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Studio Lotus
20 Oct 2023

Raas Chhattrasagar

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Perched atop a nearly 150-year-old check dam that forms a perennial rainwater lake is a hospitality property with low environmental impact. It reinvents an earlier property that used to operate out of seasonal tents, thereby providing guests with a year-round opportunity to observe the region’s abundant biodiversity amidst 800 acres of pristine forestland. The RAAS Chhatrasagar is a 16-key hospitality property located near the town of Nimaj, Pali, Rajasthan.

Studio Lotus’ work is grounded on the principles of conscious design, a holistic approach that celebrates local resources, cultural influences, keen attention to detail and an inclusive process intertwining art, architecture, interior and spatial design. The project featured here exemplifies this approach; the RAAS Chhatrasagar - a wildlife camping experience that reinterprets history, and weaves in the biodiversity of its setting with resilient ways of building.

The design brief from RAAS Hotels called for developing a perennial property resilient to the harsh summers and cold winters of the region. In addition, there was a need to increase the existing capacity to 16 tented units and augment the public spaces with a richer amenity mix. The site’s sensitive ecological context was of paramount concern, which made it imperative that all additions be erected on a minimal environmental footprint. The designers came up with a system of low-impact foundations and lightweight superstructures employing a dry construction methodology and using lime as a binder for minimal wet work.

The site is revealed in layers, uniting the experience of discovery with an element of surprise, by working in harmony with the context and tying numerous touchpoints to establish meaningful connections. Guests arrive at a drop-off area and walk through a shaded path; a stone wall and the dam’s planted slopes gradually reveal themselves. They then climb a series of stepped stone plinths before emerging in a courtyard that frames the lake with sweeping vistas of the forests. Guests access the pods - an arrangement of conjoined suites - via a landscaped walkway along the nearby forest belt, climbing a series of stone steps through tree-lined slopes and gardens to a deck leading into the units.

The underlying design principle for the camp was to frame the outdoor experiences along either edge of the pods. The sun rises over the lake and sets into the forest becoming an integral part of the guest experience. Each pod hosts spill-outs for outdoor lounging on either side. The structure is made of a lightweight metal weave that springs off pile foundations made of precast concrete hume pipes with compacted waste rubble and lime.

The serene setting of the Raas Chhatrasagar.
Masterplan for RAAS Chhatrasagar.
Pods, an arrangement of conjoined suites.

"The site is revealed in layers, uniting the experience of discovery with an element of surprise, by working in harmony with the context and tying numerous touchpoints to establish meaningful connections."

A continuous tensile fabric canopy stretches over the lightweight partitions spanning the entire length of the structure providing waterproofing and added insulation. This secondary membrane extends beyond the footprint of the pods to create shaded verandahs overlooking the surrounding panorama. Retractable skylights installed within the roof capture the changing kaleidoscope of diurnal and nocturnal variations.

The pods are fabric-lined internally as well, creating both acoustic comfort and serving as a vibrant canvas celebrating the diversity of plant and animal forms from the region—manifesting as an extension to the sightings observed in the environs. Native Babul and Neem trees, and indigenous bird and animal life find expression through woodblock, screen, and digital prints as well as intricate hand-embroidered fabrics, executed by printmaker Dhvani Behl’s studio Flora For Fauna. Along with bespoke hand-crafted furniture, these interventions create an evocative foil that heightens guests’ connection with their surroundings.

Designed using a lightweight metal frame dry mounted with hand-dressed stone infills, the Baradari is a contemporary expression of the Raįputana twelve- pillared pavilion. Housing the restaurant for the property, the Baradari creates a seamless connection between the two key experiences offered by the site—the panoramic views of the lake, and the serenity of the forest belt. It does so with its naturally-ventilated wraparound verandah extending up to the embankment walls on one side and stepping down onto the deck lining the private, all-season infinity pool on the other.

The construction is a grid of metal columns supporting a double-ring structural system featuring insulated Chopar stone walls capped by a traditional Tukdi (stone slabs installed on a metal framework) roof. The interiors channel a soft and restrained material palette composed of hand-dressed local Chitar stone to heighten the element of understated luxury. Dhvani Behl’s woodblock printed patterns are translated into stone panels—chiselled by hand to depict the idyllic landscape and biodiversity. Upholstered country- style furniture, fashioned out of locally sourced Kikar (Acacia) wood marks a subtle counterpoint to the pink stone surfaces. The overall design expression conjures up images of the surrounding landscape while injecting the space with a series of tactile gestures.

The fabric-lined pods serve as a vibrant canvas celebrating the diversity of plant and animal forms from the region.
The flora and fauna inspire the artwork in the dining hall.
The fabric-lined pods serve as a vibrant canvas celebrating the diversity of plant and animal forms from the region.
The Baradari is a contemporary expression of the Rajputana twelve-pillared pavilion.

Could we look at making the local aspirational? Can we focus on raising the value of the local and indigenous through a high degree of craftsmanship and artisanal skill?

Revisiting the studio’s ethos of Collective Genius - the artisans along with the design and structural team at site have co-created RAAS Chhattrasagar. In the baradari structure, for example, the dry construction of the stone building, the way the bush hammering has been done, and the way it interlocks – would not have happened unless each person brought their knowledge and skills forward. It is not something designed by the architect; it emerged at the site from a collaborative approach to building. Mud signages too, were not designed – they were and continue to be done in mud lippai by the local women. That is their canvas to bring in their own art.

Another key notion that Studio Lotus is constantly examining, is that of frugal innovation - of doing more with less. The RAAS Chhatrasagar project exemplifies that notion in its construction. The material approach is extremely light, frugal and local. The construction process involved a large number of local artisans. It was not something that was shipped in.

A large swathe of the studio’s work caters to the segment of luxury which sets them thinking “How can luxury be redefined for it to be exciting and responsible? Could we look at making the local aspirational?” Can we focus on raising the value of the local and indigenous through a high degree of craftsmanship and artisanal skill? For RAAS Chhatrasagar, local resources and cultural influences allow the story to emerge from the site. The flora and fauna inform the artwork. The craft of block printing is totally reinterpreted in a contemporary context.

The idea of timelessness is a critical lens of sustainability to Studio Lotus. Expressed as the theme of ‘Beauty’, it is central to all their work irrespective of scale. For them, it is an intangible, evocative experience—of space and volume, light and air, materiality, refinement of detail and celebrating the organic imperfections of craft. The space must delight, as does RAAS Chhatrasagar! Studio Lotus sees beauty as having a deep connection to sustainability with structures that are beautiful and well- made, and have an inherent quality that enables them to endure the test of time, in their emotive, aesthetic and functional aspects.

Project Title: RAAS Chhatrasagar

Location: Nimaj, Rajasthan

Design Team: Ambrish Arora, Ayesha Hussain, Deepesh Harbola, Pranvi Jain, Mallika Gupta

Collaboration: Manjunath BL, Buildkraft, Flora For Fauna, Mangrove Collective

Plot Area: 6 Acres

Built-Up Area: 20,000 sq ft

Photos: Avesh Gaur, and Noughts And Crosses

Local communities and artists contribute to the collective genius.
Etching on the walls of the dining hall celebrating the rich biodiversity around the lake.
Etching on the walls of the dining hall celebrating the rich biodiversity around the lake.

About the Author

Studio Lotus
Design Firm

Studio Lotus is a multi-disciplinary design practice founded in 2002. Twenty years later, it is one of the most path-breaking design firms in India, with Ambrish Arora, Sidhartha Talwar, Ankur Choksi, Asha Sairam and Harsh Vardhan at the helm as Principals.

Studio Lotus’s portfolio has been Internationally recognised – winning the World Holiday Building of the Year at the World Architecture Festival, the Creative Re-Use category at INSIDE Awards, the DOMUS Italia Award for Restoration and Adaptive Reuse, the Grand Jury Prize at the Design for Asia Award, the Prix Versailles Special Prize for Restaurant Interiors, among other awards. They made it to India’s AD100 list for 10 consecutive years, and a nomination in the Aga Khan Awards cycle in 2013.

Fostered with a culture of learning and intrapreneurship, the work of the practice is grounded on the principles of conscious design. Studio Lotus aspires to craft spaces that address the emerging future of work, leisure and living; be it master plans, buildings or interiors, the practice’s process focuses on innovation that enriches their clients’ lives and businesses, adding value to all it touches.

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