Design+Environment+Law Laboratory (DEL Laboratory)

The Design+Environment+Law Laboratory (DEL Laboratory) is set up to challenge existing legal, environmental, social, economic and cultural frameworks through interdisciplinary thinking and creativity. The DEL Laboratory is an initiative of Srishti and Natural Justice, led by Deepta Sateesh. We believe that through interdisciplinary design approach to various issues, it is possible to inquire, interpret, image and intervene to address complexities on the ground in contentious landscapes..


At the Design+Environment+Law Laboratory (DEL Laboratory) we explore the intersections between design and the humanities, through active engagement with the environment; to bring a design influence to pedagogy, policy and practice; towards strengthening socio-ecological relationships, making way for synchronous engagement with our environment.


The DEL Laboratory is an interdisciplinary space where we engage in various activities including: studio-based projects, action-oriented research, and building local and global partnerships across various disciplines and institutions. We engage in catalyzing change through a number of studio projects driven by creative practices and design research.

We are currently working on a larger design research project across faculty in multiple disciplines: “Reimaging and Reimagining the Western Ghats” is a collaborative project among Dilip da Cunha and Anuradha Mathur, at the University of Pennsylvania, Vivek Dhareswhar at Bangalore Human Sciences Initiative (Srishti), and Deepta Sateesh (DEL Laboratory). This year, we led a 2nd studio to work through the idea of a 'splice' in the Western Ghats. In this studio, design students at Srishti and landscape architecture students from UPenn, will traverse the landscape of South Canara looking at the various 'things' that are in flux in the region, and creating a design intervention.

In collaboration with the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, the DEL Laboratory's diploma students worked on communicating the importance of the grasslands of Agumbe through a new visualization of the grasslands, the "Living Plains," and "Summer Settlers," a storybook on the yellow-wattled lapwing. In addition, we just completed a short project with Kalpavriksh (Pune, India) to design a note on the intersections of environmental laws.

Studio projects

In Spring 2015, we led a studio called “Splice – The Iconic Joint”, a collaborative studio project with Dilip da Cunha and Anuradha Mathur, faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. Through design research as an explorative methodology, with undergraduate students at Srishti, students developed lenses to ‘see’ the Ghats. We traversed the Ghats, a cross-section from the hills to the sea, Agumbe, Udupi Maple and St. Mary’s Island. In this project, we imaged and imagined the Western Ghats as a splice and a field of splices.

We have completed a number of collaborative projects including the Heroes Project with Natural Justice (South Africa), a practice-based initiative using storytelling for community revival - working with the KhoiSan and ‘coloured’ communities of the Cape Flats, Cape Town; the Communicating Biodiversity Project with the National Biodiversity Authority of India; the Voices Project with Natural Justice (India); and the Roots Project


Fall 2014 Studio Project: ‘We walked into the Arms of the Forest...’
Studio Faculty: Deepta Sateesh
Research Assistant: Malvika Tewari
Project partner: Agumbe Rainforest Research Station, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust
Students: Rutuja Patil, Mariya Madraswala
Project Funding: MCBT
Project duration: 4 months

Biodiversity is a broad area that impacts the political, social, economic and cultural life. This impact and importance is often lost through a myriad of inaccessible studies, policy documents, and technical language that do not necessarily capture the complexity that surrounds biodiversity. These limitations stem from those of our current approaches and conventional forms/languages of documentation and communication.

In collaboration with the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS), the intent is to drive change and imagine new ways of documentation and creative communication of biodiversity, working with field biologists, in Agumbe, Karnataka, Western Ghats. At ARRS, biologists, ecologists and other researchers study the behavior of specific species in their microhabitats. However, the forms in which these studies are documented are limited to primarily text-based records from a species-specific perspective. Although these studies enable the researcher to observe and gain knowledge about their subjects, they are unable to communicate their findings to another audience, of the nature of the changing site conditions and scales of operations.

This project sought to reimage biological diversity of the Western Ghats beyond the species approach - to see habitats, micro-ecosystems, landscapes, and patterns of behavior in these places across time, scales, practices and relationships. The 2 ideas that were created and developed for this project were: (i) a new kind of ‘map’ or ‘calendar’ that unravels the Shola grasslands in Agumbe hoping to remove the notions that grasslands are ‘wastelands’; and (ii) a storybook of the quaint bird that visits the grasslands every summer – the Yellow-Wattled Lapwing, and its relationship with the grasslands.

“The Living Plains”, visualizing the Agumbe grasslands – by Rutuja Patil.

Spring 2015 Studio Project: Splice – The Iconic Joint

Studio Faculty: Deepta Sateesh, Dilip da Cunha
Project collaborator: Department of Landscape Architecture, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania
Students: Sanika Sahasrabuddhe, Sreemoyee Choudhury, Henal Jain, Namrata Singh, Priyanka Mehta, Adwait Pawar
Partial Funding: Department of Landscape Architecture, UPenn
Project duration: 4 months

To most people the Western Ghats is a range of hills on the west coast of India covered with monsoon forests, a repository of minerals, a UNESCO world heritage site and a biodiversity hotspot. In this studio, however, the Western Ghats will be a splice: a joint of two things that does not call attention to itself so much as to the new ‘singularity’ that it creates. It is common to hear the word splice used to describe the taping of two celluloid strips in making a film, the tying of two ropes in extending a length, the joining of two pieces of wood in crafting an artifact, the juxtaposing of two images in creating a montage, the connecting of two pieces of music to make a performance.

To say the Western Ghats is a splice is to see: a coast that calls attention to a land-sea gradient; an escarpment that unites the ground beneath the Arabian Sea and the Deccan Plateau along a N-S shear that reveals layers of basalt toward the north and a surface of laterite to the south; a threshold that allows the SW monsoon to come through, a moisture-laden wind that drops large amounts of rain between June and September on its way to the Himalayas; a ‘wild’ belt that generates networks of roadways, railways and airways to draw people from the urban centers on the Arabian Sea and the Deccan Plateau – people looking for ‘nature’, vacations, recreation, adventure and research; a ground that reveals veins, strata and ore of coveted minerals; a catchment of rain that inspires conduits of water and hydropower to cities on the Arabian Sea and the Deccan Plateau; a biodiversity hotspot that calls attention to an endangered planet. The singularity initiated by the Western Ghats in each of these cases has a beginning but no end, direction but no destination, trajectory but no enclosure.

Design students engaged in the studio through: (i) Explorations – crafting a splice; (ii) Field work – traversing a splice (along with UPenn students); and, (iii) Intervention – designing a splice. Each student designed an intervention in the Western Ghats that responds to conditions and initiates a transformation. This design will involve programming, strategizing, and if necessary siting. Interventions include textiles, books, and exhibits. The project ran simultaneously in the landscape architecture studio at UPenn, led by Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha.

“The “Ghats as a Superorganism” constructed by movements – by Priyanka Mehta.


Heroes Project - The Hoerikwaggo Chronicles
The Heroes Project, inspired by Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, is an on-going collaboration between Natural Justice in South Africa and the DEL Laboratory, since 2013. It is an initiative in the move towards social reform in South Africa, to enable the KhoiSan youth make informed choices. The site for transformation is the Cape Flats, just outside Cape Town. Here, where most KhoiSan reside today in the midst of gangsterism, drug abuse and poverty, are also home to heroes from the community who have made significant contributions for positive change. A graphic narrative to reintroduce myths and community heroes was identified as the form that the youth can relate to. This year, the lab team completed the origin story of the graphic novel series, titled “Hoerikwaggo Chronicles – Return to the Kalahari.” The comic book was officially launched in Cape Town, at the District Six Museum, with the blessings of the National KhoiSan Council, on September 26th, 2014. The team is now planning publishing and distribution of the book to initiate possible change.

“The Hoerikwaggo Chronicles, Comic Fest, World Design Capital Cape Town 2014.

Research and Collaboration

We believe that research, based on theory, practice and reflection, will form the foundation of how design thinking and methodology can contribute to and impact broader issues of policy-making, regional and spatial planning, conflict resolution, local practices, uncovering new lenses and pathways for humanity to navigate through our changing world and environments.

The Western Ghats, a contentious landscape that has drawn much attention over the past few years, is of research interest as the conflicts on the ground today stem from the current image and imagination of the Ghats. The DEL Laboratory has entered into research work with BHSI (Vivek Dhareshwar) and faculty at the Landscape Architecture department at UPenn (Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha), to begin a revisualization and reimagining of the Ghats, through studio projects as well as doctoral work, symposia and workshops. At the faculty research level, the team is now beginning to explore the nature of design in the humanities and humanities in design, through workshops, seminars and discussions, engaging a diverse group of scholars, artists, designers, and practitioners across India.

Partnerships & Funding

Current partners/collaborators:

  • Department of Landscape Architecture, School of Design, UPenn
  • Bangalore Human Sciences Initiative
  • Natural Justice, Global

Funders (grants and fellowships)

  • Shuttleworth Foundation Flash Grant
  • Andrea von Braun Foundation
  • INLAKS Ravi Sankaran Fellowship


  • Deepta Sateesh, Director
  • Arpitha Kodiveri, Co-Founder


  • Kabir Bavikatte, Co-founder of Natural Justice
  • Geetha Narayanan, Founder-Director of Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology
  • John C. Keene, University of Pennsylvania


Copyright 2015 © Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology.