India Design ID
India Design ID
India Design ID
India Design ID
India Design ID
India Design ID
India Design ID
India Design ID

The Kumaon by Zowa Architects

November 8, 2020

Fact file
Location: Uttarakhand
Size: 1160 sq m
Principal Architects: Pradeep Kodikara and Jineshi Samaraweera
Photographs by: Akshay Sharma

 

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. This small hotel in Uttarakhand is situated at 1600 metres 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 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. The hotel staff meets you at this point and relieves you of your bag and baggage, making the rest of your walk much more pleasant. You also have the option of making the short trek on 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 a small strip of common land.

The programme included 10 rooms, lounge and dining facilities, a library, a spa, and other 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 walls of the upper chalet were built out of fly ash bricks and clad with bamboo sticks to facilitate a sense of lightness. The main building is situated on the highest point of 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 spaces. The approach to the hotel is through a small gate from the footpath and a walkway arches towards the main lounge (the first entry point to the property for the visitor). A row of planted bamboo trees is 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 was 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, and finished simply with just a coat of paint inside. In the chalets, a bed, table, and seat were designed as an island unit and finished in smooth cement render. The toilet walls are finished in “kadappah“—a black stone cut into 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 rainwater 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 leftover spaces and then use the produce for its kitchen. Overall, we attempted to highlight the stunning natural landscape and focus on the mountain views while paying homage to local materials, tradition, and culture.