Designers and artists are using Mumbai's taxi interiors as a canvas

The cabs in action. Image: Taxi Fabric.

The black and yellow taxis that fill the streets of Mumbai have long been iconic symbols of city life in India. Now, some are undergoing a transformation, thanks to the work of a new design platform which is turning the interiors into contemporary canvases.

Taxi Fabric, which launched last year and connects young designers with taxi drivers, has so far turned more than 40 vehicles into works of art. Each unique work by an up-and-coming Indian designer tells a story, featuring anything from Indian freedom fighters to Bollywood heroes, as well as other local tales inspired by the city.

  

While originally the project was funded simply by a Kickstarter campaign, the initiative has now proved so popular that one of the taxis has featured in a Coldplay video, and brands such as Google  and Architectural Digest are commissioning the makeover of yet more taxis. The waiting list for drivers awaiting their turn has at least 200 names on it.   

The project is the brainchild of Sanket Avlani, curator and art director at Taxi Fabric. He grew up using the taxis as his preferred mode of transport, but began to look at them with a fresh perspective when he began working in the arts.

While documenting the industrial grade fabrics used in the vehicles for a blog, Avlani and a few others began thinking about designing more engaging interiors themselves. “We were all designers and illustrators, so we could digitally create it and come up with these patterns and graphics and prints,” he says. “But it took us a long time to actually interpret them on fabric and finally execute the whole thing.”

After two years in preparation, the project formally launched in 2015. And while it had initially began as an idea to simply makeover some taxis, by the time of the launch, the intention was that it’d act as a platform for designers, too. The first driver to have his vehicle transformed was someone whose began work each day at a taxi stand near Avlani’s home.

Word soon spread, however. “The drivers initially felt that it was only like a free makeover for them,” says Avland. “But when they started interacting with the passengers, they realised these designs are engaging – they’re not just a blast of colour but they’re rich in their content and people are starting to ask them about it.”

“It was very surprising for all of us involved, the way people accepted the project and the way they are reacting to it,” he goes on. “Small things, like kids refusing to get out of the taxi, and grandmas going ‘I’m never going to forget this ride’, and people taking photographs with the drivers.”

 

Each design is the result of a collaborative process between a designer and the drivers, who are encouraged to communicate about what they would like. The development stage, during which the designer is working on ideas for ten metres of fabric, can take between two to three weeks, while the fitting process takes two days.

For the designers themselves, the platform is also changing perceptions in India, where the concept of design as a medium for communication and social good has had limited scope.

Taxi Fabric has already moved on to working on the interiors of Rickshaws, as well as expanding the project to Delhi; they’ll soon begin work in Bangalore, too. And, while taxis will remain the core of the company, it’s also launching a fabric range for home décor and clothing. Avlani and the team are working on making the material available for private cars, too.

You can see each designer and their taxi on taxifabric.org

Halima Ali is a London-based freelance journalist and editor. She tweets @Halima_Ali and her work can be found on her website.


All images courtesy of Taxi Fabric.

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.


Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.