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'Steeling' the Tree-and-Vine of the Logo
"And I looked at that logo, and said to myself, "Hey, it's all here." With that insight, all I had to do was to sketch it out, do a study of the main inspiration for that logo, and put the two together."
Walter Emilio D'Souza, born in 1957 in Mumbai, is a product of the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Baroda (1983). He lives in and works out of Ahmedabad and Aldona Bardez, Goa. In this article, he recounts the story* of the steel artwork that adorns the entrance to the International Management Development Centre (IMDC) and the corridors of the academic block of the New Campus.
The story of the artwork at the IMDC entrance began when the architect of the IIMA New Campus project, Bimal Patel, invited me to visit his office and take a look at the plans for a building that was coming up. He just told me that there was some work to be done; and that that work was 'structural'. It wasn't an add-on for the sake of adding some artwork. That got me excited. I went and saw the drawings. I was told, "See, Walter, this is a truss, a good bit of which is structural; it has a function, but within that framework, try to see what can you do." So the first thing that was pointed out to me was a 'steel truss,' which would be right at the main entrance of the building. The architect added, "I don't need to spell things out to you. I know you are a sensible person. So this is a steel truss. Only after that comes up, can we cast a slab." A member of his office staff had to come up to me and show what a truss, an assembly of items that behaved like a single structural unit, looked like in reality.
I made a pencil-on-paper drawing, and that was in front of me when I worked further on the details. That was the beginning. I took the IIMA logo, and worked on it. Soon, I got a call from the architect's office asking if there was anything ready. I made a small steel model. The next day, I went to his office and showed him the drawings and the model done to scale. But I had to warn him, "The final drawings are done to scale, but they are not engineering drawings. I'm sure your people can take care of them and check out whether the design is sound enough to work as a steel truss." To our good luck, everything fell into place. I was very happy.
What I had done was to take the IIMA logo, and look at it from the point of view of a detail in the logo--not the full tree-and-vine motif, but just a detail that had to address the requirements of a steel truss. The idea was to talk about how management looks at details; there are various levels and layers to any problem that you look at, and the ability to look at the whole through the details is what I guess management schools impart to their students. My attempt was to take off the hard edge implied by the nature of the truss and the material, and introduce some of the organic qualities of nature. I did not want to go overboard with the hard stuff--the work was to be made of solid steel, but I wanted to give it a soft edge, which is what I thought would be appropriate for an entrance to this section of a management school.
The original idea was to balance this work with another one in an adjacent space near the IMDC building. This is the space at the end of the academic block. Beyond it is the main axis of the New Campus, running from the underpass to a water tower. And beyond that, are the student dormitories. So when one came in from the dormitory side, this double-height opening would have been the entry, a divider between the student residences and the academic/ executive education space. The screen here would have completed the work in the IMDC, with the leaves of the IMDC tree symbolically coming down here, to touch the ground [see the designs made at that time]. The work that one sees today is actually incomplete. There was a change in thinking and for some reason the second part of the tree-and-vine adaptation could not be taken up.
The fabrication of the steel artwork for the IMDC was done on campus, very close to the IMDC entrance. All the cutting, welding and grinding happened on location. Given the weight of the structure, cranes were used to install the truss, and then it was welded in. The steel used was 10 mm steel; the frame is about 15 cm thick, that is, the structure is hollow inside. The truss details had to be incorporated in the work, and this was handled by the structural engineers.
The fabricators and the others involved in managing the installation hadn't bargained for the amount of work they would have to put in when they worked with an artist. I was fortunate to have the freedom to call up the architect's office and say, 'Please send somebody down, because the folks here are taking shortcuts. And that's not acceptable. I'm sure it won't be acceptable to you as well.' They came and put their foot down. Finally, the fabricators did a terrific job. Because it was not simply welding flat sheets of steel. The work involved bending, and creating subtle curves. It was important to do this carefully, not compromising on subtle details. So, though I had to complain all the time, my concerns were addressed. And those subtle curves and details were not overlooked. Straight lines are easy enough, but I wanted to soften the lines up. The curves do that.
In the main IMDC building, there are courtyards inside. Over there, the architect was talking about having louvres up in the courtyards to cut out some part of the sun's glare. There were the two of us visualizing the same leaf patterns on the ground. But that also did not work out. But what exists, inspired by the IIMA logo, but reinterpreting the tree-and-vine motif to convey management education's focus on 'detail' and IIMA's outreach and impact, is an illustration of a new aesthetic resulting from art working with architecture.
*As told to Prof. Vijaya Sherry Chand, December 2022.
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