Reimagining the ‘jhoola’

Five Indian architects and designers recently unveiled their interpretations of the ‘jhoola’, pieces of nostalgia and emblems of traditional woodcraft on the sub-continent. Woodworkers took up the challenge and gave shape and substance to them in American hardwoods: maple, red oak and cherry. ‘Reimagine’ is the biggest design collaboration to date in India by the American Hardwood Export Council…

Five Indian architects and designers unveiled their interpretations of the traditional jhoola (swing seat) at the Jio World Convention Centre late in May this year. The architects were asked to select from three American hardwood species (a single species, or a combination): American cherry, maple and red oak.

A design collaboration launched by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and ‘Think! Design’, the project challenged Annkur Khosla, Naresh Narasimhan, Prem Nath, Sanjay Puri, and Sonali and Manit Rastogi to recreate that quintessential Indian piece of furniture.

This is AHEC’s biggest design collaboration to date in India. The swings were manufactured by Bram Woodcrafting Studio, based in Mysuru; and Melbourne-based Adam Markowitz served as a mentor for the project.

Abenaki Timber Corporation and Costaa Woods provided the American hardwood lumber needed for the project.



Inspired by memories

Speaking at the launch, Roderick Wiles, Regional Director of AHEC, said, “Jhoolas, which were a common sight in many Indian households, seem to have fallen out of favour in recent times. Nonetheless, they continue to have an allure on account of the memories they carry.”

For the ‘Reimagine’ project, the architects were asked to draw on their childhood memories of playfulness, teenage years of angst, and to temper these with ‘grown-up’ elegance in a furniture piece for a contemporary context; a limited edition legacy piece made out of American hardwoods.



While designing for this project, the architects were asked to factor in both, environmental impact as well as human health and well-being. AHEC encouraged the designers to consider the environmental impact of metal for framing and fixtures, glues, and resins and coatings when designing their jhoolas.

American hardwoods have an extremely low environmental impact, and they act as a carbon store. The more wood used in each design, the more carbon is kept out of the atmosphere and the lower the overall environmental impact of the finished piece.

Legacy pieces

According to Annkur Khosla (Annkur Khosla Design Studio in Mumbai), the inspiration for her design was the aspect of weaving, and the entire process involving the warp and weft of threads. Woodworking at its inherent level of joinery doesn’t follow this as a process; but the aim was to explore the limitations of woodworking while pushing the limits of the material.

The swing designed by Mumbai-based Sanjay Puri intended to look monolithic and fluid simultaneously: the seat, armrests and back merging into each other, creating a sculptural look. While it can be used as a swing, it can also be presented as an art form.



The design thought and inspiration behind Manit and Sonali Rastogi’s piece was primarily focused on addressing the shift in communication caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. With physical distancing measures in place, the design aimed to create an opportunity for people to reconnect with their friends and close mates in a safe and socially distanced manner.

This particular swing design was specifically chosen, as it provides a comfortable seating arrangement that allows individuals to relax and engage themselves in the conversation while maintaining necessary distance.

The design of the swing incorporates aesthetic elements, turning it into a visually appealing piece of art when not in use. The Rastogi couple runs a Morphogenesis architecture firm in New Delhi.

The form of Naresh Narasimhan’s swing seat is derived from the veena, a popular element in Hindola Raga paintings. In Indian culture, the swing was traditionally considered a luxury, mostly owned by royalty and placed in outdoor gardens and verandas.

Ragamala paintings, a form of Indian miniature paintings, are a set of illustrative paintings of the Ragamala or ‘Garland of Ragas’, depicting variations of the Indian musical modes called ragas.

His swing borrows ideas of movement, rhythm and asymmetry from the paintings. The intent of the form is to be able to choose the seating experience on the swing: fun, relaxed and playful.

For architect Prem Nath, the Indian swing is a feature of playful outdoor combination of strings and plank hung from the branches of a tree or an ornate piece of indoor furniture, which gives thrills and gentle joys of swinging motion.

It’s a traditional add-on feature of furniture in Indian homes of prosperity, comfort and romance. His piece was fashioned out of red oak.

Since new generation homes now have contemporary designs, away from the typical traditional designs, his design has been conceived with neo-classical features with soft minimal Indian ornamentation.



Design language

Commenting on his involvement, Adam Markowitz said, “As an architect, furniture designer and craftsman, my role was similar to that of a language translator, acting between the architects and the manufacturer. As with any good translation, there is a bit of artistry required of the translator to communicate the nuance from one language into another and back again.”

“Solid timber needs to be worked with, rather than against. When you try to make timber do something timber doesn’t want to do, the timber usually wins! Manufacturers therefore have a range of very real-world considerations determining their decision making,” he added.



“I’ve admired the many design initiatives AHEC has undertaken across the world for ages, and always wanted to see India on this elite chart,” stated Sylvia Khan, Founder and Creative, ‘Think! Design’. “It’s finally happened, at the highest level of concept and design with ‘Reimagine’. It’s been the most exhilarating, joyous yet a rollercoaster ride to high design.”

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