by Jerry ElengicalJan 14, 2023
Eco-conscious tourism isn’t just about backpacking to a remote location and pitching a tent in the middle of the wilderness. Travel and luxury have evolved and reached an interesting intersection, where environmental and social sustainability, reduced carbon emissions, and renewable sources of energy coalesce with private properties that embrace comfort. A few interesting portfolio of hotels and resorts around the world with impressive green credentials are experimenting with the idea of 'luxurious eco-breaks' that educate travellers about conserving natural resources of the land while staying inside a sustainably built property. This is the new chapter of eco-travel and sustainable luxury, and pioneering this wave in India are Sandeep Watwani and Adithya Roongta of Cabin A. “At a time where the delicate ecosystems of the hills are being disturbed by excessive deforestation, making way for expansive summer homes, we decided to come up with Cabin A. The cabins draw inspiration from the Nordic way of life, by fusing functional aesthetics with modern, minimalistic living,” shares Watwani.
The idea of Cabin A germinated in 2019 but the company truly took root when the founders met Sanjeev Panjabi and Sangeeta Merchant of SPASM Design Architects and discussed on the design concept of these ambitious, green cabins. What would they look like? How would they be able to minimally impact their surroundings? Is it possible to build sustainably in the hills?
What transpired at the SPASM office was a unique conversation that the founders of SPASM Design weren’t entirely familiar with. The firm known for high end, large-scale residences was going to create conceptual renders for a tiny cabin; diametrically opposite to what they usually do. “In our renders, we conceptualised on a cabin based on an A-Frame, economical, easy to build and transport. The cabin would be something like a plug-and-play, designed in a factory, assembled on site. As for the sustainability factor, we envisioned the entire cabin to be made with recycled, eco-friendly materials,” shares Merchant.
Of course, every great architectural project requires an equally creative, open-minded client. In this case, entrepreneur Vishal Sivappa, the owner of an upcoming experiential boutique stay, located in a coffee plantation in Coorg, was looking for the right collaborator, and “…Sandeep, who I’d known through common contacts emerged as the ideal candidate. The idea of Betta Living was a long time coming; I’d thought of it in 2014 but was always looking for the right people and opportunity to set it up. I wanted to fill the gap in eco-tourism in the market—of creating an experiential stay which is nature-driven, built responsibly, yet fitted with all the luxuries. I wanted a design that could adapt to the terrain, have less carbon footprint, yet look aesthetic,” shares Sivappa. The concept of Cabin A hit home, and for building the first cabin, for its design development and execution, Mumbai-based Dev Desai of Dev Desai Architects and Associates (DDAA) was invited on board.
"Our second company Cabin A Living speaks to landowners, planters and people in the hill stations who want to create homes, resorts or gated communities responsibly—and we help them execute the project. Whether an escape to the middle of nowhere or a new concept set in the midst of popular destinations, these cabins can be completely customised to customers’ requirements, making them highly personalised holiday retreats,” mentions Watwani.
The single-minded focus was for sustainability to be at the core of the cabin design; for the holiday homes to truly emerge as sensitive alternatives to the mindless mushrooming of resorts around the hills. “Cabin A24 is a 225 square feet prefab variant. Prefabricated architecture reduces the transportation carbon footprint as the supply chain is no longer fragmented, as is the case with conventional methods of urban construction. The manufacturing processes are carefully engineered to drastically reduce errors and wastage. The Cabin sits lightly on the ground and is not invasive, protecting the local ecology. The assembly process, which takes three weeks at most ensures that we do not disturb the local biodiversity," Desai elaborates on the form’s sustainable design features. Cabin A24, which is the smallest cabin in the series, has emerged as an ideal example of living in harmony with nature.
In terms of its design, solid aluminium sheets were used for the exterior cladding, and the cabin was made using Light Guage Steel Framing (LGSF), which is a lightweight sustainable practice in construction. “For the interior cladding, Fiber Cement Sheets were used as they have a high degree of durability (50 years and above), are sustainable in terms of a higher content of recycled fibres and use fewer resources for manufacturing,” adds Desai. Every corner in the interior visually, if not spatially, connects with the natural context around. All furniture is bespoke. “The idea was to create striking forms and structures using geometric shapes, juxtaposing them in an organic setting, making a cohesive living experience. Form and function go hand in hand with all Cabin A structures. Our signature style features large, open glass facades that frame unobstructed views, that blur the lines between the indoors and outdoors, central to our philosophy of being respectfully one with nature. High quality materials, ample light and elevated design with practicality are the hallmark features of Cabin A. Impactful structures coupled with maximising usable floor area make our cabins the perfect amalgamation of functional aesthetics. The colour palette is reflective of nature and blends seamlessly with the surroundings,” says Roongta.
While the first cabin is up and running, there are several more in the process of being constructed in other locations around the country for various clients. All cabins are built three-five feet above the ground, on stilts so that the undergrowth, be it plantations or water streams, are left untouched. It is ensured that not a single tree is cut for building these cabins; that’s why, the location for each cabin is thoroughly evaluated. In case of any land clearing, the company undertakes replantation of trees. Apart from that, Cabin A has also partnered with the international organisation One Tree Planted, so for every cabin they sell, they donate for 10 trees to be planted. In terms of the client demographics, the firm doesn’t believe there’s a specific one. “Cabin A is for anyone who has a strong connection to nature and wants to celebrate life’s simple pleasures. With our various portfolio of cabins for work, play and living we are attempting to give a space for escapism in the rolling hills, stunning coastlines or your very own backyard,” Watwani concludes.