The Cardamom Club, designed by Bengaluru-based architecture firm Kumar La Noce, is a project set in a steep terrain where the building attempts to almost stand aloof in a natural setting while respecting its fellow accompaniments - the trees and the plantations. Located amid expansive active cardamom plantations in Thekkady in the state of Kerala, a set of immaculately designed cabins - by principal architects Bhavana Kumar and Nicola La Noce - nestle within a sea of green.
Discussing the initial ideas and brief, Kumar and La Noce mentioned, “There was an existing set of rooms with a basic reception structure, and three existing cottages in traditional style. For the new additions to the club, we wanted to keep it raw and fresh, placing the objects in the landscape as gently and carefully as possible, replacing the traditional with something more contemporary that would enhance the wonderful surroundings.”
Responding to the brief as proposed by boutique resort company Niraamaya Retreats, the club added five independent cabins, an outdoor pool with adjacent stepped decks, and a spa block. The entire club has been divided into three inter-connected volumes that are spread organically across the site, based on the open areas that were left untouched so as to not damage any vegetation.
Kumar further explained the idea that went behind designing the club, “We created a basic masterplan and went to visit the site with it. (While) addressing the conditions on the site we realised the minute differences on paper, and then made multiple changes to heights and locations that would capture the best views and intervene with the landscape as minimally as possible.”
Responding to and respecting the green natural surroundings was the primary intention throughout the design and the execution of the entire project. All the cabins have been raised on stilts to make one feel as if the buildings are floating on a sea of green. One may also interpret the idea of the cabins acting as sailing ships being reflected here. This metaphor has been replicated in multiple ways. Large angular decks have been provided to each of the structures to make sure that the rainwater does not enter inside. The ‘porthole’ windows in the shower areas add to the nautical feel and frame the views beyond. This may be a subconscious reflection of the designers towards creating the ‘floating’ effect they have mentioned.
Each of the 40-sqm cabins feature floor-to-ceiling wood framed openings, designed to enhance the impact of the dramatic views while ensuring privacy between the units. The cabins open out to generous decks to embrace and experience the feeling of belonging to the surrounding plantation.
“It was our constant effort to create an ‘element of positive’ through the façade and exterior of the cabins. The windows are created using a grid of large and small openings. In our intention to make the cabins as open as possible, the openings are customisable and can be opened or closed as per the weather and requirement,” explained La Noce.
Going by the philosophy of the resort to use indigenous elements, cook traditional food, and adapt and enhance the home-grown culture, the architecture also brings in these local essentials through its design and interiors. They are crafted primarily out of rich red hardwood, sourced from sustainably managed plantations. The inspiration comes from quaint shops and structures dotting the plantation landscape surrounding the property, which feature framed glass enclosures and simple wooden furnishing.
The interiors are minimal yet sophisticated, keeping the focus on the dramatic setting. Hand-crafted teak wood, rattan furniture, and rice paper light fixtures complement the rich wood panelled surfaces. The structures are envisioned as light and elegant floating volumes in order to not disturb the natural harmony. The en-suite bathroom is compact and raw, with locally sourced black granite counters.
“We strongly wished to bring about the experience of the plantation being a seamless extension of the architectural landscape. The overall design has been an exercise in balancing luxury and elegance with quietness and restraint,” concludes Kumar.
This project sets an example of how architecture - primarily a shelter for human existence - must respect nature and exist with its context in subtlety. Here it has been done with utmost elegance by creating metaphors of the structures we adapt to, in varied natural terrains.
Name of the project: Cardamom Club
Location: Thekkady, Kerala, India
Architect: Kumar La Noce
Lead architects: Bhavana Kumar, Nicola La Noce
Gross built-up area: 500 sqm
Structural consultant: Manjunath & Co
Landscape consultant: Earthline Consultants