India Futures Project

The Busride Lab and Design Fabric present the India Futures Project

We speak to Ayaz Basrai about the India Futures Project, a collaborative project between The Busride Lab and Design Fabric that visualises the future of India in 2035.

By Rohini Kejriwal on 28 June

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The India Futures Project - the latest collaboration between Design Fabric and The Busride Lab - aims to create a culture map for India for the year 2035. Using the power of collaboration, immersive storytelling, detailed visualisation and Futures education, The Busride Lab is currently working at putting together an army of students, designers, engineers and architects to embrace this common vision.

The symbiotic project will re-examine the glorious past alongside current trends to create a better India in the future. From statues that double up as e-waste mining centres to hoardings with seeds that turn into green landscapes, the utopian future we envision together looks inviting, to say the least.

Ayaz Basrai, co-founder of The Busride Lab, takes us through what the project entails, its implications for the design world and country at large, and the plans ahead.

What is the India Futures Project?

The India Futures Project is an attempt to create a rich, nuanced cultural map for India in the year 2035 through a series of open inquiries, speculative fiction and narratives. The idea is to visualise these futures in high resolution, and constantly link them together to create realistic roadmaps to arrive there together.

The entire project was born out of an epiphany about your contribution to the present architectural landscape in India. What led to this?

Our shift towards Futures speculation happened more or less serendipitously. But I can see the roots of this fascination in inquiries almost 20 years ago. When I first logged on to the Internet to create my first Hotmail account in 1998, I realised that everything was about to change. I even studied the grammar of the Internet and its translation into real-world experiences for my thesis project back in 2003, so the fascination is fairly deep-rooted!

Strangely enough, the rekindled fascination with the future began with an inquiry into the past. Nothing gets a lump in my throat like the sight of an old building being pulled down. And in trying to understand this aspect of my own personality, it became critical to foresee the future of culture that would eventually create a meaningful second life for that building. This realisation made us spin off a new studio in Goa that took up the singular responsibility to chart new paths for ourselves through research, which would in turn inform our practice.

I believe that Futures thinking and speculative design create processes full of optimism, which is vital for practitioners in the field. If we are able to visualise meaningful destinations, the entire journey becomes more fun. Futures thinking involves heavy research, inspired storytelling, detailed visualisation and pragmatic engineering, guided by a strong moral and ethical compass, which are things I’ve always been enamoured by.

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As part of the Spothole Project, drones will identify potholes that need fixing and pour a fast setting premix of their own QuickCrete mix with an inbuilt pulveriser and water-based setting agent. The potholes will be self-levelled and fixed in 25 minutes.

What is the intended value of this project and the target audience you are looking at?

Our main focus for the last three years has been to populate a culture map for the year 2035. Early into the thinking about Futures, we realised that the Future is not a single destination or eventual outcome; it is a spectrum of possibilities to choose from. It is a plural, bustling and alive universe, much like the present. So instead of framing our futures as techno-deterministic or based on extrapolations from any single viewpoint, our culture map is evolving and constantly updating. Any industry, individual or organisation can draw value from this mapping since it tries to connect rather than specify.

The idea of it being rooted in “Indian” Futures is very important. We are too easily swayed by Silicon Valley-powered visions of swanky glossy cities, populated by driverless cars and the Internet of Things. While these visualisations may allow for some cautious optimism, they are by no means the whole picture. It would be a lot more meaningful for India to visualise the best of the past on our skylines of the future. We’d like to use our process to incubate experiments across Design, Fashion, Craft and Technology, exploring promiscuous sharing and open source knowledge, studying the merger of additive manufacturing and renewable energy with purely Indian experiences.

Imagine the merger of a rug weaving tradition that began in 1580 AD in the courts of Emperor Akbar with the newest cutting-edge 3D printing technologies and parametric visualisations. Then you can start to see an idea of how inspiring our future could be. In the broadest case, our target audience would be everyone.

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The Tidal Energy Harvesting Tetrapods will be installed along sections of the Mumbai shoreline and generate electricity from the breaking waves to power the street lights at Marine Drive.

When it comes to Design, what impact do you think it can have on younger designers and their outlook on the Future?

I can’t over-emphasise the impact this would have on Design, Architecture and its affiliated fields. Designers by training tend to create their own versions of the future, so in a true sense, this thought isn’t really a new one. Anyone concerned about their own survival in any ecosystem, from bacteria to consumer goods companies tend to be at least slightly Futures-minded. When one brings method, a few new tools, some pre-existing research, inclusive groups and focused facilitation, some amazing insights can emerge. Even the knowledge of one’s interrelation with the other nodes of culture is a deep realisation and can make young practitioners more informed, more exploratory and definitely open to collaboration.

For example, in studying the emerging domain of Artificial Intelligence (AI), it’s really interesting to understand the spectrum of minds represented by AI. There will be slow, plodding intelligences capable of vast memory, and fast, agile minds capable of high frequency computing. There will also be schizophrenic minds and insane minds. All these need design and curation, and a certain tangential understanding to allow speculative futures to populate.

Futures thinking must become an essential part of all curriculums for design schools, where students are taught basic methods to leapfrog ahead of the industry, and become more adept at envisioning and leading teams rather than working in silos. As a country, I believe that Futures education would take us further than any other single system since it stresses on connecting the dots rather than creating more blinkered world-views.

The project takes on a fairly optimistic approach towards a better future. In your mind, how does the future look?

I tend to steer away from shiny new visions of the future, as I’m sure most of us on some deeper thinking would. The truth is that whichever way you visualise the future, every scenario needs design thought and intervention. The key is to set our moral compasses straight, visualise through the lens of plurality and make decisions today that allow us to create a significantly more inclusive, enriched and vibrant culture for tomorrow.

However, I’m convinced that Indian Futures will follow a distinct deviation from Palo Alto Futures, purely because we are the amazing people we are. We will adopt and reject tools and techniques faster, hack and modify them with greater dexterity than anyone, and create a messy, textured, nuanced and purely individualistic future of our own.

  • Gandhi Nature Park

According to Busride Lab, tomorrow's statues need to be performative, not just ornamental, to justify their place on our future city skylines. With this in mind, they hope to create a MK Gandhi Aquatic Nature Park and Coral Reef Scaffolding to create more symbiotic ecological development with man and nature.

Is the project going to be focussed on projecting the future, or actualising the ideas and solutions with the help of collaborators?

The project is very open; we’re trying to invite as many co-conspirators and mentors to join us. We’re huge believers in a collaborative approach to most things. Our own lab research will definitely inform some of our experiments, and we’ll look at supplementing some narratives with data, interviews and insightful snippets along the way, which hopefully our extended family of students, practitioners and industry professionals would contribute heavily to. We’d love the opportunity to prototype some of these experiments in a step to building better cultural frameworks for all of us to inhabit.

What kind of projects can our readers expect in the coming months as part of this collaboration?

We’re really excited to be able to formulate and share some of the research and stories that we’ve been working on in the Studio. The idea is to keep our speculations topical and provocative, since one of the most amazing uses of speculative design is to provoke thought and repose in a way that real world design often fails to do.

For instance, we recently began thinking about the nature of Statues, and how these hugely funded monuments need to be a lot more performative to justify their place on the skylines of the future. We started visualising statues that would desalinate water and provide subsidised drinking water to cities; or create scaffoldings for coral reef regeneration; or be e-waste mining centres by virtue of their position, rather than being purely aesthetic in nature.

Why did you pick Design Fabric as a collaborator and editorial platform to publish your research and take this project forward?

In many ways, Design Fabric is the perfect collaborator. Over many interactions, we’ve realised that our goals are highly similar and aligned. In visualising the culture of the future, it helps to work with organisations who are deeply entrenched in the cultural paradigms of the present, and who are similarly invested in connecting the dots meaningfully.

We had the honour and privilege to be a large part of the beautifully curated events and ethos that Design Fabric has been involved with since its inception; from the very first panel discussion at the newly minted DF Studio to our panel discussion on Indian Heritage at the Design Fabric Festival, we’ve had a great relationship with the entire team and bossman Sanket, so it was really a no-brainer.

India Futures project is a collaboration between The Busride Lab and Design Fabric. It will be a fortnightly editorial.

If you or your organisation are keen to collaborate with us towards realising a better India through Design & Futures thinking, please fill the form here.

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