Unpacking the Nano: An exhibition

Cornell University will explore questions related to Tata Motors` revolutionary new Tata Nano.

Washington: Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP) will explore questions related to Tata Motors` revolutionary new Tata Nano, in an exhibition at the university’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art.
The automobile is designed and mass-produced to sell for around 2,500 dollars. But what are the inevitable environmental, social, economic and cultural impacts of having 5 million, 10 million, 50 million such cars – and first-time car owners – on the road?

These questions will be answered in "Unpacking the Nano," a very large design exhibit, which runs from Jan. 15 through March 27, 2011, and will feature two production Nanos – one of them taken apart to highlight 16 critical subassemblies – and the original concept vehicle.

The exhibition team of AAP students, faculty and young alumni has created custom shipping crates for the Nano`s parts and subassemblies. Each crate side doubles as an exhibition panel, with text, maps, charts and other graphics showing cost, weight and statistics.

"The question we asked was, ``What do all the nuts and bolts add up to?`` says Alex Mergold, a visiting assistant professor of architecture. "What does the Nano add up to as a car, a piece of engineering and design, a status symbol, a social construct, a financial asset, an environmental hazard, a solution to India`s mobility problem? This thing brings out many debates, and that`s what we are hoping to stimulate."

Production of the Nano in India began in 2009; about 250,000 Nanos will ship in 2010 alone. The company ultimately wants to produce as many as 2 million cars a year. Designed by a team of 70 Tata engineers, the four-door car seats five, has an aluminum two-cylinder engine, weighs 600 kilograms, and gets up to 65 miles per gallon.

"The design accomplishment is truly extraordinary," says Kent Kleinman, the dean of Cornell’s College of Art, Architecture and Planning. Kleinman is co-directing the project with Mergold. Kleinman discussed the Nano with Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata at a Cornell Reunion 2009 event.

The exhibition highlights "the role of design as an agent of profound social change," Kleinman says. It also addresses safety, the Nano`s role in sustainability in India and other nations, and casts a critical eye toward American automotive culture.