Celebrating Cultural Heritage

Project: Swabhumi, Kolkata
Architects: Salient Design Studio, West Bengal

Swabhumi (meaning inspired legacy) is an urban realization project which underwent an adaptive reuse intervention on a 13-acre site that was being used as an urban waste dumping ground till the early 1980s at Narkeldanga, Kolkata. Reminiscent of a typical Bengali-British connection, it celebrates the essence of space, time and detailing– qualities of a traditional Bengali Raj-kutir, whilst aiming to provide a sustainable solution to the dilapidating architectural heritage of a city.

Located at an important junction of the city both culturally and geographically between the old city and the Salt Lake City, this cultural centre came into existence in the late 90s as a PPP project to celebrate the cultural heritage of Bengal through performance, food and heritage. A microcosm of the Kolkata fabric, the space promised to become a new cultural hub in the ‘cultural capital’ of India. Initially conceived as a heritage plaza, the project had a texture of built and unbuilt. The existing building comprised areas spread out as the Artisans Court (crafts village), Urban Court (retail arcade) and Santushti (food court) along with a Convention Centre and a Banquet. The space had an architectural flavour of Kolkata, however it lacked both in terms of aesthetics and modern infrastructure. The design brief given by the client stated ‘give the city a place to live heritage’. The challenge being Kolkata, the city of joy, also known as a city of palaces, in reality had no place to celebrate the inspirational legacy. The charm of the old zamindarbari/Raajbari was only a savour for the privileged family. Keeping that in the forefront, the revitalization exercise incorporated the sensibility of preservation, conservation and revitalization while endowing it with an architectural identity.

Conceptualized as an experience, rather than a space, the new and restored project aims to offer five key experiences to its guests– living, celebrating, possessing, dining and socializing. When it comes to living, Raaj Kutir, a boutique five-star hotel, with 33 rooms offers a truly nostalgic zamindarbari vibe, both in terms of architecture and décor. The hotel is equipped with all modern amenities and also has a luxurious spa and wellness centre. The Raas Manch, The Rang Manch and The Rang Darbaar are three magnanimous events and convention venues which are great options to host weddings, conferences, events or festivals; and can accommodate around 2200 guests at a time. The 13-acre campus is structured around the boutique hotel which offers a raajbari experience. Keeping the unbuilt area at the heart of the project, the interstitial spaces or the piazzas have been created to engage the guests. Connecting spaces with courtyards and building hierarchy in revelations of these spaces is what makes it a dynamic experience. Hence, multiple levels for shopping, dining and experience centres have been added with a deliberate attempt to weave the changing sight lines and perspectives to keep alive the explorative and intriguing character in the design. Memories is a multilevel retail street created to offer a great shopping experience and houses a number of fashion boutiques, jewellery stores, art and decor shops. The dining experience celebrates India’s culinary legacy amongst other gastronomic offerings including a few restaurants and cafes to choose from. A number of casual lounges and pubs are created for people to come together for informal engagement– a much-needed space for urban de-stressing and offering a one-of-a-kind nightlife destination within the city.

The very ‘orthodox’ of formal urban living has been deliberately broken with informality and nature imbibed, without diluting the sacred Raj decorum inside the hotel premises. While over 60 per cent of the built fabric has been conserved, the new 40 per cent showcases the spirit of ‘Bengal craftsmanship’ and is layered with the existing to render it vitalized. This has been made possible by repairing and re-using elements such as Kota stone and employing design elements such as cast-iron balconies, patios, crests, brackets and structures. This very texture of passion and sensuality brings life into adapted architecture; what was loved but lost is brought back today to be loved again. This is the layering of timelessness– the reason to continue.

A careful sense of dialogue between the buildings, the old and the new, their entries, fenestration, balconies, overlooking views, has been woven to present the campus as a whole. Keeping sustainability at its core, material reuse, vintage sourcing, daylight harvesting, facilitation of natural ventilation of spaces, are crucial elements that play an integral role in building the campus. The tree canopies have been all kept intact giving rise to an odd geometry in spaces; ensuring sufficient shade and cooler temperatures within the campus. The building blocks have been oriented south to facilitate ample air ventilation via an unrestricted wind movement throughout the campus. Clay khapra tiles are used in the roof to provide adequate cooling to the inner floors and the common areas except for the rooms and the banquet halls are designed as non-air- conditioned spaces. In order to harness ample diffused daylight and limit the use of artificial light, windows have been placed on both sides of the rooms. To cut down on infrastructural cost, the existing staircase is remodelled as a lounge bar and acts as a dynamic element. With intent to go local, the construction of the project was planned to include local artisans and craftsmen which led to livelihood opportunities for the tribes from Shantiniketan. Around 27 craftsmen groups were employed to translate sketches into products and craft bespoke design elements for the boutique hotel.

Thematically designed light fixtures, fabrics, wall textures and customized furniture add uniformity to the design. The project employed numerous advanced technologies for its structural revitalization. RCC jacketing and carbon fibre wrapping was adapted for many locations in the structure, while familiarizing it to architectural requirements. Sonic mapping of the exiting foundation at places was done. To take care of the structural failures that arose due to a manmade dump of city garbage below the ground, adequate structural retrofitting was done. Methane release pits designed in improving the bearing capacity/ stability of the soil and foundation. The buildings have hybrid system, employing both RCC and structural steel construction. All new construction employs AAC blocks. CRC-based variable refrigerant flow system employed with AHU, hydro pneumatic water supply system, on-site solid waste management system and organic compositing system, 100% grey water management and reuse are a few relevant mentions in technology adapted.

Drawing inspiration from the traditional Raj- kutir, the boutique hotel is painted in subtle pastel shades of yellow-ochre and peach to portray Bengal’s participation in feminist movements. The luxury of a space experience does not necessarily mean expensive and it is this very philosophy that is adapted in design. As a result, the design responds to the potential, possibilities and the adaptability of the existing building shells, while celebrating the legacy of Kolkata.


Client: Ambuja Neotia

Design Principal: Vivek Singh Rathore

Consultants: Sanjiv Parekh-SPA (Structural, Civil); Manoranjan (Mechanical); Shantanu Mukherjee–Saent India and Amitabha Chawdhury, Salient (Electrical); Anuradha Puri Rathore Landscape); Manoranjan-MEHO (HVAC); Ratan Shekhar (Plumbing)

Contractors: Sreeram Builders (Structural, Civil)

Built-up area: 100000sq m

Year of completion: 2018