by Sunena V MajuFeb 28, 2023
Apple Farmstay is a bed and breakfast in the town of Kot Khāi, in the south of Himachal Pradesh, India. Located at an altitude of just under 1800 m, it overlooks the Giri river in the valley below. The structure—originally built by the erstwhile Wazir (a high-ranking political advisor) of the princely state of British India—is a restoration project, reviving the Kath-kuni style of architecture that is endemic to the Kullu Valley.
Characterised by its use of locally available materials, traditional building techniques, climate responsive design and regional motifs, Kath-kuni (kath - wood, kuni - corner) involves using alternate courses of stone and wood in the walls to create unique patterns with structural wooden members at the corners. Additionally, wooden beams and columns—often intricately carved with native iconography—support the roof and upper floors. The traditional architecture is thus a reaction to the local climate, topography, and cultural influences.
Designed by Himanshu Suri of Indian architecture firm Architect Suri and Associates, the spatial organisation of the 180-year old house is appropriated for the new program it accommodates. The ground floor, originally reserved for cattle and food grains is thus converted into a double height lobby, by eliminating the existing floor plate and timber partitions.
Beyond this space, a mezzanine and dining area are carved out from a single height volume towards the north, the former rising up from the lobby to accommodate a lounge bar exhibiting trinkets from the past, and the latter modified to create an intimate sunken enclave, leading to the kitchen and living spaces, towards the east and north respectively.
The corridor for the living spaces—raised to the level of the lobby—not only leads to the two bedrooms but also accommodates an internal staircase, which ascends to the first floor. This section of the house—the corridor and living quarters—is mirrored and stacked on the first floor. Here, the stacked floor plate shifts up again to accommodate the kitchen and dining area, which overlooks the double height lobby on the ground floor. Through a process of subtraction and subliminal shifting of floor plates, Suri has thus created complex and playful level changes internally, experienced accidentally and intuitively.
While the playful navigation of internal spaces is happenstance and appeals to the subconscious mind, the exterior stimulates the visual senses, by evoking a typical mountain dwelling. The construction materials, obtained either locally or reclaimed from the site itself, both stylistically and structurally emulates the Kath-kuni tradition of building. Undressed stones and timber sleepers make up the structural composition of the building, the combination of which imitates tie beams and makes the building earthquake resistant.
Overhanging balconies on the periphery of the building, float lightly and add a dynamic dimension to the otherwise solid massing. Elaborating on the design for the overhangs, Suri explains, “The living quarters are connected to deep verandahs and balconies with openable windows to allow cross ventilations, with decorative jharokhas acting as a buffer space to prevent heat loss. The opening of the balconies is the most diverse and integral part of the structure. They are built around the perimeter on one side of the building along an L. The wooden posts in the balconies support the roof structure and are moulded and richly carved.”
Additionally, a porch and pitched roof, deep eaves covering overhanging balconies, jaalis, wooden panelling, latkans (wooden pendants), and rhythmic patterns of stone and wood—on the exterior—all contribute to its native aesthetic.
The interior is characterised by wooden flooring, timber trusses, railings and beams, modest fenestrations, and compact spaces. Plastered walls along with the exposed stone walls aids in keeping the internal spaces thermally comfortable.
The Apple Farmstay, although a much too literal rendition of the Himalayan style local architecture, captures the ethos of a mountain dwelling. A restrained material palette, built using traditional building techniques, resulting in an aesthetic composed of hard and soft materials, cool and warm colours, and rough and smooth textures, simultaneously.