Design Diary

A personal review of design creations.

Finnish Modernism in India


It took nearly 55 years to fully enjoy this sculptural building dedicated to the “Snow Peaks on the Mountains” by Reima and Raili Pietilä. After a series of lengthy delays and careful renovation.

The story started in 1963. Reima and Raili Pietilä won the design competition for the Finnish Embassy to be located in the diplomatic enclave in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi with a beautiful and powerful competition entry called “Snow speaks on the mountains”.


The project was finally commissioned in 1980 and redesigned based on the original concept. Six years later, the Embassy opened with the large single expanse of the roof of the 1960’s design broken up into six separate lateral buildings around a central garden area. The sculptural roofs - the most significant architectural feature of the embassy compound - resemble the forms of the snowy Lake Kitkajärvi near Kuusamo, Northern Finland.


In 2013, ALA Architects was commissioned to design the renovation of this mythical masterpiece of Finnish modernism. The 2nd-phase renovation project that took just over five years to complete has brought the ingenious building complex back to its original glory. The first phase consisted of the transformation of one staff apartment building and the construction of one new gatehouse. The second phase comprised the renovations of the chancery, the ambassador’s residence, the technical centre, sauna, two more residential buildings, the pool and one old gatehouse, and the construction of one new gatehouse and a gazebo with a small gym.


The aims of the project were to restore the original spirit of the design and repair the misguided maintenance, to revamp the existing reception, and to improve the occupational well-being and living conditions of the staff members. The overall safety, as well as the energy efficiency and functionality of the buildings, were also taken into account.

The most notable changes to the original design are the transformation of one staff apartment building containing several small apartments into contemporary office facilities and a few larger apartments, and the demolition of a wall separating one of the buildings from the rest of the complex to better follow the Pietiläs’ idea about a united spatial mass. The addition of two new gatehouses outside the compound wall is the change that is the most visible from the street. This solution was chosen to create a discreet but clearly independent architectural addition upon arrival and to not interfere with the original architecture of the compound.

The original interior design is by the Finnish interior architect Antti Nurmesniemi. He was also commissioned to create custom furniture, lighting fixtures, and large woolen area rugs, as well as the further development of Reima Pietilä’s sketches for fixed furnishings. Most of the other furniture was selected from the Finnish furniture manufacturer Artek’s catalogue. The original design also includes a large ceramic indoor bas-relief and water feature titled “Spring in the North” by the Finnish ceramic artist Rut Bryk. In the renovation project, the original wardrobes and the sauna furniture were repaired and the existing original loose furniture reupholstered and treated to reflect their original design.

Photos from the 1980s were used to specify the correct colours and materials in the refurbished and new furniture, textiles, and rugs. The spaces used for representation were carefully restored including their furniture, whereas the spaces with modified uses gained a new layer of contemporary furniture. The original landscape design is by the Pietiläs’ long-time collaborator, the Finnish landscape architect Maj-Lis Rosenbröijer.


As part of the renovation project, the yard areas were thoroughly refurbished following Rosenbröijer’s original idea. Some climate-specific updates were made to the plant selection and slight safety-requirement-based improvements to the paths crossing the compound. The installation of new irrigation and storm water management systems required some gradient changes.


Pictures by Tuomas Uusheimo

Modern Maharaja, an incredible dream

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A visionary, a patron of the arts, an aesthete, an Indian royal with a passion for the European avant-garde, the Maharaja of Indore was a living legend of the 20th century from both worlds.

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With a beautiful exhibition, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (MAD) pays tribute to the extraordinary life of the Maharaja of Indore, an Indian prince with one of the most important private collections of Modernist furniture and decorative arts in the world.

This visionary patron of
 the arts became a central figure of the international elite and the European cultural milieu of the 1920s and 1930s.


Yeshwant Rao Holkar II (1908-1961), better known under the name of Maharaja of Indore, is the perfect incarnation a modern man in the 1930s. Attracted to the beautiful, the young man with a thin silhouette and tapered hands combines tradition, intuition and audacity.

 He spent the majority of his youth in the luxurious and stately conditions afforded to the princes of India. During
the 1920s, Holkar II was sent to study
at Oxford in England where a French-speaking private tutor, Dr. Marcel Hardy, introduced him to the cultural milieu
 of European modern artists. Under the guidance of Dr. Hardy, Holkar II met two figures who would become instrumental in his artistic pursuits: the German modern architect Eckart Muthesius (1904-1989) and French artistic advisor and writer Henri-Pierre Roché (1879-1959), both of whom were closely linked to the avant-garde. Together, they visited England, Germany and France, exploring art fairs, museum exhibitions, galleries and artist’s workshops, rousing in Holkar II a passion for Modern Art. 

Monogram for letter head by Jean Puiforcat (end 1920s)

Monogram for letter head by Jean Puiforcat (end 1920s)

Upon his father’s abdication in 1926, Holkar II acceded to the throne as Maharaja of Indore and became entitled to vast wealth and influence. In 1929, shortly after meeting the eminent French couturier and collector Jacques Doucet (1853-1929) in Paris and seeing his studio and collection, the Maharaja decided to erect a grand palace in his native India where he would combine luxury, comfort and modernity, embracing the features of the Modernist movement. 

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In 1930, Eckart Muthesius, the Maharaja’s good friend and mentor, was put in charge of drawing up the blue print. This entailed transforming the foundations of a pre- existing building in order to construct a Modern private residence for the Maharaja and his wife, the Maharani Sanyogita Bai Devi (1914-1937). Designed with their daily needs in mind, the Manik Bagh Palace was decorated with fittings and furniture that glorified the most innovative materials of the period such as metal, synthetic leather and glass, while paying special attention to color within each room. Nearly twenty hand-selected interior designers furnished the rooms, now iconic of the Modern period. 

Some of the most emblematic pieces include Transat armchairs by Irish designer Eileen Gray (1878-1976); a pair of red synthetic leather armchairs with integrated lamps by Eckart Muthesius; beds in metal and glass by French designers Louis Sognot (1892-1970) and Charlotte Alix (1892-1987) designed for the respective bedrooms of the royal couple; and rugs by French painter and weaver Ivan Da Silva Bruhns (1881-1980) that covered the palace floors like vast abstract paintings. 

Unlike his peers, the Maharaja is involved in the design of the works he orders and acquires artworks from Brancusi, is photographed by Man Ray, portraited by Boutet de Monvel (whose paintings are gathered for the first time).

Chaise longue basculante B 306_Thonet edition by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand & Pierre Jeanneret, 1931

Chaise longue basculante B 306_Thonet edition by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand & Pierre Jeanneret, 1931

The death in 1937 of the Sanyogita Maharani, who shared his same avant-garde vision of the arts, marks the end of orders. The prince travels and makes two new marriages as the world sinks into a war leading to end of the British Empire in India and, with it, the collapse of the Indian royalties. The palace and its contents are sold in 1980. 

The exhibition unveils the Maharaja’s innovative world, unerringly representative of Modernism and a central moment in the history of decorative arts. It begins with an introduction of the Maharajah of Indore and the Holkar Dynasty to which he belonged and the construction of the palace. 

Chaise Longue 114, René Herbst, 1931

Chaise Longue 114, René Herbst, 1931

A highlight of commissions given to Eckart Muthesius follows, including a furnished private train, an airplane and a caravan, as well as unrealised projects such as a riverboat and a summer palace. 

Maharaja of Indore, Man Ray, 1927-1930

Maharaja of Indore, Man Ray, 1927-1930

The Central Hall of MAD displays previously unseen films by Eckart Muthesius, offering a glimpse of the Maharajah and his wife at home as well as overseeing traditional ceremonies throughout Indore. 

The Maharaja was an active collector of Modern furnishings. The museum has recreated his office, the royal couple’s respective bedrooms, and the library.

His activities as a collector are also the focus of a section devoted to the salons and exhibitions of the 1920s and 1930s, namely the Salon of the Union des Artistes Modernes and the Salon d’Automne in Paris, where the Maharaja made numerous acquisitions of furniture and objects.

Important commissions for the dining room will also be displayed, including china by French ceramicist Jean Luce (1895-1964) and silverware by Jean Puiforcat (1897- 1945).


The exhibition also evokes the Maharaja’s marked interest in the great jewellery houses of the time such as Van Cleef
& Arpels, Harry Winston and Chaumet, all of whom created majestic pieces for the Maharani. 

Man Ray, 1927-1930

Man Ray, 1927-1930

The BGC Studio scenographers turned the MAD into a palace with a red and black floor and walls giving the illusion of mirrors to amplify the space. Curators Raphaëlle Billé and Louise Curtis have spent many months in the often unpublished archives.

The exhibition runs until From January
12, 2020 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

Picture credits and acknowledgements: Adagp, Paris, 2019; Collection Vera Muthesius; Prudence Cuming; Phillips Auctioneers Ltd; Sotheby’s / Art Digital Studio, Ecl’art – Galerie Doria, Paris; Man Ray 2015 Trust; Centre Pompidou MNAM-CCI; Guy Carrard; Patrimoine Puiforcat; Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Jean Tholance; Collection Heribert Neuwöhner.

The Skew House


Overlooking a rubber plantation in the Malappuram district of Kerala (India), a modern tropical house is camouflaging itself from plain view.

Spread over an acre of land is the house by Thought Parallels that has succeeded to mix traditional architecture with a contemporary flair. The design of the house utilises the extents of the plot exceedingly well by having a spread out planning.  It accommodates the brief of the family which was to create distinctive guest and family spaces. This clearly leads to the formation of two blocks a guest and family


Connected with each other by a semi-private living. The guest block offers a living space, a prayer room and a bedroom arranged in a linear form. The presence of the prayer room prompted the architect to align the block along the traditional direction of pray, thus creating a tilt and breaking the initial parallel axis between the two blocks, hence deriving the name “The Skew House”.

Views of the minimalistic horticulture combining both hard and soft paving around the house from every room is another dimension added to the design. Rooms are well lit and aerated with large open spaces around.  The subtle slope of the traditional styled Mangalore tile roof makes the entrance veranda and inner spaces well proportioned in terms of height. The connecting semi-private living is a cosy space with doorways leading into the landscape on either side. 

On entering the family block through the connecting semi-private living, one is welcomed by a large living and dining. The linear arrangement of spaces continues with the placing of the staircase followed by two bedrooms on one side and a kitchen and other utility spaces on the opposite end.  The linearity in the arrangement of spaces brings in natural illumination and ventilation.

Wooden, steel, and exposed concrete, open riser staircase leads upwards to the first floor. An element by itself, the staircase has a steel railing with a traditional wood-carving pattern cut into it which is a subtle but impactful addition.  Located on the first floor are two bedrooms and a linear pool.


The south-facing facade of the bedroom and corridor leading to the bedrooms have been adorned by louvered openable shutters to keep out the harsh glare and heat from the south but creating a dramatic play of light all along the corridor and bedroom floor and walls.

The use of traditional Mangalore roof tile roof along with an inner lining of plywood helps in insulating the rooms from the harsh summer heat. The material pallet has been kept very minimal with steel, wood and exposed concrete as the primary materials. Few elements such as exposed clay brick walls and natural mosaic marble flooring add value to the quality of spaces.


Pictures by Prashant Bhat

Révélations 2019: The World of Fine Craft in Paris

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Révélations is set to open from May 23rd until 26th at the Grand Palais in Paris. 450 artists from 30 countries will be showcased with new sections and Luxembourg as Guest of Honour.

The fourth edition of the international fine crafts and contemporary creation biennial Révélations is returning to Paris, hosting over 40,000 visitors with an even greater focus on showcasing its international dimension and cultural programme both inside the venue and out, Révélations 2019 is pushing its boundaries and aspirations a little further afield.

Nathalie Massenet Dollfus: 2 Butterflies, handblown glass © Nathalie Massenet Dollfus

Nathalie Massenet Dollfus: 2 Butterflies, handblown glass © Nathalie Massenet Dollfus

Révélations has been run by Ateliers d’Art de France since its inception in 2013, and is attended by an illustrious steadily-growing audience. The scenography by Adrien Gardère offers an equal staging to the 450 creators, removing any hierarchy or gimmicks allowing these exceptional works forge a strong connection between creator and visitor.

L. Andrighetto & J-C MIOT - BUOYS (glass & hemp)

L. Andrighetto & J-C MIOT - BUOYS (glass & hemp)

The Biennal welcomes 33 countries represented, doubling the total of the previous edition. Following on from Chile, Luxembourg is this year’s featured country: a combination of tradition and innovation, the Grand Duchy is home to a myriad of crafts and will be showcasing them in all their glory. The selection of 15 artists has been curated by Jean-Marc Dimanche and the staging is made by Gilles Gardula under the patronage of Their Royal Highnesses Prince Guillaume, the crown Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and Princess Stéphanie, the crown Grand Duchess of Luxembourg.

The artists are Ellen van der Woude (ceramic), Camille Jacobs (master stained glass), Jeitz & Calliste, Sarah Meyers & Laura Fügmann (textile and ceramic), Pascale Seil (master glass-blower), Doris Becker (ceramic), Marie-Isabelle Callier (encaustic painter), Tom Flick (sculpture), Sandy Kahlich (milliner), Ezri Kahn (artisan couturier), Carine Mertes (felt designer), Claude Schmitz (jewellery), Léa Schroeder and Marianne Steinmetzer (ceramic), and Kim-Jung Vu (jewellery).

Artists below are Wouter van der Vlugt & Roxanne Flick + Michael Nätscher.

As for the backbone of the event, the ‘Le Banquet' international exhibition will continue its world tour, inviting nine other countries (Thailand, Romania, India, Iran, Cameroon, South Africa, Spain, Chile, Luxembourg,  to stand alongside France and the featured country. In doing so, the biennial puts its international dimension firmly in the spotlight, supported even further by the number of European and international visitors in attendance. Here are some creations from:

South Africa: Artists featured below: Marisa Fick Jordan (Ukhamba Zulu basket; 2018; Telephone wire) & Chuma Maweni (Painted Ceramic; 2018)

Cameroon: Artists featured below: Beya Gille Gacha (Orant; 2017; pearls embellisched sculpture) & Edith Tialeu (Nubie: 2018; Ceramic)

Iran: Artists featured below: Kourosh Arish (Threshold; 2018; Ceramic, earthenware, alkaline glaze, hand painting) & Behzad Ajdari (Passing; 2018; Ceramic & metal)

India: Artists featured below: Om Prakash Galav (Kagzi pottery; 2018) & Prithviraj Singh Deo (Kangan; 2013; Ceramic)

Finally, the Norwegian designer, Hanne Friis created a piece that embodies the identity of Révélations 2019. ‘Nuances in Blue and Black’ (pictures courtesy of Oystein Thorvaldsen) is a huge sculpture made from blue and black jeans, and is the result of tremendous sewing effort transforming loose fabrics into a compact mass.

Hero picture: Somdulyawat Chalermkiat (Thailand) Bua; 2016; Metal flower pot