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Hospitality Design in Heritage Spaces

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

By Ankur Choksi, Design Principal, Studio Lotus

A design principal at one of the most sought-after multi-disciplinary design practices in the country, Ankur Choksi reflects on Hospitality Design, the dynamic sector and its impact on Heritage Spaces.

The hospitality industry has fundamentally been rooted in the idea of offering a home away from home; this dynamic segment continues to be an area of perpetual interest for us as a design team.

The present Hospitality market is highly competitive, and it is incumbent on contemporary brands to offer guests more than just standardized services—enabling them to take away authentic, meaningful& enriching experiences—which are contextual as well as often region-specific. These can only come about through responsive design and careful curation.

Bearing this in mind, the design team needs to focus on setting the right stage for these experiences—enabling, through design, the seamless integration of site and services to ensure that the brand ethos is reflected in every spatial element. Essentially, the design team’s job is to help facilitate the brand or client’s business objectives by delivering the desired experience effectively to the end-users, i.e. the client’s clients.

Ankur Choksi, Picture courtesy: Andre J Fanthome

Hospitality Design in Heritage Spaces comes with its set of opportunities and constraints. Design interventions in historic buildings must strike a balance between retaining the historical charm and staying relevant. This demands the practice of being respectful to heritage, yet ensuring that contemporary destinations fulfill present day needs.

· Re-looking at Spatial Relationships

Crafting hospitality experiences in heritage structures provides the opportunity to revive the space, with interventions that improve tectonic relationships and support programmatic needs.

Historic structures tend to move beyond their pedagogical significance when adapted to fit the present needs of the community, or re-purposed to serve new visions. For instance, at the Baradari in City Palace, Jaipur, we remodeled the old museum cafe to strengthen its ties with the city by making it more accessible through the Jaleb Chowk, a prominent ceremonial opening to the Palace precinct through its eastern flank.

The Chowk and the main courtyard of the old cafe were disconnected from the entrance on account of an old toilet block which divided the courtyard. To connect the inner court to the outer court and the entrance, we devised a markedly contemporary take on an archetypal Rajputana built element—the free-standing pavilion as the key spatial intervention.

The toilet block was dismantled and replaced by a crafted marble-and-brass pavilion with twelve columns (the titular Baradari), serving the explicit function of a spatial anchor for the new restaurant, and the implicit function of connecting the local residents as well as the tourists to an inspirational hospitality space in the old palace grounds.

Baradari At City Palace Jaipur, Picture Courtesy: Studio Lotus
Baradari At City Palace Jaipur, Picture Courtesy: Studio Lotus
Baradari At City Palace Jaipur, Picture Courtesy: Studio Lotus

Similarly, at the RAAS Devigarh; an 18th century palace fortress located in the Aravalli Hills, the restriction imposed by the nature of the fortress structure resulted in poor linkages between the F&B zones and guest movement.

To segregate guest and service circulation routes and enable easy access between different levels, a crafted metal staircase was installed as an additional circulation device connecting the levels at varying points from the central courtyard. The existing outdoor terraces were extended with a light-weight metal structure to improve the F&B experiences.

The addition of this staircase as an alternate circulation spine as well as the modification of the facade profile boosted the visitor experience, streamlining the operations of the hotel and simplifying path-finding for guests.

RAAS Devigarh, Photography: Ravinder Solanki, Picture Courtesy: Studio Lotus
RAAS Devigarh, Photography: Ravinder Solanki, Picture Courtesy: Studio Lotus
RAAS Devigarh, Photography: Megan Lambert, Picture Courtesy: Studio Lotus

· Building Authentic Narratives

At both the RAAS Devigarh and the Baradari, the key spatial interventions were expressed in a contemporary vocabulary to ensure that the additions sit distinctly yet gently against the historic structures, subservient to the original.

At RAAS Jodhpur, with the Mehrangarh Fort in the backdrop, it was crucial to create a design approach that offers a meaningful connection with the site.

Three existing historic structures on site were restored, extending the Fort narrative on the premises. These structures became the focal points in the precinct and the three new hotel blocks occupy the periphery of the site, forming a courtyard, with the main block forming a secondary gateway and framing the old with the new. Situated at the heart of the property, these buildings lend themselves to become shared spaces for the hotel’s public functions.

The new built vocabulary was a contemporary articulation expressed through local materials and traditional hand crafting techniques; high quality stone work and cast in-situ terrazzo were integrated in the design strategy. The stone Jaali, or traditional lattice screen, was reinvented as a flexible façade system to provide uninterrupted views of the fort—this contemporary adaptation for the new blocks established a dialogue between the old and the new.

RAAS Jodhpur, Picture Courtesy: Studio Lotus
RAAS Jodhpur, Picture Courtesy: Studio Lotus

· Contemporizing Craft

The creation of a narrative using local crafts offers immense opportunity to craftsmen to give their skills and traditions a new life. Our country has much to offer by way of vernacular built vocabulary —and more importantly, prevalent local skills and material usage.

Designing hospitality spaces helps create a meaningful interface between the end-users and the communities of the destinations they visit—often augmenting regional economies by supporting local skills, materials and the families who sustain these skills.

In this vein, the hospitality experience at RAAS Jodhpur was enriched through the adaptation and integration of local stone work; working closely with the region’s artisans for several weeks, we explored contemporary expressions of the quintessential stone Jaali as the overarching gesture that would bridge the modern with the historic. Arriving at a minimalist, geometric design that allowed for ease of execution by hand and enabled an architectural device which effectively moderates the harsh sunlight and addresses privacy constraints, we crafted a red sandstone screen to wrap around the new blocks.

Adopting a similar approach in the Baradari project, we worked with local artisans to contemporize traditional crafts like Thikri, marble flooring, stone fluting and inlay work as well foundry work in metal.

In an attempt to craft spaces that appeal to a globally-aware user-base, local skill-sets could be combined with relevant frugal innovation in favor of technology-intensive solutions. Vernacular building methods as well as local materials & skills could be adapted and evolved as a viable option for producing bespoke expressions, apart from providing pragmatic advantages such as a higher degree of climatic responsiveness, lower embodied energy, and the sustenance of local economies.

Optimization of vernacular design sensibilities and techniques can often help convert old buildings into quaint and boutique spaces, opening renewed traditions for the modern clientele. A design team’s role today is to facilitate the creation of an authentic story—a differentiated and bespoke experience by integrating the old and new technical understandings of the tools of construction to help the client or brand translate their vision powerfully as well as connect with their end users.

About Studio Lotus:

Founded in 2002 by Ambrish Arora, Ankur Choksi and Sidhartha Talwar, Studio Lotus is acknowledged as a thought leader in the country for its work in the domain of Architecture and Spatial Design. Their work is grounded on the principles of Conscious design, an approach that celebrates local resources, cultural influences, a keen attention to detail and an inclusive process. The practice follows an iterative and incremental methodology of innovation and root our learning in history and local context. It aims to craft benchmark solutions that address society's changing ways of living and working.

The studio explores ways to engage the user, the way they move through the space. We like taking design to an extremely conceptual stage. They find inspiration in ordinary things, everyday events and chance encounters. The firm takes a deeply contextual approach to its work and combines this with a strong focus on the tactile and sensory qualities of the space. Their design process looks at sustainability through the multiple lenses of cultural, social and environmental impact. There is an active engagement in integrating localized skills and resources with state-of-the art materials and technologies.

Written by: Ankur Choksi, Design Principal, Studio Lotus

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