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Khushali Chawda

MA Interior Design, 2015–2017

What were you doing before you started at the RCA?

Before I came to the RCA, I studied product design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in India, and then went on to work with the architect Rooshad Shroff for two-and-a-half years on projects that ranged from product design to furniture and architecture. The focus in the office was always the handmade in India, and on the ways in which we could incorporate local crafts into our projects. While I was there I realised that it was the research and the prototyping that was the most exciting bit for me, and that I wanted to study at a much larger scale.

Why did you decide to study at the RCA?

I was first attracted to the RCA because of its impressive staff and alumni – for example Ron Arad (who was Head of Design Products) and Thomas Heatherwick. Then I started looking into the programme. I really liked the multidisciplinary nature of the course, and the way that it didn't just focus on the interiors of a building, but also on things like installations and temporary spaces. I particularly liked the idea of the shift in scale from urban design to furniture.

What are the main differences between your BA and MA?

My BA in India had a national focus. Here, there is much more of a global one. I have found it really inspiring to meet people from every corner of the world. In the future, I hope that I'll be able to combine both these perspectives – the local and the global – in my work and in my research. 

Another thing that sets this MA apart from my BA is the tutors. They are such talented individuals, with such a vast amount of experience, and they are always encouraging you to move beyond your comfort zone in order to realise your potential. In fact, they often see your potential before you do.

How has your work has changed or developed while you have been at the RCA?

My work has changed a lot since I've been here. When I arrived, I didn't have much experience of spatial design, so my first year was an amazing experimental time where I learnt lots of new skills, and a new way of thinking. Those practical skills are now feeding into the projects that I am carrying out in my second year. 

Before I started the course, I thought I knew what interior design was, but it's actually a much wider and much less predictable discipline than I thought. My research over the past year-and-a-half has taken me on quite an unexpected journey – I'm currently designing a 'cloud observatory' in a subterranean reservoir in Greenwich. I think the RCA really encourages you to think about design as creatively and holistically as possible.

What is the mixture of students like on the Interior Design MA?

It's a very multicultural group. We have people from Italy, Malaysia, China, India, Belgium and Lebanon. This multiculturalism is a really good thing for the course, not least because it means that people bring different perspectives to our crits – people are able to contribute a whole range of interesting and unpredictable case studies to any discussion. 

The students on the course also come from a variety of educational backgrounds – some have studied architecture and graphic design, for example, while others have had their own design practices. It's always fascinating to see how different people respond to each other's projects. I've learnt a lot from the other students on the course, and there's always an amazing atmosphere in the studio.

Have you faced any particular challenges while you have been here?

I found the whole of the first year very challenging. Having always worked at the scale of a product, I found it difficult to start conceptualising space. It's also a very different thing to design for yourself rather than for a client: you're responsible for every single little decision. I had to learn how to alter both the scale of my work and my thinking.

What have you found most rewarding about your time at the RCA?

I think that the most rewarding thing that I have learnt here is that it's important to be incredibly particular about your work. It is not OK not to care! I've also learnt to keep asking myself  'why' – every line or dot that you draw or put in your project needs to have a reason or a justification. The RCA has taught me about the importance of detail, rigour and precision. 

I've also learnt about the importance of listening and taking criticism. It's also important not to be afraid to start from the beginning, and to be open to taking risks.

What are the other things that you have enjoyed about studying at the RCA?

I think one of the big advantages of the RCA is that it is in London. There's so much to learn about design just from living in this city: from window displays that inspire you, to lectures by artists, to the amazing museums just next door. The Interior Design programme also makes an active effort to bring in live projects involving companies from all around London, so that students have a chance to practice design in the real world, not just in theory. 

Last year, we took part in a project with Wall London that involved designing wearable refugee shelters. A group of students from the second year won the competition and are now prototyping their product.

What are your plans for next year?

Next year I am planning to incorporate what I've learnt here with the best skills that there are in the design world in India. I think that design in India is just starting to develop, and I'm looking forward to being able to contribute to that.

"my first year was an amazing experimental time where I learnt lots of new skills, and a new way of thinking"
Khushali Chawda
Khushali Chawda