, now known as to Volgograd, to Novosibirsk and Irkutsk in Siberia in winter.
We had to present Gandhi to a foreign people and nation not familiar with Indian history and culture. At the same time, we had to bring out the sense of India, the attitudes, its rich culture along with the Mahatma, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s unifying vision in his thoughts and actions, his universal diktat of being the change you want to see.
In spaces that varied from 10,000 square feet in Moscow to under 5000 square feet in Volgograd, we also had to brave the extreme winter of Russia and define a visual language that would emerge from the architectural and spatial elements in Gandhi’s life. From his cement and brick plaster house in his birthplace of Porbandar, we showed the exposed brickwork of his life in London, thereby showing his personality opening up. We moved to his sojourn in South Africa, to the harsh metal of the railway station where he was thrown out when he dared to sit in a Whites-only train coach, to the corrugated metal of the roofs of Tolstoy Farm, a softening and change in his personality once again, as he began his experiments with satyagraha. From there to his wooden home in Ahmedabad and finally to the mud houses of Sevagram. Gandhi’s persona emerged through the architecture he had occupied throughout his life. We also used verses from the Bhagavad-gita, a book he constantly read, as the philosophical anchor to the narrative we had designed.
Very well received wherever it travelled to in the USSR, it found a permanent home in a town near Irkutsk.
Matighar, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, 1990-1991
The IGNCA, through the good offices of Dr Kapila Vatsyayan, eminent scholar and historian, organised a series of events which featured major exhibitions along with associated seminars and symposiums, and cultural activities based on fundamental themes such as Khaam—on Space, Aakar—on Form, Kaal—on Time, and Prakriti—on the five elements of nature, the latter two designed by us. Invitees included leading scholars, scientists, historians, and artists who made presentations on the theme.
Kaal was an exhibition we designed after extensive research of eight primary civilisations in the world. We looked at how they responded to the notion of time. We juxtaposed this with tribal communities and their relationship to the passage of days, as well as to modern science, and the concept of time in art, sculpture and poetry.
These were the early days of multimedia technology and we used it to great effect. IGNCA went so far as to build a new space called Matighar to host the exhibition, which is still in use.
Various locations, 1997 to 2005
We had been doing thematic exhibition works for almost a decade—Gandhi, Nehru, Kala, others (hyperlink to Showcase for these projects?)—when we were given the opportunity to work in trade fair exhibition spaces. We found trade fairs to have wonderful possibilities. For us, they were exciting visual experiences, quite joyful. What made it so was being able to bring the language of thematic work to the trade fair platform. Thematic exhibitions and trade fairs became the yin and yang of the work we did.
The short life cycles of 3 to 6 months for these fairs offered another challenge, increasing efficiency apart from everything else. We were able to experiment with materials, technology and because we treat space as volume, our designs were of singularly tremendous visual impact. We used tensile structures, played with show lights and ambient lighting, deployed a palette of media and tools-and in fact were the first in those days to use moving lights, tensile structures, curved panels and other new developments which were promptly picked up by others with the very next trade fair that happened. We literally pioneered the process of bringing show and thematic aspects into trade fairs in India at that time, automation, programmed lights and sound and so on. We geared up to do serious work which at the same time had the prime responsibility of arresting eyeballs. Auto fairs were a big part of this work.
From designing trade fair exhibition spaces, we understood the corporate language, what it means to tell the corporate story in a way which would very well fulfill the responsibility we had. This trade fair experience is what led us to eventually design the DS Group’s corporate museum, The Journey, (hyperlink to Showcase?) a comparison of which would be hard to find anywhere you look.
Despite having won many awards and accolades, the temporal nature of trade fairs was a step towards our seeking to design more permanent spaces, which is what we now accomplish.
Nirankari Sarovar, Burari, New Delhi, 2005
The Nirankari Mission wanted a museum on their teachings and as espoused by their living Satguru. Their belief is that a living and enlightened saint is the bridge between the temporal and the spiritual lives of all believers. To them, he is the one who can instantaneously take you out of this present life form which is illusionary and transcends you by understanding this to move you to higher realms. The Nirankari values are holistic with universal brotherhood as their core message.
Our solution was to create this museum as told and seen through the eyes of the devotees. We used the camera to great effect, photographing devotees as they talked and told you their feelings about Babaji, the Satguru. The images were from thier point of view.
We designed the space as ripples of water, moving out in circles from the centre. The centre, the core area is for Nirankar- the Formless One. Around that is Babaji, the bridge, the link between the two worlds. From here one moves out in non-linear fashion through rings in sections to get the overall story, which path always returns to the centre, where videos of Babaji speaking are auto-triggered and one hears something new each time.
A decade later, the museum continues to attract visitors in their thousands.