Dolkhar: the story of creating a boutique hotel from Ladakh's culture and architecture
by Sunena V Maju, Zohra KhanNov 23, 2022
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Zohra KhanPublished on : Dec 14, 2020
Located on the foothills of the majestic Himalayas and nestled at the mouth of river Ganges in India, the architecture of Taj Rishikesh Resort & Spa blurs the boundaries between the open and the enclosed. Designed by Edifice Consultants in collaboration with YH2 Architecture, the project translates vernacular techniques and local influences of Himalayan architecture into a contemporary aesthetic.
Baskaran Kolathu, the Vertical Head of Hospitality Architecture at Edifice Consultants, in a conversation with STIR shares the granular nuances of the project.
Here are the edited excerpts: -
Zohra Khan (ZK): Is it true that the client of this project had emotional ties with the site, which through the design journey became even more personal? What was his vision for the hotel? Did he contribute to the design?
Baskaran Kolathu (BK): Arjun Mehra's philosophy of his space and his expectations ensconce themselves in his detailed research on the nature of various Himalayan settlements, which evoked a sense of respect for a symbiotic and sustainable way of living with nature. Naturally, his desire was to embody all these values that define the identity and spirit of the Himalayan village. Arjun's brief was for an architecture that shows respect to the environment and the surroundings while underlining the brand's commitment to the superior quality of design and workmanship.
His ideas of sustainability, respect for local architecture, and the desire for a space to relax and repose found a voice in our materiality and detailing - local stone cladding, wooden finishes and the slate roof bring out the vernacular familiarity in the buildings.
ZK: It is said that the design has taken inspiration from the Darbargadh style of traditional hilly residences. Can you elaborate this concept and explain how it has been translated into the resort architecture?
BK: Location of Taj at the foothills of the Himalayas and the serendipitous presence of the holy river Ganges marked the advent of its design language. Taj Rishikesh enacts the local architecture with sloping roofs, stone and wooden cladding, and slate roof. The interior spaces are the design extension of the exteriors.
The site planning mimics the traditional Himalayan villages, anchored around a Darbargadh, the traditional residence of local rajas or lords, which further translates into the design. The walled courtyard of traditional Darbargadhs or the fortress-palace-temples, offer at their heart, protection to the villagers in times of war or serve as a socialising space promoting community life. The main block of the hotel that overlooks the valley creates the image of a traditional Darbargadh. It provides a central location for gathering all the primary services of the resort: the reception, restaurant, bar, boutique, library, and more.
ZK: What key parameters define the architectural layout? Can you describe how various spaces are arranged on site?
BK: The central courtyard plays a vital role and binds all the functional spaces together. The local material, like the stone for cladding the structure along with hardwood battens in ceilings, raw carved wood as bands along with the stone cladding and organic colour palette merge with the green oasis outside. The naturally lit open corridors allow functional spaces a properly ventilated outdoor environment for the guest to experience the stunning views of the lush green backdrop.
The main entrance opens on either side that free flows into different spaces. The most extensive flat land transformed into the Welcome House comprises the main building, which houses the reception, dining area, bar, banquets and guest rooms. The lowest part of the site, which has a steep drop, houses a swimming pool with an infinity edge overlooking the river Ganges, like a natural extension of the sacred water body. The restaurant placed at the highest point on the site carves out unmatched panoramic views of the river, turning itself as a place of relaxation and repose suspended in mid-air with soulful sounds of the river rapids.
Each of the brightly daylit rooms has a picture of the river flowing in the valley below. The sound of the flowing river and aromatic local flora is as much a part of the architecture as are the building materials and spaces.
ZK: How are the interiors conceptualised?
BK: ECO ID from Singapore has designed the interiors of the resort. The interiors are subtle and maintain a calm, refined tone. The artwork and fabrics are all toned down to allow the nature around to speak volumes. The wooden flooring compliments the locally manufactured furniture finished in the same palette. The intention was to source both the interior and exterior elements and skillset locally. Douglas fir sourced from Canada and Hemlock is used in the interiors and it remains the only base material that has been sourced externally.
Several conventional design elements such as the screens in MS Flats and the local pastoral craft and carvings in interiors give people the taste of precision detailing with a sleek contemporary design. Inspired by the vibes of the terraced agriculture around, the design of the central courtyard with the feature staircase dematerialises the building volume and accentuates interiors with natural lighting.
ZK: What were the key challenges of the project?
BK: One of the biggest design challenges in translating the material idiosyncrasies from a typical traditional village home into a large resort was scaling. We had to devise a strategy to ensure that the vernacular's faithful aesthetic quality translates into the resort in a structurally safe and visually striking manner.
At the start of the project, we were engaged in significant research on techniques to clad a concrete wall with large and heavy 200 mm thick stones. The solution lies in devising an ingenious technique to hold the traditional stone wall in place using modern drywall cladding techniques. This process entailed using a single continuous metal strand weaving through the whole surface of stones for that façade - a construction format specially developed for the project.
ZK: What were the roles of the two firms, Edifice Consultants and YH2 Architecture?
BK: Our collaboration with YH2 was indeed memorable. YH2 was engaged by the client to develop the master plan and to propose an architectural concept for the resort. At Edifice, we translated that vision into reality through a deep understanding of the regional building practices and domestic know-how. The key driver for this collaboration was the knowledge-packed design dialogues and our ability to transform the client’s vision and YH2‘s initial idea into reality. This involved a humongous effort in identifying appropriate materials and construction methodologies. The design thinking and exchange of ideas behind the holistic project was an exceptional learning experience for both of us.
Name: Taj Rishikesh Resort & Spa
Location: Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India
Owner: Arjun Mehra
Operator: Taj Hotels, IHCL
Area: 1.2 lakh sq ft
Completion: March 2019
Architecture: YH2 Architecture (concept), Edifice Consultants Pvt. Ltd.
Interior Design: Eco-id
Landscaping: Burega Farnell
Project Manager: Mihir Bhatt
Developer: Darrameks Hotels & Developers
Facility Planner: HPG
Main Contractor: VKJ Projects
Lighting Design: GA Group
Structural Services: SV DAMLE
Mechanical, HVAC, Plumbing, Electrical: AECOM
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