Evoking Traditional Spatial Gestures

Project: Taj Theog Resort & Spa, Himachal Pradesh

Architects: Studio Lotus, Delhi

The project architects were invited by late architect Pradeep Sachdeva to bring in a deliberate mountain house warmth and intimacy into the experience of spaces for the client’s first venture in Himachal Pradesh— to revitalise the brand’s hospitality experience as more human, service-oriented and with a strong local connect.

This new luxury getaway is located on the periphery of the town of Theog and is a 90-key hotel spread over a cluster of three, linear buildings sited on a long stretch of a hill top. Situated at an altitude of 2310m, the sleepy town of Theog provides respite to tourists seeking a quieter experience compared to the popular destinations of Shimla and Kufri all located within a 30km drive.

The building looks onto panoramic views of the surrounding valleys, and its architectural expression draws from the vernacular. With the backdrop of this building and the setting, the brief for the public spaces in the hotel was developed to reinterpret the narrative of ‘a home in the mountainside’. The architects worked with a very tight palette of local materials to render a quiet and spartan spatial experience. The warmth, attention to detail and layering of materials responds to the varying scales of the spaces. Contemporised, handcrafted elements from the vernacular lexicon, made in locally- sourced timber and stone, are brought forth to evoke traditional spatial gestures associated with hospitality and home-like warmth.

The arrival lobby, which receives extensive footfall at all hours, seamlessly extends the reception space into a lounge area, which provides a quieter space for patrons to unwind. The double-height volume has been further notionally divided by two floor-to-ceiling screens, creating a visual barrier for the seating pockets in the lounge. The lounge is given a personality of a small living room with a library space— a mix of intimate, sit-down pockets to pull out a book and relax, or grab a quick coffee before heading out with co-travellers on an excursion.

The hotel’s public spaces are spread across three levels of the hotel, the building’s response to the stepped profile of the site. The primary palette comprises extensive use of timber-clad ceilings, slate floors with custom-laying patterns, and painted and plastered surfaces to hold curated art forms. Key gestures in the spaces to create a distinct identity for the zone are expressed using regional reinterpretations, such as a timber and stone backdrop behind the reception with carving patterns, adaptation of rows of turn-wood spindles found suspended on eaves of local roofs, and doorways for the 6.5m tall screens in the lobby.

The lounge area of the lobby forms a node on the primary circulation spine of the hotel, connecting the guest rooms and the bar on one end to the all-day dining and the specialty restaurant on the other. The vertical circulation takes one down to the gym, the spa, and the recreational zones one level down; and the banquet hall another level down.

The all-day dining seamlessly extends into the south-west-oriented and most useable outdoor space in the hotel. The long corridor, which leads visitors with the show kitchen walls and the inner spaces of the dining space, uses a warm, tactile, pale grey local stone cladding on the walls to draw the outdoors in. To maximize the volume of light in the space, a false ceiling is designed to match the pitched roof profile and rendered in a light paint; while large glass panes connect to the outdoor spill- out spaces. Slate floors extend all the way into the outdoors to form a large sculptural bench at the edge of the terrace.

Several design elements add warmth to this otherwise monochromatic space: solid wood furniture, extensive use of crafted timber on the central display island, screens that divide the space into smaller pockets and allow patrons to choose a new dining spot with each visit, and the large, hanging, lantern-like lamps made from banana fibres.

In contrast, on the other end of this wing in the relatively constrained volume under
the service transfer zones of the main hotel building, sits an intimate bar space. The Junction Bar is a take on the mood of the nostalgic train journeys in the carriage-ways of an old locomotive operating in the region. The Kalka- Shimla Express was the first Indian locomotive to operate at such high altitudes. Vaulted-ceiling coffers offer a gentle glow to the relatively dimly-lit space, also helping to articulate this low volume and to delineate seating pockets with the spirit of restaurant cars in the trains of yore. Dark green walls and upholstered furniture in charcoal grey heighten the intimate scale of the space, details from the industrial character of metal work is found in the nuanced forms of the bar panelling, while wall-suspended lamps as well as the spherical lamps consolidate the narrative. A fully dressed bar with an antique mirror backdrop that anchors the space, large and comfortable upholstered lounge furniture, a deep walnut-stained timber flooring reminiscent of old parquet flooring, recreate the notions of a traditional bar.

On the same level, the specialty restaurant at the hotel, Peony, uses a sculptural custom-developed, interlocking system of three-dimensional, ceramic cladding to weave the larger theme of its Asian-inspired cuisine offering. The vase-like profile of the ceramic cladding draws inspiration from Asian influences as well as the local traditions of earthenware in the region. Specially-glazed, ceramic-clad walls demarcate a private seating pocket within the restaurant, earmarked for gatherings and special occasions. The rest of the 40-seater, fine dining restaurant is oriented towards the glazed exterior walls that face the valley.

At the levels below are the leisure spaces, consisting of the spa, the treatment rooms,
the gym and the crèche. Given the location of this zone, integration of extremely low-ceiling clearances was a challenge for the development of the interior scheme. To address this, the interior shell is treated with a much lighter palette of painted surfaces, terrazzo floors and minimal cladding on walls. Layering with artworks and other narrative building devices is utilised to give a sense of place to each facility. The spa, salon and gym experience is held together with a central contemplative kund-like shallow water body that greets visitors at the entrance to the zone; beyond, the corridors that lead to the treatment rooms are dotted with specially-commissioned illustrations of local flora and fauna, and display cases with pressed and preserved flowers collected from around the site. The executive meeting rooms and the banquet halls use deodar wood to some extent, the true native variant of pine for its aromatic qualities. Handcrafted and dressed doorways and the rhomboid, batten- laying pattern of motifs adapted for the ceiling of the banquet hall draw inspiration from local timber ceilings, textiles, as well as carving motifs found in Himachal Pradesh. Overall, even with the narrative of the local stories woven in, the broad stance of the interior scheme is to provide a neutral, evocative backdrop for the hotel’s team to enhance the everyday experience of their clientele using their core values of service and attention to personal needs. The design intervention only attempts to substantiate this sense of luxury that gets created by the experience of being truly taken care of.

Photo credit: Andre Fanthome

FACTFILE

Typology: Hospitality Interiors (Public Spaces and F&B Zones)

Client: Indian Hotels Company Limited

Design team: Ankur Choksi, Pankhuri Goel, Shikha Gupta, Palak Mittal, Mira Asher, Ayushi Goyal, Arun Sharma Consultants: EssEss Techno Consultants (Structural, Civil); Krim Engineering Services Pvt Ltd (Electrical, Plumbing, Engineering); Pradeep Sachdeva Design Associates (Landscape); Kunal Chaudhry (HVAC); The Engineering & Management Distrikt (PMC); Xebec Project Management & Consultancy; Axsys Solutions (Façade)

Contractors: Fankaar Interiors Pvt Ltd (Interiors – for Public Area & Guest Rooms); VID (Structural, Civil); Trillanium & Sakar India (Mechanical); Mabless Power Engineers Pvt Ltd (Electrical); Milestone (Landscape); Hitachi (HVAC); A Kumar & Associates (Plumbing);
Xebec Project Management & Consultancy (PMC);
Axsys Solutions (Façade)

Built-up area: 21,000sq ft

Year of completion: 2020