Raaj Kutir, The heritage boutique hotel by Taj  

Raaj Kutir at Swabhumi complex is an Adaptive Reuse project aimed at converting a cultural shopping arcade and plaza into a small Heritage boutique hotel with banquet facility. Originally built on a city garbage dump of 13 acres at Narkeldanga, Kolkata, Swabhumi complex came into existence in the early 90’s as a cultural Haat (Local Market Place) to celebrate the heritage of Bengal through performance, food and shopping.  The landscape architecture of Raaj Kutir is designed with utmost respect towards whatever was existing and could be incorporated into the new theme. All the existing trees, shrubs and finishing materials were preserved and further infused with additional design articulation from the Bengal renaissance era. 




NARRATIVE

Story weaved in – The regal Raajkutir with its grand arches, louvered shades, colonnaded verandahs, cosseted courtyards and iron balconies was once home to Kaliprasanna Singha a zamindar (Landlord) in erstwhile British ruled Bengal. He stayed at the raajbari along with his family and a large entourage of helpers. The chariot you pass on your way to the main building belonged to the family as also the palkhi (palanquin) in the foreground. The grand courtyard was once the playground of musicians and artists while the terrace was the vantage point from where the zamindar took in the performances. 

And just when the story begins to take shape in your mind, you are told that this tale is a figment of imagination! An inspired period piece designed to make you relive a bygone era.

This boutique hotel helps to travel back to the glorious days of Bengal’s renaissance period. 

THE APPROACH

The 13 acre campus is structured around the Boutique Hotel offering the Raaj Bari Experience. With multiple ground levels, a deliberate attempt was to weave the changing sight lines and perspectives. This would keep alive the explorative and intriguing character in the design.

The unbuilt was important and hence the interstitial spaces or the piazzas become important for the guest. Connecting spaces with courtyards and building hierarchy in revelations of these spaces is designed as an experience. 

The very “orthodox” of formal urban living has been deliberately broken with informal spaces weaved with nature without diluting the sacred Royal decorum inside the absolute hotel premises. 

SPACES :

  1. 1. ROOMS: 

While over 60 % of the built fabric of existing G+1 commercial block has been conserved, the new 40% brings the spirit of “Local Bengal craftsmanship” to revitalise the shops into boutique rooms. Sustainability was an important consideration in the design both in architecture and landscape. Material Reuse, vintage sourcing, daylight harvesting, facilitation of natural ventilation of spaces, etc. are essential to this campus. 

Employment of Cast iron balconies, patios, crests, brackets and structures brings the texture of passion and sensuality into the adaptive architecture and integrates the disjointed blocks through visual uniformity. These Cast Iron embellishments add a verandah to each room on the ground floor and a walkout terrace on the first.  Interestingly, these vertical planes added to the existing horizontal roof surfaces have created nooks and corners where numerous birds feel safe to nest.

 A careful sense of dialogue between the built and unbuilt adds the layers of Timelessness to the design. The entries to rooms are adorned with careful landscape planting, pebbled walkways and sculptures.  A veil of white bougainvillea and Plumeria Rubra provide shading and privacy to verandas. Bespoke cast iron light fixtures and furniture make the experience delightful and regal!

  1. 2. CAFÉ : 

A large central shop was remodelled into 24 x 7 dining facility themed as East India Room. A Fresh white alfresco dining was integrated with this café.   A detailed marble fountain carved carefully into the old amphitheatre flanks the café on the other side. A tulsi vedi (Sacred plant worshiped in Indian Households) is added to this ambience as a part of the regal family story line. When birds come to drink from the marble Vase fountain, it completes the picture of the nostalgic old Bengal. 

  1. 3. COURTYARD:  

Courtyard is revitalised to respond to the multiple hospitality requirements of an Urban hotel.  All the existing grey Kota stone flooring has been preserved as such. Only marble tile inlays are added to give a zoning demarcation to the multi sided plaza. One end of the notional rectangle so formed is decked up by the marble fountain and the other end is held balanced by a grid of Royal palms. This layout gives an axis and symmetry to the courtyard.  This courtyard serves as a great space for a perfect dreamy Indian Wedding.

  1. 4. WELLNESS CENTER :  

Another separate block of smaller shops was converted into the wellness centre housing the gymnasium and a luxury spa. A tight courtyard was meticulously carved into the existing foundations and remodelled into a rectangular pool. In keeping with the design language cast iron embellishments were used to shade the veranda all around the pool. Customised cast iron light fixtures and peacock sculptures completes the picture of the bygone era.    

4 S approach to Sustainability: Source, Save, Strengthen and Support

  • More than 80% of the building material was locally sourced. All the existing finish materials were salvaged or preserved. 
  • Only local labour and easy construction systems were utilised.
  • All the existing trees were participated into the design. Special support and care was given to the ones growing on steep slope areas of the dump edges. There are a few Ficus Religiosa trees on the campus which are a home to a rich biodiversity.
  • The outer slopes of the heavily contoured dump were re stabilised using jute fabric rolls infused with mustard seeds which are into a continuous process of regeneration.
  • Planting palette was all selected from indigenous flora. Plants like Tabernaemontana, Canna, Banana , Bougainvillea , lilies, Murraya exotica etc which find place in Old Bengal fables were used extensively around the campus. 
  • Distress finishes and allowing for some wilderness makes the place a look of being lived in rather than new. 
  • Rain water from the pedestrian and green areas is channelized and wisely drained into a neighbouring lake. 
  • Plantation is used extensively for creating visual and physical barriers rather than constructing walls. 
  • All light fixtures are only down facing to avoid any night light pollution. 
  • The interstitial spaces have been sensitively treated as informal green pockets to allow a spillover of nature.

CONCLUSION

As a revitalization requirement, Raaj Kutir seeks to offer 5 key Experiences – living, celebrating, possessing, dining, and socialising.  The theme of the boutique hotel takes us back to the glorious days of Bengal’s renaissance period.  The studio was involved in the revitalization of the architecture, interior and landscape which allowed for the interflow of spaces visually as well as physically across all domains.

Architecture offices involved in the design: SALIENT

Project location: Kolkata, India

Design year: 20172018

Year Built: 2019-2020

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