by Jincy IypeMay 07, 2022
In the already rapidly transforming landscape of our urban settlements, the pandemic has lent unprecedented dimensions that directly impinge upon the process of conceiving and designing spaces for public use. While the hospitality industry was among the first to be hit, and the worst, as the world shut down, it has also remarkably been among the first ones to have made advances towards adapting, and having realised a need for a holistic overhaul - from processes to spaces.
The post-pandemic period has also seen an inimitable rise in the number of digital nomads - new age workers who can pack up eons worth of their work in their backpacks. Coupled with an inherent need to connect with nature and to move away from the ever-bustling nuclei of our cities, working remotely has been an enticing prospect, especially for the urban youth, as offices diminish from whole towers to the measly dimensions of a laptop.
In that light, there is an interesting fork in the discussion here that is differentiated by virtue of scale when it comes to hotels. While it isn’t entirely possible for larger hotels and resorts to undergo a completely radical change, that opt instead for retrofitting and introducing public health measures, smaller urban and semi-urban hotels in business capitals and metropoli have, in turn, responded with interventions such as this one. Justa Nuo, a 27-key urban hospitality project located in Greater Kailash, New Delhi, designed by Architecture Discipline, is an example of how a kind of architecture emerges simply as a response to need, or a need for responses.
Despite its scale, its steadfast impetus on making a statement on an urban scale is especially noteworthy. With a profoundly activated urban front, spaces that are engineered to appeal to the ever-transient, and its exciting use of colour to simply attract, and complexly, enamour, against a rather dominant monochromatic palette, Justa Nuo stands out not just in the Delhi-based firm's repertoire of works, but also in the context it plants itself amid.
Akshat Bhatt, founder and principal architect at Architecture Discipline, speaks with STIR about the project’s aspirations - urban and personal - its influences, and what it seeks to influence, in an insightful conversation that segues into what trends hospitality design might bear next.
Anmol Ahuja: How do you think Justa Nuo as a project chronicles a shift of paradigm in the hospitality industry?
Akshat Bhatt: This question is better answered in the following subheads.
Connection to Context
Successful hotels offer the traveller not just a high-standard room in a strategic location but an experience that ties into the vibrancy of its context. For urban settings, hotels need to have strong connections to their neighbourhoods, both in terms of the experiences they offer, complimenting the amenities that the neighbourhood provides, as well as in terms of the architecture of the buildings themselves. I believe that hospitality design is no longer looking at isolated facilities but contextual interventions.
Providing Holistic Environments
With increasing digital nomadism, work-life is no longer confined to corporate offices. Hotels today are evolving into places that don't just provide accommodation but include cafes and co-working spaces that cater to the young travelling professional, giving them no reason to look beyond the hotel.
An Active Public Sphere
Hotels occupy prime properties and hoteliers have the opportunity to utilise these properties in varied ways. A design shift that I see occurring is one in which a portion of the hotel becomes an active public space that is open to all. Thus the hotels no longer function as exclusive spaces but strike a balance between public and private, allowing the two realms to cross and overlap.
Higher Standards of Efficiency
I also believe that over the years, the performance standards of buildings in the hospitality industry have changed – they have improved, and there is more consistency at the highest level. The advent of the pandemic has further accelerated this change with hotels focusing on delivering a high level of efficiency, reliability, sanitisation and comfort.
Anmol: Does the design of the hotel look at forming a template, a kind of modular approach for future Justa hotels? If so, what elements in the design react to that and are easily adaptable in that sense?
Akshat: Yes indeed, that is the endeavour. This is a brand that offers a standard experience to its guests. With this hotel, we have attempted to create a design language that can be easily replicated in the subsequent hotels and is instantly familiar. The hotel design showcases a neutral material palette, monochrome tones and a focus on ergonomics in spatial design that can be carried forward and adapted to upcoming hotels while effectively creating a progressive identity for the brand.
Anmol: Within a relatively packed context in Delhi, what does the hotel as an entity aspire to more: standing out, being part of that context, or redefining it?
Akshat: It does stand out because it is designed from first principles. The context in this instance becomes the building’s interface with the pavement and the street along with lines of visual connection. It may seem to redefine context but what it does become is an identifier or an urban marker even without a hoarding or an address. It leads us to question what visual memories and cues our urban context offers to the present.
Anmol: The hotel is listed as a “comprehensive urban intervention”. How would you say it catalyses its immediate context as a nexus point apart from its aesthetics?
Akshat: The building performs as an urban intervention due to its physical interface and access level programming, i.e. offering shelter at the level of the street and an invitation to step in for a recess at the first level. The boundary wall is done away with, opening the building to the streetscape with a large open-to-sky entrance court. A glazed facade forms an unhindered transition between the outside and the inside, letting passersby in on the activities of the public sphere within and inviting visitors to take notice. The shared spaces of the hotel include a cafe, gallery and co-working space that are open to the public and remain active and open at all times. This public sphere becomes an active hub in the neighbourhood, further tying the hotel into its urban context. Thus, the hotel no longer functions as an exclusive space but strikes a balance between public and private, allowing the two realms to cross and overlap.
Anmol: Considering the oblong plot and a relatively limited size of land, what was a major constraint in planning and designing, and how did it manifest in the final design?
Akshat: The proportions of the plot result in a linear block that would typically overlook the neighbouring building. We didn’t have the dimensions to create an effective internal court either, and given the land value, the built-up area was determined to maximise utilisation. To overcome these constraints, we created an array of bay windows that project from the rectilinear mass and offer guests views of the street. They also create delightful bursts within the rooms that become a space for repose.
Anmol: The hotel attempts to find its audience in "young, peripatetic professionals in the post-COVID world”. What do you feel then about the intervention’s suitability in an urban centre like Delhi, as opposed to more favourable remote working stations in natural locations?
Akshat: There is a place and need for both. While the pandemic has revealed that through emerging technologies and resource optimisation, we can lead a productive existence outside the metropolis, cities are still the crucible of humanity. The alternative workspace is also a privilege only for those that can afford it, financially and logistically.
Anmol: Are the art gallery and co-working spaces in the hotel part of the exercise to induce that appeal?
Akshat: Yes, they are. If you want to be relevant, you have to be open to many influences; the one dimensional, singular program is no longer tenable.
Anmol: Where does this project sit, identity and scale wise, in the distinctive repertoire of AD works?
Akshat: Scale and identity are intellectual dimensions. We engage with architecture across scale and typology, and there is learning and opportunity for contribution in them all, be it a luxurious five-star hotel or a neighbourhood health facility. This project has taken quite a while from commission to completion, but its significance is of deeper proportions than is revealed by its physical dimensions.
Anmol: While the hotel has a distinct identity and multiple visual elements that fulfil that purpose, how did you strive to balance that with a heightened (and required) sense of utility?
Akshat: The success of architecture is rooted in successfully addressing the program and allowing for its evolution over years to come. A critical intimacy with the subject of the program will always lead to that balance, even if it is through reinvention.