By Tahira Resalat
Solo Project | 6 weeks
Chaka aims to address the large disparity between rickshaw passengers and the rickshaw industry whilst celebrating the rich culture of this unique mode of transport.
Rickshaws, known by many names and notorious in several countries in Southeast and East Asia, is the most popular mode of transport in Bangladesh. The estimated number of rickshaws in the capital city of Dhaka alone exceeds over 1 million. However, with the neoromanticism of this vehicle amongst both native passengers and foreigners, is entangled a deep history of societal imbalance and disparity. The rickshaw industry is made up of several sub-groups that extend from the ‘mistris’ (carpenters), artists, owners, rickshaw ‘wallahs’ (drivers) to the passengers.
Bangladesh has a unique relationship with the development of rickshaws in that no two rickshaws in the country look the same. Each rickshaw is decorated with an exclusive style of ‘rickshaw art’ encompassing pop culture, rural scenery, and animals. The style of ‘rickshaw art’ is unfavoured by many natives and members of high society in Bangladesh while seemingly romanticised by Bangladeshis living abroad. With the added complications of overpopulation and congestion, Bangladesh proposes to soon make this vehicle obsolete from its streets, causing an imminent decline for the entire industry,. Many of these rickshaw artists earn less than £2.50 for each piece of art, and with the style requiring training from ustads (masters), these artists have sought alternative means of earning a living. Rickshaw wallahs themselves earn less than £3.00 a day for an entire day’s work.
Though several small businesses have recently arisen to celebrate the rickshaw industry and support the art movement it encompasses, none of them truly address the inequality felt by a significant portion of this industry,,.
Chaka is a conceptual social enterprise, born out of a university project on industrial design, inspired by rickshaws to directly help the community affected by this inequality. It works very simply by pairing each purchase to a real-time rickshaw, allowing the customer to support its corresponding rickshaw wallah and creators. The revenue generated from Chaka sales can directly help better the livelihoods of these individuals.
The ideation phase of Chaka is iterative and yet messy. It was imperative that Chaka embodied its own form and function without directly copying that of a rickshaw. While the material choices and manufacturing methods were also inspired by that of rickshaws, ensuring easily accessible and repairable materials, the longevity and circularity of the chair was key to its design. With the intention of designing a rocking chair to replicate the rocking motion felt on a rickshaw, several obstacles were faced in terms of managing to keep the structure upright.
Soon-after, it was clear that in order for the chair to stand upright normally, it would need to be weighted down at the base. This would ensure form as well as safety for anyone choosing to enjoy the rocking motion.
The chair has been designed to be modular and easy to assemble. The spokes embody the large wheels on a rickshaw. However, having them on one side only allows safety and sophistication. It also allows for simple entry and exit from the chair. The well-thought details including the notch at the end of the seat allows for resting your feet or head, depending on how you place yourself on the chair. Finally, the form fitting seat profile provides an ergonomic addition to the chair, optimising it for lounging.
The material has been chosen carefully to reflect durability, longevity and ease of repair. Using wood to frame the structure will allow it to blend in with the outdoor surroundings while still bringing a natural luxury. The tonal contrast between different types of wood will also be carefully managed, providing customers with suggestions on aesthetic pairings when personalising their chairs.
Finally, though large in size, Chaka promises to be a luxury statement piece in any outdoor setting. The large surface area at the back of the chair acts as a canvas for the rickshaw art to be placed upon. This intentional structure will assure Chaka is the highlight of any conversation when guests are around.
Chaka chairs are available in 4 main formats, which each level allowing for increased personalisation. This will allow customers to feel like co-designers, increasing their ownership over the chair. With each Chaka purchase, customers are receiving more than just a chair. They are receiving an experience as well as the opportunity to have a positive impact on real people.
The Chaka Classic is the standard Chaka chair, allowing only one degree of personalisation - the colour of the seat cushion.
The Chaka Wood is the intermediate chair, allowing personalisation of the wood finishes, providing suggestions on the perfect combination of colours.
The Chaka Deluxe is one of the more premium options, allowing full customisation of the chair including a coloured finish on the Outer Shell.
The Chaka Custom provides the ultimate personalisation experience, with the chance to customise the chair with a unique rickshaw art design from the expansive Rickshaw Library, which is paired with a real-time rickshaw.
The Rickshaw Library is one of the staple features of the Chaka website. It's an image library which is connected to a real-time rickshaw. The filtering system allows the customer to sort through colours, regions and design types.
Finally, a look at the customisation page shows the easy and interactive nature of the platform, allowing for a live preview as well as the option to visualise what the chair would look like in the customer's choice of placement, through AR.