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Traditional not Kitschy

Often in an attempt to insinuate traditional architecture, the design intervention ends up being kitschy and pastiche. Within this context, Architecture Discipline, a multi-disciplinary design studio in the design of Hotel Mana at Ranakpur, Udaipur, demonstrates the agenda of regional expression within a global context. Architect Akshat Bhatt explains.

Sited in the vivid, enchanted Udaipur valley in the Ranakpur province, the hotel of 65,000sqft built up area is conceived as a public space with a service intensive program to highlight order and dissonance, continuity, stability and the vernacular as an imbibed ethos. These values are celebrated through an architectonic intervention, form and material play in a region with a stark change of seasons and landscape, where the forest changes from lush green to bare and arid and the hills turn red during spring as the Tesu trees come to full bloom.

Client Brief

Amidst the hills, with a clean, shallow river in the front, a kilometer away from the famed Jain temple and adjoining a reconstructed old haveli, the client brief called for a boutique hotel that offers a unique, iconic experience for travelers in all seasons.

Typically, people engage with tradition in a superficial manner in ways that are ordered, orthogonal and more often than not, a contemporary take on Indo-Sarcenic architecture. Techniques, Technology and methods of construction that draw from the region get lost in the midst of mainstream processes.

Design Intent

The architecture introduces itself to the visitor by creating a reading of the building as it is unraveled, allows for moments and spatial intervention. Layering is adopted to restore the notion of the collective memory and repetition is used as a technique to establish the contrast and difference.

The site is planned in a manner that upturns the land, as it opens up to the river on one side, while establishing contrast with the old haveli and the temple. The plan is derived from the time-honored 9×9 grid and the site was dotted with points that would then go on to become trees. Normalcy is achieved through the grid and deviations are used to break the order.

Aligning the grid with the north-south axis through the linearity of the site, a 1.8m wide sliver is fashioned for pedestrian movement that reinforces the linear planning on the site and brings in a strong order. Settlements happen along these linear walls, crafting straight views to the outside, helping the visitors orient themselves within the site.

Superimposition of these various layers establish a dynamic between architecture (constant) and the landscape (in motion through change) and leads to chance encounters and moments of rest. A huge, existing Budh tree on the site with its unique characteristic of a large spread of about 25-30m dia is identified as a focal point for the alignment of linear vistas. Views and movement are orientated towards this tree, which is a remnant of the customary tree-chaupal that would provide shade under a large tree to a communal space. Unlike mainstream hotels, some rooms also look out into this public space using a modern, glassy interpretation of the traditional jharokha (overhanging enclosed balcony), while other room ceilings look up to the underside of the tree.

The site was extremely challenging as a reclaimed river bed with the water table at 600mm. While local sites represent solid stone in an intense and intricate manner in the form of Paleolitic monuments or pathological homes or as boundary walls that segregate the farmlands, the hotel is evocatively fabricated in the frugal stone masonry which is locally available as an expression of timelessness, space and contrast, old vs new and the light vs heavy expressing the changing landscape throughout the year.

The Movement

A visual clarity is endowed to the movement path and vistas are created to open up views as one walks through the site. Buttressed random rubble walls that are symbolic of tradition lend scale to the movement passage by naturally tapering away from the visitor and structural tactics are employed to make the columns disappear. The narrow, linear sliver of space is exaggerated through height while creating a dialogue with time, always allowing the visitor to walk along a masonry wall, hence facilitating orientation. A Linear staircase is wrapped and brought out on the façade to encourage the visitor to walk through, further enhancing the vista.

Water bodies are interspersed through this loop that create the water loop from the building to the ground and temper the climatic controls whilst creating points of interchange. Engaging with the sky, the seasons and materials of the earth, landscape is brought as an infill into the built volume. The sloping roof brings in the sky, and expresses three-dimensional direct views whilst the wall remains timeless, as other edifices take support in the wall through temporary interventions that enable an architectural dialogue between form and technique.

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