"But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad." "How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
A fast developing India also appears to be increasingly synonymous with urban wreckage. Rapid influx of capital, increasing wealth, and an accompanying spur of urban construction promise to change India irreversibly, and if seeing is believing, then largely for the worse.
As a nation, as a government, as a people, we are rightly concerned about urban infrastructure, or the lack thereof. Equally rightly, vast sums of money are pouring into building new, new things. Except, what are we building, and how are we building them?
Mumbai, easily the city with the greatest amount of wealth per square foot in India, doesn’t have public anything, except perhaps trains, on which merely to set foot you have to fight a Darwinian survival battle.
Let alone public spaces, parks, monuments, and habitable human dwellings for most. If nation building is about building global companies, surely it is also about building with a little foresight, about building for beauty, about building for people, and ultimately about building for life – so that we may live rather than merely survive.
It doesn’t take an acute observer to note that we may not be headed there. Once upon a time, early in our history as a modern nation, we made a start. We commissioned promising contemporary architects to design private residences and public buildings in Ahmedabad. We invited Le Corbusier to build Chandigarh. We hired Otto Königsberger to plan Bhubaneswar.Somewhere along the way we forgot to take that start forward.
Perhaps we need to start all over again.
The Mumbai Architecture & Design (MAD) Salon made its debut on 30th October 2010. The MAD Salon brings together experts and enthusiasts to discuss and debate contemporary issues in nation building.
MAD Lab is the hands-on twin of the MAD Salon. The Lab fosters experimental and exploratory projects at the intersection of the arts, sciences and humanities.
Susmita Mohanty (Suz) and Siddharth Das (Sid) are a renaissance couple who seamlessly dwell in the worlds of art, architecture, design, fashion, technology, and their professions. Their panoply of interests is exceeded only by the diversity of their friends.
Sid and Suz met each other in 1991 in Ahmedabad when they were both undergraduate students. After that, life took them in two different directions, Sid to the United States and Suz to France. They got back together and started living under the same roof in San Francisco in 2000. The roof, like the founders, has kept moving.
Suz is a spaceship designer and serial aerospace entrepreneur. After brief stints at NASA and Boeing, in 2000 she co-founded MOONFRONT (2000-07) in San Francisco, a boutique aerospace consultancy. Since then she has co-founded two more enterprises, one in Vienna called LIQUIFER (2004-08), and her third and final venture in Bangalore called EARTH2ORBIT (2009-onwards).
Suz has an eclectic education that includes a PhD in Aerospace Architecture from Chalmers University, Sweden, Master’s Degrees in Space Studies and in Product Design from International Space University (ISU) in Strasbourg (France), and the National Institute for Design (NID), in Ahmedabad (India) respectively. She started off with a degree in electrical engineering from Gujarat University, also in Ahmedabad.
Sid started his career at an investment bank, before turning to hi-tech. He spent more than a decade as an organization builder in hi-tech companies in California. After moving to India in 2008, Sid ran the country’s first start-up credit bureau and then led two fintech companies – first, PayZippy at Flipkart and then Jio Money at Reliance. In his spare time, Sid pursues his lifelong passions – architecture, design, and sound.
Sid has degrees in engineering, policy, management from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee, and from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
When they are not screening films or cooking impromptu dinners for friends or planning their next Salon, Sid is agonizing over architectural and structural details of their under-construction new home which he has designed from scratch. Next in line is the unfinished, handcrafted high-end audiophile system, of which, production prototypes can be seen in their living room.
Suz, similarly, has spent the last couple of decades designing space habitats and rovers, launching satellites into space, consulting to space projects, and conspiring to make sure all of us can get an affordable and comfortable ride to low earth orbit, the moon, and someday, into deep space. In recent years, she has been worrying about her home planet and how it might not last beyond 4 to 5 generations from now, if anthropogenic climate change continues unabated.
MAD Graphic Designer
Callum Prockter Graphic Designer, Edinburgh
A glowing reminder of why people matter, not the place.
MAD Graphic Novelist
MAD Salons take place in a great, informal evening setting. The crowd is always eclectic, always interesting, and the conversation stirring to say the least. Above all, MAD Salons have the sort of culture positive atmosphere I hope will continue to grow and thrive here: where great people meet each other and ideas collide and multiply.
Have had the most stimulating discussions ever. The city seriously needs a space like this - where the air bristles with ideas and actually thrives on debates.
The MAD salons bring together an international mix of eclectic perspectives and fields of expertise. Anchored around a specific topic of discussion and featured presenter, MAD evenings both enlighten and entertain. The MAD format is an ideal extension of dinner party socializing, in that it allows designated speakers to substantively share their expertise with a receptive audience. Equally, presenters benefit from alternative perspectives on their topics and new lines of questioning. In a world of consensus opinions, MAD is an agent for intellectual cross-fertilization among those privileged to attend.
Susmita and Sid have the most excellent dinner parties and intellectual salons. They are reminiscent of the get-togethers in the movie Midnight in Paris. Being around them always makes me feel like anything is possible.
The MAD salons have filled a void sadly expressed in today's information-overloaded society. The average (elite) person consumes information in either bite-sized amounts (on one extreme) or in PhD dissertation-sized amounts (on another extreme) in an independent and/or academically siloed fashion. The MAD salons have brought experts and "armchairists" alike together for a refreshing exchange of concepts, ideas, and opinions which can only further inquiry and design. The conversations are always enlightening, sometimes controversial, and always conducted in a fashion where each person feels open to the opportunity to question and ideate in a more casual setting than one finds at more institutional talks.
A unique platform where art, science, business, food, cultural diversity and friendship come together. Everywhere else such a format would be snobbish and ostentatious, but not at MAD.
MAD is never trivial, always focused, and with an out of the box eye on the complex Indian reality.
In a world where most adult learning takes place at home alone with mouse in hand, it's the perfect antidote to sit in a presentation environment with an interesting speaker talking about his or her work. The Q&A at the end of each MAD allows one to round off the understanding of the subject matter and clear any doubts; but also to vigorously challenge the speaker and his or her proposition - something that would be harder in a more formal environment. On some occasions the Q&A can be longer than the talk itself - this is deeply satisfying. In a frenetic growth environment like we are experiencing, where time is [thought of as] money and the general societal focus is on doing, contemplation and thought triggering is all the more imperative and relevant.
MAD's by invitation only style and air of intellectual elitism conceals an idea whose time has come: real-time, face-to-face venues for friends and friends of friends to share knowledge and debate. Just like Facebook, MAD works on network power. The difference is that MAD brings it back to human scale: Real people discussing together at home. It is a TEDish cult for the new and the bright without the star-effect of the podium. One can interact horizontally with MAD’s guests. Multiplied a million times, the MAD format holds incredible potential for development of advanced forms of socialization and intellectual exchange.