Reflecting on SPACE10 Delhi
A mural by Aquib Wani for The Irregulars Art Fair at our compound, Dhan Mill.
Photo — Sheena Dabholkar
In November 2019, we marked SPACE10’s fourth anniversary by opening a new research and design lab in Delhi, India for six months.
Written by Sheena Dabholkar.
We’d previously popped up in cities across the world — New York, London, Shanghai and Nairobi, to name a few — but SPACE10 Delhi was the first of its kind: an entirely new location beyond Copenhagen.
Our mission was to gain new knowledge and diversify our perspectives — by gathering designers, technologists, artists, architects, academics and entrepreneurs under one roof to explore how design and emerging technologies can create a better everyday life for people and planet
Why India? India is one of the most diverse countries on the planet with the fastest growing economy. It will soon be the most populated country on Earth, with a fifth of the world’s youth living there. Delhi, its capital, is a sprawling metropolis that grows in size each day, which means it faces issues such as rapid urbanisation and a housing crisis.
But don’t forget: India has a young, educated and tech-savvy population that’s very aware of these challenges. We chose Delhi because the city is a cultural force, imbued with a deep historical legacy, yet a hotbed of innovation at the same time. Delhi is teeming with progressive initiatives exploring public and contemporary art, music, design and architecture.
We considered India the ideal place to learn and explore new sustainable and scalable solutions that can help combat real problems for many people.
Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation, so we wanted to anchor our research and design process closer to people. Our goal with SPACE10 Delhi was to create a collaborative platform which made space for experts, creatives and specialists in multiple fields. The idea was that together we could experiment and prototype solutions — all of which enable a better everyday life for people and planet.
We took over a warehouse, located at Dhan Mill, a former granary turned vibrant culture hub in the neighbourhood of Chhatarpur in south Delhi — with emerging artists and established creatives in the fields of contemporary design, photography and performance for neighbours.
We turned it into a multi-disciplinary lab that met the needs of both our team and community — a space that was inviting, ergonomic, and most importantly, flexible. Adding a touch of the signature SPACE10 blue borrowed from our Copenhagen meatpacking district location, we incorporated our Scandinavian aesthetic while celebrating Indian design and embracing local craftsmanship. We collaborated with Delhi-based artist and IKEA designer Akanksha Deo Sharma on Interdependence, a ceiling installation where India’s rich textile heritage meets a circular design mindset.
The approach became to use Indian materials and crafts, and work with local collaborators to bring SPACE10 Delhi to life in a way that both feels SPACE10 but also Indian.
Collaborations — almost fifty, if we’re counting — including explorations and a regular roster of programming in a variety of formats, including talks, workshops and exhibitions, enabled us to engage, learn and share with the local community.
We opened SPACE10 Delhi in November during a national health emergency — air pollution levels were at their most hazardous in history. We adapted our first event to acknowledge the smog in the room, inviting four local designers to deliver keynotes on how design can address the air pollution crisis.
We don’t believe design thinking can occur in a vacuum. We showcased our past and ongoing projects around shared living and solar energy, in an attempt to learn more about how they might work — or perhaps, fail — in an Indian context.
Exhibiting Solarville, our Playful Research prototype of a miniature neighbourhood powered by solar energy, enabled us to initiate a conversation with the community around tomorrow’s clean energy systems.
Around two billion people around the world still live with little or no access to electricity. Consistent access to energy offers benefits such as improvements to health, economic productivity, education and enabling gender equality, in addition to reducing our impact on climate.
Together with Quicksand, we visited 40 families in India, as well as Kenya, Peru, Indonesia, to get a first-hand glimpse into the lives of whom we mean when we talk about democratising energy access. We compiled our research into Life Without Energy: Needs, Dreams and Aspirations, a report that shares insights into their ways of living, and unfolds how access to solar and other renewable energy solutions could empower them and fuel their needs, dreams and aspirations.
We also welcomed our two residents to explore ‘Home Essentials for the Many’, by researching and innovating realistic solutions for bringing the fundamentals of life — access to clean air, energy and water — to people around the world, especially those who need it most.
In the ongoing residency, Arul Udhayadhana Singh is researching how living situations and rituals determine the different needs for essentials of life at home, while Karan Rao is developing low-cost indoor air purification products for the vast, underserved segment of people who require protection from the high risk of respiratory illnesses caused by air pollution, and cannot afford traditional air purifiers.
Our mission to engage and collaborate with forward-thinking partners, both local and international, was met through both explorations and events.
In December, we launched a series called What If Saturdays in collaboration with UnBox Cultural Futures Society. Over three weekends, we invited experts with diverse backgrounds to ideate on alternate futures and energise the community about the possibilities of tomorrow, asking questions such as What if the Future was Gender Fluid? and What if we Were Nomadic Again?
We asked even more hypothetical questions with Barcelona-based IAM, inviting an interdisciplinary group of people to join us for their two-day workshop, The Everython. Together we reflected on how we do — and how we can — use digital technologies and the internet, and collectively imagined what everyday life in Delhi might be like one billion seconds from now.
We envisioned SPACE10 Delhi as a platform for diverse talents to meet, share and play. For India Art Fair, we collaborated with St+art India who make art accessible by bringing it into the public realm, on an exhibition by Akshat Nauriyal and Marc Lee called Unfiltered — Tik Tok and the Emerging Face of Indian Visual Culture.
The installation explored digital access, visual aesthetics and how platforms can democratise not just access to art but expression itself — and transformed SPACE10 Delhi into an immersive gallery space.
In March 2020, the escalating Covid-19 situation began to send some parts of the world into lockdown. We closed SPACE10 Delhi a month earlier than intended, in solidarity and to take responsibility for those around us.
Over five months, we hosted 39 talks, five live performances, four workshops, four exhibitions and two community dinners — making it one incredible, successful satellite.
And because we didn’t get to say it: we thank all the people who made it possible — our friends, collaborators and community — for exploring with us, sharing with us and challenging us.
SPACE10 Delhi ignited ideas, perspectives and solutions that wouldn’t have been possible anywhere else. As an outcome, we initiated our Home Essentials project, with which we aim to research and design affordable, accessible and sustainable solutions for low-income households with a focus on emerging economies. All part of our mission to enable a better everyday life for people and planet.
And to that note: this is not really goodbye. Our projects and partnerships are stronger than ever and we can’t wait to show you the next chapter of our journey later this year.
Video — Anubhav Verma
Thank you to Anubhav Verma, Tenzin Lhagyal, Deepshikha Jain, Marc Lee, Akshat Nauriyal, Lauren Grace Morris, Black Baza, Blue Tokai, Boxout.fm, Native Indian, Nothing Anonymous, Chef Radhika Khandelwal, Bira, Greater than Gin, British Council India, Art-X, UnBox, Kati Patang, Rajyashri Goody, Quicksand, IAM, Pro Helvetia, Swiss Arts Council, India Art Fair, India Energy for All Summit (IEAS), Natasha Leth, Clean Energy Access Network (CLEAN), TechQuartet, MIT Institute of Design, Marius Martinaitis, Third Culture, Sheena Dabholkar, Philine Kriependorf, Azaan Khan, Govind Singh, Arul Udhayadhana Singh, Karan Rao, Binit Vasa, Neel Tamhane, Kevin Curran and the entire SPACE10 team, ODDBiRD Theatre, MOLD, Edible Issues, Jishnu Chakraborty, IKEA India, Krishi Cress, Brew House Ice Tea, Third Roast Coffee, St+Art India Foundation, Poppy Seed Lab, Pranshu, Ramesh, Hemant, Kulture Shop, Athul Prasad, NBNW, The Busride Design Studio, Claymen, Akanksha Deo, 2626 Creative Studio, STIR, 11.11/eleven eleven and the door guy at Dori.