In 1961, India’s first prime minister wrote an official note:
“I am glad to learn of the establishment of the National Institute of Industrial Design, a training service and research agency at the national level; I think such a design institute is certainly needed in view of our development in many ways. I wish the Institute success.”1
It was then a little over ten years since independence and the role for modern design was clear¾nation building and providing a “standard of living” for Indians. Charles and Ray Eames had responded to this call, drawing in their “India Report” (1958) the contours of an institute for design education to “hasten the production of the ‘Lotas’ of our time,” those perfect pots which were, for them, the metaphor for good design anchored in the cultural life of India. However, in the following year, a travelling exhibit from MoMA (1959) consisting of about 400 objects of everyday use toured nine cities in India, introducing contemporary good design from Europe and America. The exhibit was sponsored by the Ford Foundation (who also sponsored the visit of the Eameses), whose representative in India, Douglas Ensminger commented, “This show is absolutely going to stand this country right on its ear¾which is precisely what we want.”2
The National Institute of Design (NID), as it was eventually named, thus, came into existence at the intersection of postcolonial aspirations to design a new nation and the new citizen and Cold War cultural diplomacy. It was located in Ahmedabad, a medieval western Indian city on the banks of the river Sabarmati, famous for its textile mills and as the place where Gandhi began his anti-British campaigns. Initially it was housed, perhaps quite appropriately, in a museum building designed by Le Corbusier where discussions began on the appropriate educational philosophy and pedagogy: Who would produce new lotas for the new nation? Who would teach them and how?
Images of undergraduate student work in the Foundation Programme at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad (NID) give the impression that the NID simply transplanted the contents of the Bauhaus’s Preliminary Course and the Grundlehre of HfG Ulm. This article tries to uncover the thinking that led to the development of the Foundation Programme, explores the ways that it drew on the pedagogies developed at the Bauhaus and at HfG Ulm and the diversions it made to become and remain relevant to the evolving landscapes in India.