When Ayush Chauhan and Avinash Kumar of Quicksand visited our studio and told us about the exciting work they were doing, we were left inspired, enthused and hungry for more. Luckily for us, one of their (many) projects, UnBox, was coming to London for a pop-up event just two days later.

UnBox started in Delhi in 2011 and each year has been showcasing interdisciplinary collaborations that tap into India’s fertile cultural zeitgeist.

To kick off the night, we heard from five India–UK collaborations incubated by UnBox LABS over the last three years. These cross-cultural projects used design and technology to spark discussion around a range of issues, from how a digital cartography platform can be used to unite villagers facing water scarcity, to the psychosocial benefits of teaching prisoners design skills.

Although each project deserves a mention, here are two that have struck a chord with us:

3 x 4 is an installation by Professor Paul Sermon (University of Brighton), Dr Claire McAndrew (The Bartlett, UCL) and Swati Janu (a Delhi-based architect) that explores metaspace through bringing together two 3×4 metre rooms – one in New Delhi and one in London. The size of the rooms reflects the plot size provided for resettlement colonies in megacities like Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad, but also reflects the shrinking living spaces for people in major cities globally. Both rooms are captured on video, digitally composited onto a user-submitted background, and then the playback is shown live in each room. The participants are able to interact while inhabiting the same virtual space despite being thousands of miles apart. Their communication through gesture alone – a wave, a smile – is touching and speaks of our innate desire to connect with each other, but the installation also raises some fascinating wider questions around how we occupy space in the city and emerging ways in which the internet can be used.

Other Cities: Future Artifacts by Ben Parker and his team of collaborators is a project that ‘looks back’ from a speculative future on key events of the last (i.e. next) 100 years. Major developments include ‘data cities’ that spring up around enormous server clusters, the post-antibiotic city in which biometric tattoos are required as signifiers of health status, and a Chernobyl that is habitable again and being resettled. As evidenced by the popularity of sci-fi, extrapolating current trends into the future is always fecund territory for the creative mind and has lost none of its magnetism in our digital age – quite the opposite in fact. Approaching the future as the historical past is a compelling way to access speculation because it bypasses scepticism through providing ‘evidence’ or ‘artifacts’ imbued with the truth of the past tense and the wonder of the future imperfect. Highly thought provoking.

The evening was then brought to a frenetic crescendo by a VJ set from BLOT!, Avinash Kumar and Gaurav Malaker’s experimental audio-visual collective.

And so, glass of wine and UnBox FoodLABS snacks in hand – the power of interdisciplinary thinking expressed through design, technology, music and video to enact social change, and to help us explore the world around us, has never been clearer.

Thanks, Unbox!