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There are many objects that we find common across multiple cultures- separated by time and geography. They have played a pivotal role within the society, oblivious to it's users. With changing associations designated to them, these objects reflect the values and culture that prevailed in the society in it's time. The glass is one such object. Thirst is universal. The first human settlement developed around water bodies. Containing and storing water and other thirst quenching liquids was one of the first necessities. From basic clay cups and bowls to ornate and exquisite glass jars that hold wine; the glass is a recurring object that we come across in it's many forms; and it's presence is subtle, yet unavoidable. If we carefully look around us, the role of the drinking cup shall start blaring out in our face. Why does the glass of wine play such a significant role in Christianity? Why do we use ceramic mugs with "I <3 NY" on them? Why does the absolut vodka bottle bring about the interest that it does? Why is it important that we use paper glasses made of recycled paper for our morning shot of caffeine? Why do we resort to using disposable cups at a party over drinking glasses? The many forms that the drinking container takes, in the above mentioned instances, are classical examples of the role that it plays in a religious, an emotional, a trendbased,a movement for change-based and a utilitarian scenario.

Let me call the glass a drink container instead, including in it's domain, all the possible kinds of glasses and bottles and other water containers that have ever existed. With the help of a few examples, I'd like to do a quick analysis of the way different parameters have changed the design of this water container.

AS A REPRESENTATION OF UTILITARIAN AND GEOGRAPHICAL VALUES Charles and Ray Eames, in "The India Report" 1 , refer to the "lota" as a perfectly designed

water container that is not only local, but is also ergonomically designed for superior portability and utility. The lota is an Indian-styled container that can be made of baked clay from the local soil, that sits perfectly on a woman's waist, helping her carry around water in harsh desert areas, where she has to walk for miles for a single pot of water. There may be many other variations of the lota that spans across cultures and times, and this particular technology and design has been prevalent in an Indian context for many centuries now- it is one of those few technologies that may never be rendered obsolete. It is a perfect example of how the geography affects the design. The materials are local, and serve the purpose of not only keeping the water cool in a hot climate, but also purifying the water. The design, as mentioned earlier, helps the carrier carry water for long distances, where water is not available easily. The mouth is relatively smaller than the neck- it is also designed in such a way that the container can scoop water from wells easily, without spilling more than it finally contains.

The Lota 2

Let's shift from rural India to an urban american hospital. The use of the water container has been reduced, or for that matter, elevated to the simple act of containing: the patient is given

his/her medication using a miniature form of this water container. Primarily to prevent contamination of the medication. Flasks and mugs, with more than one layer for better insulation is an almost innate everyday object. The effect of constantly evolving technology has made a water container a water preservation system- one can preserve the exact flavor and temperature required for that flavor in our flasks and mugs.

Technology and the availability of local materials influences not only the form that the water container may take, it also affects the functions it serves, and adaptation. Many a times, one will see recurring forms across multiple cultures, that signify a common need, and a common solution: even though the technique that the solution employs may be vastly different.

For example, this prototype3 of a water bucket that doubles up as a water purifier may be seen in across many cultures in different materials, bodies and forms. Some may use filtration processes, some may use U-V rays for purification, and some boiling. In this case, this particular prototype uses a filtering process that employs colloidal silver, and is meant for an african audience. This, is pretty much the same technology used in India, in a different form; a certain kind of silver coin4 is dropped into a well (another scaled up water container!) to keep the water pure. Children are given liquids in silver glasses specifically sized down for them. The silver keeps the liquid clean, adds metals that are healthy, improving the immunity of the children. At the same time, the design and size ensures that it is attractive and easy to use for small children.

3. The Poptaz Ceramic Filter


One may choose to call describe them as superstitious, mythological, or religious, but unknowingly, the drinking container has developed many such associations in the course of time.

The Chalice is a recurring and popular Christian symbol, used to deputize for the cup that was used to collect Christ's blood during his crucifixion5 . In his book, "The Da Vinci Code", author Dan Brown drew an analogy between this cup (The San Greal/ Holy Grail) and a woman's womb6 , playing cleverly on fiction and fact. This association, can however, be traced back to the Neo-Pagans, who believed the cup that holds water to be symbolic of the Goddess of Fertility7 . Going back and scrutinizing the book, the entire plot revolves around the mystery aroused by one such "container". Because the drinking container is directly associated with water, one of the five essential elements, we see it many other ancient religions, appearing in supporting roles to Gods and Goddesses- eastern, western, pagan and objective.

An alleged claim is the birth of the concept of clinking glasses (cheers!) to toast during the civil war in Russia. Bureaucrats would host parties in their houses, and there would be a strong fear looming over the guests that their drink would be poisoned. In order to test this, they would smash their goblets against the host's goblet; the intensity would cause a small portion of their drink to spill into the host's drink. So if the guest's drink was poisoned, even the host's drink, would now be poisoned. This changed the role of the drinking glass from an object of innocence to dramatically, a murder weapon!8

But well, that was history. In a more modern context, how has the drinking container evolved across cultures at a reflective level? Ceramic cups make for great keepsakes: They can hold more memories than they can hold water and other liquids. Photographs can now be printed on ceramic cups that make great gifts, and one thing in my top 10 must have list is the infamous I <3 NY mug. With this kind of emotional attachment and relationship with objects, the drinking container has become a highly effective medium for different messages. The drinking container now plays the role of a picture frame, an billboard hoarding, a bait for consumers in a capitalist space, and at times, a brand identity in itself. A perfect example is the Absolut vodka bottle9 : universally accepted as a symbol for the same, despite constantly appearing in different forms and styles. The drinking container's different forms also occupy highly esteemed spaces in museums, and at the same time, the display shelf in a mother's kitchen. The diversity of the positions held by drinking glass, is rendered unquantifiable, despite oblivion.

9. The Absolut Vodka ads; the bottle in it's various representations THE FUTURE OF THE THIRST-QUENCHING CONTAINER After a quick look at the past of the drinking glass at various levels of association, where do we think the future would drift? Would it be micro or macro? Would it be generative or sustainable or both?

The options are endless. The present and evolving use of water will affect the containers directly, which would also be influenced by the change in standards of hygiene in water. If the freshwater crisis grows beyond control, we may end up looking at the most natural and easily accessible water container- the human body, that is 72% water. Water glasses that create water and other drinks by directly exploiting the humidity in the air using distillation processes. How will the present trend of using recycled paper cups for coffee affect the evolution of the water container? There are so many global factors that contribute to the evolution of the drinking container locally, and the drinking container of 3000 AD could be absolutely different

in Africa from the style prevalent in Europe, or Asia or America.

Here are a few projections of the drink container of the future by a few product and industrial designers at present, featured on a popular industrial blog, Yanko design10 .


Designer: Mister Edouard Larmaraud10a "I am not of the Bottle, but of the Glass: the gesture of â&#x20AC;&#x153;drinking straight from the bottleâ&#x20AC;? become less vulgar when the bottle is made for the drinking."


Designer: Yura Lee10b "The idea loosely biomimics how nature cleans, recycles, and balances air and water. Water is naturally filtered into clean drinking water. Whatever you don始t drink is given to the plant which in turn cleans the air and balances humidity. The concept is a bit esoteric but if you break it down to its simplest form, it始s quite clever."


Designer: Michael Pritchard10c "Availability of clean drinking water is massive problem all over the world. From natural disasters like 2004始s tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, to war torn areas of the word, countless lives are unnecessarily lost due to bacteria and virus filled wells, lakes and streams. LIFESAVER bottle is the world始s first all in one ultra filtration water bottle. It will remove bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi and all other microbiological waterborne pathogens without using chemicals like iodine or chlorine which leave a distinctive foul taste. Winner of countless

design and product awards, the LIFESAVER bottle dispenses the need for tablets, boiling, chemicals, tubes, shaking, scrubbing, waiting or effort. The LIFESAVER bottle could be one of the most important designs this century so far."


Designer(s):James Wosiek, Steven Smith10d

These are just a few variations of concepts for the future. The drink container is one of the industrial designer's favorite object, and while this in only as much as technology may permit us, one realizes that objects that spill across various cultures are not stand-alones. They are powerful mediums that need to be used to communicate powerful messages.


1. The India Report- Charles and Ray Eames, 1958 (material can be found towards the end of PART I): available freely at

2. The Lota; a traditional copper vessel used across India, easily available. It may vary in material: from clay to gold. Each material used has specific characteristics that affect the water contained in the lota in different ways: water in a silver lota is good for immunity building, clay lotas purify the water, etc. Also often used in prayer and rituals. Image Courtesy:

3. Concept and Design by: Martin Bolton Material available at Yanko Design. Image Courtesy: Yanko Design (

4. Silver Coins: The use of silver containers and coins in water is an old ritual carried down over many generations- used for gods, kings and children. The medicinal values of silver ions recently proved this to be a healthy practice (the Oligodynamic effect), also explaining the logic behind such a practice. More on the medicinal values of Silver in Water is available at

5. "The Holy Chalice which Jesus used for serving wine during the Last Supper" ; "The Holy

Chalice which Jesus used for serving wine during the Last Supper". Source:

6. Dan Brown/Da Vinci Code: The_Da_Vinci_Code#Secret_of_the_Holy_Grail

7. Neo-paganism symbology- the cup or the chalice: "The cup or chalice is a symbol of the element of water, a feminine element representing intuition, gestation, psychic ability, and the subconscious. The Cup also stands in as a symbol of the Goddess, of the womb, and the female generative organs. The chalice is sometimes interchangeable with the cauldron." Source:

8. Unverified; word-of mouth.

9. Absolut Vodka ads: Source:

10. Yanko Design: a. Mister Edouard Larmaraud: "Orgiastic Carafe" b. Yura Lee: c. Michael Pritchard: d. James Wosiek, Steven Smith:

ADP-2 Society - Paper  

My final paper for ADP-2, Society (Winter2009), Prof. Nicholas A. Tobier. Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design University of Michigan, Ann...

ADP-2 Society - Paper  

My final paper for ADP-2, Society (Winter2009), Prof. Nicholas A. Tobier. Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design University of Michigan, Ann...