Currently based in Greece and working at K-studio, Solen Malrieu, alumni 2014, shares her impressions and learning from the two years she spent in India for her MDes.
Solen remembers her first impression at her arrival in India: “In the taxi which was taking us from the airport to the hotel, I remember being amazed, looking out from the window, firmly holding the door handle all the while –just in case- and absolutely astonished by all my eyes could set on. I think that there is no documentary or movie that can really share such effervescence of India, both crazy and fascinating”. Solen still cannot believe how her adaptation to this new foreign environment happened so naturally and fast: “I remember I used to be very intimidated by this world, so radically different from France. And then, little by little, one gets settled, one finds the courage to confront the unknown and ends up feeling at home and appreciating the eternal chaos”.
Looking back, Solen admits that her experience in India definitely made her stronger, both personally and professionally. The MDes Transcultural Design program particularly answered her expectations by putting her in a foreign and complex context, which allowed her to adapt her creative process, decomposing it stage by stage, to ensure that these new situations and needs could be addressed. Those were completely different in nature than the topics she had worked on as a student in France. Solen points out the anthropological approach to design that is singular to the program: “the field-studies, with the people, was crucial to allow us to create projects that really had a meaning, in a country where there is so much to do and where there are so many opportunities to be seized”.
Cultural heritage revalorization in India
Solen has always been passionate about cultural heritage preservation and the reinterpretation of architectural and crafts patrimony. That is what guided her to Studio Lotus (Delhi) and INTACH (Pondichéry) for her internships in India. Within these two structures, she discovered different approaches to cultural heritage revalorization in India: “While India is undergoing an economic boom and a strong modernization, the country is still very committed to preserving its traditions. Many Indian designers are doing really good work in reinterpreting their own cultural legacy, and that is why India is so fascinating”.
Today, Solen completes her expertise in this field at K-studio in Athens, Greece. The agency concentrates its efforts in understanding the context of each project to ensure all projects respond well to it and are well integrated, she explains. The study of vernacular architecture allows the development of innovative projects, deeply rooted in their original context.
India, an unforgettable life experience and a true value for the professional world
In the framework of her End of Studies Project, Solen worked on a sensitive question in India, which also resonates with our times in Europe these past few years: the migration phenomena. She focused on the cultural identity preservation of migrants from North-East India, coming to mega-cities in the hope of a better life. Even though these populations are moving to cities within the same country, India is so vast and diverse that North-Eastern people are completely lost and often rejected by the giant and overpopulated cities of India, explains Solen. “The idea at the root of my project is that the rejection of difference is due to ignorance and fear (Claude Levi-Strauss). I have developed an itinerant educative space for children, to sensitize them to cultures and traditions of the North-Eastern states of India. The project aims at creating interaction between children from the mega-cities and migrant children so they can learn from each other and appreciate their differences, getting enriched by them, rather than afraid”. This project was voted winner of the Humà Design Challenge price “Peace and Diversity” in Montréal in 2016.
Solen holds dear her time in India which was, to her, a destabilizing and fascinating challenge; two terms that truly depict the constant ambivalence of India: “One finds there everything and its exact opposite” she declares, “from extreme poverty to fortune and abundance, from kitsch design and daily objects to spectacular crafts and art forms, from urban chaos to serene landscapes of pristine beauty, from spicy dishes to sweets”.
Qualifying her experience in India as a memorable adventure, she notices that her ability to adapt to different situations, mostly unexpected, and her reactivity, developed in India, are truly valued in the professional world as an asset, apart from the ability to perfectly communicate in English.