Blending the old and the new

Sushant School of Design mural

Funky mural at Sushant School of Design, Gurgaon

I recently got an  opportunity to visit the Sushant School of Design (SSD) in Gurgaon, a part of the recently established Ansal University. I had been trying to touch base forever, for a career review on interiors, furniture & space design, since the school specifically focuses on the interior design specialisation, a growing profession in India.

In 2012, I had heard the Dean of SSD, Mike Knowles address participating students at a data visualisation challenge being conducted by the India Design Forum in 2012, on the evolution of design in the UK. Apparently the UK Government realised the value of the design function as early as the 1960s, and set up educational institutes of repute, which gave a boost to design in industry (now, the Indian Govt. aims to do the same by setting up 4 new NIDs, albeit at a snail’s pace).

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Students and faculty work on these textile handlooms at SSD

During my visit to the school, almost a year later, I sensed that the institute is a nice blend of the old and the new, technology & sustainability. A major reason could be that the Dean Knowles is a great fan of our Indian tradition of handcrafted goods, while also keeping his eyes, firmly on the industry. This balance is not a common thing in design schools in India, save for a few. Most are skewed towards one or the other. The Dean is somewhat of an honourary Indian – he is married to one, and has lived here for 25 years. Like William Dalrymple, he sees India, not with starry eyes, but as a country in the process of catching up with its glorious past. He maintains that Indians have the potential to be the best designers in the world, because of our colourful, rich, diverse heritage.

Design model at a student exhibit

Eye-catching design model at a student exhibit

A part of the newly formed Ansal University, the first batch of the school is now in their second year, and the proof lies in the pudding ie their work. I found the aesthetics of the student work – displayed in all corners of the school ie walls, auditoriums, ceilings and the lobby – to be particularly impressive. Many new age D-Schools have the best intentions, but the aesthetics leave much to be desired. The students at SSD also claim to make their own models, which is not the case in many private design schools where students “outsource” their modeling work to professional model makers. This amount can range from anything between Rs 10,000 to 75k! If indeed this is true about SSD students, I must applaud the students for their innovative models.

Model by a student. Look closely and you can see some stapler pins :)

Model by a student. Look closely and you can see the innovative use of stapler pins 🙂

Another impressive fact – normal in many countries but impressive in ours – is that the school has admitted a profoundly deaf girl into their course. She got admission into one of the top design schools in the US, but in India she had great difficulty getting a foot in the door, due to her disability. This fact is not surprising. I recently quizzed the Director of a national-level design institute about whether they indeed admit people with disabilities, as mentioned in the brochure. She responded a tad too hastily,” Haan yes. Handicapped, ST/SC, etc all have reservation.” She then jumped into the next topic on her mind!

This attitude of treating people with disabilities or for that matter ST/SCs as statistics, is quite insensitive and meaningless. But such is the state of affairs in India, at this time. In the light of this callous attitude, the Dean’s empathy is a Godsent for this young student whose talent will get a chance to blossom and grow. He mentioned in the passing that the school may set up a full-fledged support system to train more hearing impaired talented design students in the future. It seems a promising idea because many hearing impaired individuals have a good eye and creative abilities.

The school current offers a four-year programme, which includes one year of Foundation studies and a three-year Diploma in Interior Design. Aspiring design students can know more about SSD by visiting the website

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2 thoughts on “Blending the old and the new

  1. Very informative for a lay person like me. What I particularly like about the place is its inclusive approach towards differently-abled and talented students. Kudos to your write-up, I am a little more informed today. Well done! 🙂

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