By Anusha Narayanan
On the 14th of January, 2020, Aziz Kachwalla met with a tragic and fatal accident. Aziz Kachwalla’s work pushed the limits of material understanding through an involved and iterative design process, for objects that he often co-authored with architects and designers his firm worked with. His work demonstrated an intuitive grasp of the nature of materials he worked with, and he was often instrumental in the development of decisive details for complex design issues in products and spaces. A contextual and textural comprehension enabled him to create organic and surreal products, emanating the honesty from which they were conceived.
To many, Aziz was an enabler, a co-conspirator and a bridge to a good product, a complex spatial assembly or a new way of looking at a material. There are very few individuals of his calibre today, who appreciate the finesse and humility demanded to execute compelling ideas with dexterity. This editorial was originally authored by Anusha Narayanan in June 2018 for [IN]SIDE Volume 01 and Issue 02. This article is republished in memory and as a tribute to Aziz Kachwalla.
ORIGINAL: Edited from 2018 text.
With over 20 years in the product, industrial and interior design space, Aziz Kachwalla runs a practice around experimentation with materials and forms overlaid with fine craftsmanship. He is also a frequent collaborator for other architects, designers and artists of renown.
The space/studio Aziz works out of now, is a double-heighted, gritty, imperfect yet honest warehouse-turned-workshop tucked away in one of the lanes of Mazgaon, Mumbai. It has nothing to hide, no lies or pretense, similar to the nature of the designs it is home to. Resembling a theatre backstage, pieces are strewn about the space but upon observation, the emphasis on understanding each material is hard to miss.
ON MATTERS OF MATERIALITY
There is a strong sense of precision and control in Aziz’s finished work, and an inherent scientific logic, that comes from his engineering bend of mind. There is also a self-driven inquiry to know a material inside-out and play with it without restricting it to commercial briefs, that drives the practice.
For instance, the simple continuous flexing of materials which can be seen across some of his small – and large – scale work: each of these testing and pushing the boundaries of the material like a mentor would push a protégé – never too harsh to crack, yet intense enough to bring out its core strength.
At the same time, a few handcrafted bent metal and cane furniture pieces that emanate warmth and nostalgia as they look austere and comfortable, the lucidity reflecting the free mind of the designer and a deep appreciation of materials. Because each piece is handcrafted there is the factor of time, which he says his clientele is made aware of, and upon agreeing, work commences.
THE EVER CURIOUS, NEVER STOP.
“He has an ever curious mind,” says Kabir Mohanty, a close collaborator of Aziz’s and a renowned artist. Soon after he graduated, Aziz pursued, rather unpredictably, “special effects” for advertising. This involved fabricating objects for advertising – props and imaginary things. He then setup The Orange Company, in what he calls was his NID hangover phase, and decided to run his family business side-by-side, the car workshop at At-tin.
The chronology of events is blurry and unimportant to him; one of the few things that he doesn’t detail out. He has worked for industrial corporations as well as lifestyle apparel brands, simultaneously designing bespoke furniture for interiors. The practice now is a mix of self-initiated and commercial but always user-centric.
“I don’t design unless I have investigated enough of how I would interact with the object and used it myself.”
The belief that one has to “be the user”, dictates Aziz’s design development process. What happens when you can’t imagine yourself as a user? Time, cost and client are factors that play a heavy hand but at no point does he lose sight of the user.
EXPERTISE, KNOWLEDGE AND EQUITY
And we bid farewell. The conversation left me with the thought that over the years, design has increasingly become curation, where things are brought or bought from various places and put together in as space. With the ready availability of products of varying quality, suiting the pockets of different buyers, the need among designers for understanding and testing materials hands-on is slowly vanishing. The word collaboration is also widely misunderstood; it doesn’t mean the act of following instruction – one party is the instructor and other, the vendor. The aspects of expertise, knowledge exchange and equity are important in collaborations. Aziz Kachwalla is therefore, a rarity, an expert designer and a collaborator whose ease of understanding materials, design, engineering as well as prototyping serves the design of objects itself♦
“Functionality, materials, processes, finishes, [and] details coming together holistically. No random thoughts. No hasty thinking. Always keeping people in mind and how they perceive things, how they interact with objects. Easy and simple ‘making’ processes: nothing too mass, nothing too niche.”
AZIZ KACHWALLA studied Product Design from the National Institute of Design (Ahmedabad), after completing a B.Tech degree in Civil Engineering from IIT Powai (Mumbai). Having over 2 decades of experience in exhibition, lighting, retail and furniture design, he collaborated on projects of various scales with designers such as Amardeep Behl, Architecture Brio, Material Immaterial and MuseLAB, brands like Jindal Steel, artists such as Kabir Mohanty and Pranit Soi; and art festivals such as the Kochi Muziris Biennale. The Orange Company was his design consultancy firm that does large multi-disciplinary interior architectural projects. His design studio-cum-workshop is located at Mazagaon, Mumbai and is called At-tin.
ANUSHA NARAYANAN (Author) studied architecture. She is partner at Fish Do It Consultants, and curates Colour Quotient by Asian Paints. In the past, she has been the associate editor at Kyoorius, a writer at Indian Architect & Builder, and a freelance contributor to Insite (IIID).