Location: Bodh Gaya, Bihar
Area: 76,000 square feet; 7060.6 square meter
Design Firm: SJK architects
Design team: Shimul Javeri Kadri, Vaishali Mangalvedhekar, Roshni Kshirsagar, Ipsita Mallick, Aparna Kale
Photography by: Niveditaa Gupta
As the site of the Buddha’s enlightenment over 2,500 years ago, Bodh Gaya in Bihar is a city of tremendous religious and historical significance. It now plays host to hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the globe every year. With the Mahabodhi temple complex and numerous other historical structures, the town has a profound architectural legacy. SJK Architects has crafted a hotel property within the city that responds to this very unique context, through its form, materiality and design language.
“The hotel is crafted to be an ode to the historical roots of Buddhism in India, and is designed in response to the religious tourism in the region,” says Shimul Javeri Kadri, founder and principal architect of SJK Architects.
Situated about 4 kilometres from the Mahabodhi temple complex, the property is spread over five acres, and consists of two key zones — a public block which is located closer to the northern entrance, as well as a private block at the southern end. “A long central courtyard situated within the public block forms the physical and emotional heart of the hotel, around which all common spaces are arranged,” says Vaishali Mangalvedhekar, partner at the firm. These include a reception, banqueting facilities, a health centre with a spa, a gym, a swimming pool, and a restaurant. Separated from the public zone by a linear waterbody, the private zone comprises guest rooms and suites.
The design language throughout the property is deeply informed by the rich and historic architectural vocabulary. “Traditional Buddhist architectural features, such as vaults, corbelled arches and stepped jambs are re-envisioned in a contemporary idiom across all spaces in the hotel. They are reminiscent of the past but designed for the present,” says Mangalvedhekar. With a colour palette of muted whites and warm terracotta, the property evokes the Buddhist ethos of simplicity and serenity.
With thoughtful landscaping, the outdoor spaces are designed to induce a sense of calm and tranquillity. A highlight is the linear water body, graced by floating lotus plants, which stand for purity of body, speech and mind in Buddhism. Ghat-like steps frame the edges of the waterbody, providing additional spaces for visitors to enjoy the outdoors.
A series of outdoor, semi-outdoor and indoor spaces make for a gentle transition for visitors entering the public block. The five public areas: the reception, cafe, banquet, lounge and the pool area, draw inspiration and design cues from the five wisdoms of Buddhism (fearlessness, dharma, giving and sharing, unity with oneself, and oneness with the earth.) Each wisdom is signified through a specific element, which is used in the hotel’s interiors, artwork and signages. For example, the spa, gym and pool area is designed to represent the wisdom of ‘oneness with the earth’, which is associated with the colour blue.
Materiality and local craftsmanship further entrench the property. A combination of materials was chosen for the project – Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC), Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC) blocks which provide added insulation for the interiors, reducing costs and energy, as well as local brick – which is widely used in Bodh Gaya’s vernacular architecture.
Further, SJK Architects use locally crafted tiles on the hotel roofs, collaborating with 26 local families in 12 villages from around Bodh Gaya. “These half-round clay tiles, often called ‘country tiles’, are almost unseen in other parts of India. The industry is based on part-time labour by local families who use the soil from their fields and a potter’s wheel to create cylinders of clay that are then cut and fired into half-round tiles. The process, entirely intuitive and skill-based, relies on the potter’s sense of when the clay has been worked enough to take off the wheel,”says Mangalvedhekar.
A series of passive design strategies help ensure energy efficiency of the whole property. For instance, residential blocks are configured from north to south, in order to minimise heat from the western facade during summers. “Additionally, aerated concrete blocks, double-glazed windows, and a double roof system topped with clay tiles create a well-insulated envelope,” says Mangalvedhekar. Natural ventilation within the property is enhanced with the use of courtyards. “All circulation spaces including the entrance lobby, comprising 30 percent of the total space, completely depend on the natural air flow, significantly reducing air-conditioning loads.” says Mangalvedhekar.
Story by Sridevi Nambiar
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