The Kumaon by Zowa Architects is a vernacular and highly contextual hospitality design project, situated on a sloping, terraced site with breathtaking views of the alpine Himalayan landscape. Featuring ten chalets, a lounge and dining facilities, library, spa and services, the material palette of this hotel comprises stone quarried from the nearby land, fly ash brickwork and bamboo cladding. Regional craftsmen lent their expertise to the bespoke furnishings, crafted from local pinewood, copper, stone and traditional woollen fabrics. Kadappa and Kota stone as well as optimal systems for rainwater harvesting and on site, farm to kitchen produce complete the distinct composition. Scroll down to read the architects’ description of the project.
This small hotel in Uttarakhand, situated 1600 meters above sea level in the village of Kasar Devi near the charming town of Almora. The hotel is named after the region it is situated in, one of breathtaking beauty filled with abundant mountains, valleys, forests and scenic lakes. Almora has long been a favourite tourist destination for locals escaping the punishing Delhi summer as well as foreigners.
Access to the site is via a slightly steep track down, off the main road. This village road stops about 250 metres from the site and the rest of the way is via a narrow walking track. You are met at this point by the hotel staff relieving of your bag and baggage, making the rest of your walk instantly quite pleasant. You also have the option of making the short trek by pony/horseback.
The sloping site is terraced which is typical of agricultural plots in this area and is composed of two parts; a small half acre plot at the top of the site which we used to situate the service facilities, and a two acre plot, separated by small strip of common land. What is special about the land is that it has uninterrupted views of the valley below and majestic views of the Indian Himalayas 300 km away.
The programme included 10 rooms, lounge and dining facilities, library, spa and services. We decided to design the rooms in pairs, one atop the other and scatter them across the site at different levels. This was partly to reduce the bulk of the building and also to reduce the overall footprint of the development. The lower chalet was built out of stone quarried from nearby, while the upper chalet walls were built out of fly ash bricks and cladded with bamboo sticks to facilitate a sense of lightness.
The main building is situated on the highest point in the site, while the ground level is the main entry foyer that houses a lounge, library, and administrative facilities. The first floor houses a dramatic steel cantilevered dining room, with an axis vista towards ‘Nanda Devi,’ India’s second highest peak. The roof of the lounge also serves as a terrace for outdoor dining and yoga.
The approach to hotel is through a small gate from the foot path, and a walkway arches towards the main lounge (the first entry point to the property for the visitor). A row of planted bamboo trees are used to cover the view of the chalets beyond and obscure the mountain views heightening the sense of expectation.
Local pinewood was used extensively, from floor finish to doors and windows. Even the furniture was designed and made on site. The local craftsmen were employed to make copper and stone accessories for the chalets. Almora has a fine tradition of weaving and all the woollen fabric for bedding and furnishings were custom designed and produced locally.
The overall finish is one of rustic simplicity, highlighting the local materials. The concrete soffits are kept unplastered, much like the fly ash walls, finished simply with just a coat of paint inside. In the chalets a bed, table and seat was designed as a island unit and was finished in smooth cement render. The toilet walls are finished in ‘kadappah’—a black stone cut in to tiles. The terraces and balconies on the other hand were paved with ‘kota’—a popular and cost friendly Indian granite, which has a texture and tactility akin to smooth cement.
All the structures were designed for optimal rain water harvesting, with a drainage system taking the water to a large holding tank at the bottom of the site. The hotel plans to replant seasonal crops in the terraces and left over spaces, and then use the produce for its own kitchen.
Overall, our attempt was to highlight the stunning natural landscape and focus on the mountain views while paying homage to local materials, tradition and culture.