Stha­p­atya Ar­chi­tects

Car India - - FEATURE -

Based in Jaipur, the cap­i­tal city of Ra­jasthan, this renowned firm con­sists of a closely knit team of ar­chi­tects and in­te­rior de­sign­ers. Stha­p­atya Ar­chi­tects was es­tab­lished in 1996 by the cre­ative cou­ple, San­deep and Ritu Khan­del­wal. They grad­u­ated in the first batch of ar­chi­tec­ture from the MNIT, Jaipur, and are mem­bers of the IIA, COA, IIID, PHD, and PETA. The ar­chi­tect duo started pri­vate prac­tice while still at col­lege and have over the years made a mark in the de­sign world of Ra­jasthan.

nes­tled in the scenic Aravalli range. The Fort re­mained aban­doned for cen­turies be­fore the Jaipur-based ar­chi­tect duo, Ritu and San­deep Khan­del­wal of Stha­p­atya Ar­chi­tects, were roped in to res­tore it from its de­plorable con­di­tion to be con­verted into a world-class her­itage re­sort. The chal­lenge was to keep the orig­i­nal struc­ture in­tact in its en­tirety, bar­ring break­ing por­tions of the walls to con­nect rooms and drilling holes for the air-shafts and drainage.

San­deep, while nar­rat­ing the story of the restora­tion work that took sev­eral years, told us that this mag­nif­i­cent struc­ture had lost its pur­pose of a refugee fort and, over the years, was in­fested by thou­sands of bats and mon­keys. At the turn of the cen­tury, the royal fam­ily of Shah­pura made the vi­sion­ary de­ci­sion to adapt it to a ho­tel prop­erty, thus giv­ing it a new lease of life. The en­tire makeover took nearly a decade and the re­sult is there for all to see.

As we lis­tened to the won­ders and the hard work that went into the restora­tion, Ritu fur­ther ex­plained the de­sign ethos of the her­itage prop­erty, adding, ‘The war­rior Fort is of typ­i­cal Jaipur gha­rana style, which is a beau­ti­ful amal­ga­ma­tion of Ra­jput and Mughal ar­chi­tec­ture. This gave a clear source of in­spi­ra­tion as it was im­por­tant to keep the her­itage alive and to use the beauty of the ex­ist­ing struc­ture and res­tore it to its stately home­stead.

The visual vo­cab­u­lary of the Fort has been care­fully wo­ven into the de­sign to keep it true to its orig­i­nal form and main­tain the essence of the war­rior fort and not con­vert it into a palace, which is what has come to be ex­pected of the her­itage sites in


As we walked around, we no­ticed that the in­ner core of the Fort has been com­pletely re­tained where the stone carv­ing pil­lars have been re­stored and repli­cated. Just the up­per wing and an outer en­ve­lope was newly built. Ritu said, ‘The struc­ture is a com­pletely or­ganic form with no 90-de­gree an­gles which was one of the ma­jor chal­lenges faced as there are no typ­i­cal lay­outs.’ You can see the at­ten­tion to de­tail in ev­ery nook and cor­ner that has some in­tri­cate lat­tice stone work, veg­etable dye fres­coes or a bit of an­cient metal jaali screens to com­plete the au­then­tic gha­rana theme. Then there’s use of an­tique brass em­boss­ing and an­cient wood­work on doors and win­dows that talk of its rich past.

The fur­nish­ing and up­hol­stery also seem to have been hand-

picked painstak­ingly and merge ef­fort­lessly with the struc­ture. An­other rea­son for this project to take 10 years is that most of the fur­ni­ture and light fit­tings were cus­tom de­signed and made to or­der. Ver­nac­u­lar tech­niques of patch­work, block print, tie-and-dye and Gu­dri work are scat­tered around to add flavour to the in­te­rior of the ho­tel and are sourced lo­cally from var­i­ous parts of Ra­jasthan.

The ar­chi­tect duo made sure that the car­bon foot­print was kept to the min­i­mum. All the ma­te­rial from the con­struc­tion stage to the fur­nish­ing stage has been sourced lo­cally, from within a 100-km ra­dius. Tra­di­tional ma­te­rial has been used with a cer­tain amount of moder­nity. The best part is that they in­volved the lo­cal com­mu­nity in the con­struc­tion process; it wasn’t dif­fi­cult to find tal­ent in the nearby vil­lages.

One can very well imag­ine the up­hill task of work­ing with the ex­ist­ing struc­ture and en­cap­su­lat­ing it in a way that served the mod­ern needs best. We were pleas­antly sur­prised to see four ver­ti­cal cir­cu­la­tion lifts and even a kitchen lift for goods added seam­lessly to this an­cient Fort. The ar­chi­tects faced a mas­sive road block try­ing to dis­cover ver­ti­cal shafts for the lifts. So, they em­ployed the tra­di­tional method of ty­ing ropes to torches to over­come this chal­lenge.

The other big hur­dle was to al­low nat­u­ral light to en­ter the in­te­rior of the Fort. Like ev­ery fortress, Fort Bis­hangarh had been de­signed to block ev­ery­thing out. Dur­ing the restora­tion process, the ar­chi­tects had to cut through the floors to get nat­u­ral light and use the ex­ist­ing court­yard as the main source of nat­u­ral light in the com­mon ar­eas and the cor­ri­dors run­ning all along the Fort. This cre­ated a more wel­com­ing at­mos­phere, which is a must for ev­ery hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness. Use of jaalis and screens in the cor­ri­dor cre­ates a mag­i­cal re­flec­tion on the floor of the cor­ri­dor; as if the build­ing breathes when the shad­ows change and pat­terns evolve through the day.

Cur­rently this her­itage re­sort has 59 rooms, each with its own unique shape, which adds to the over­all liv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The only com­mon el­e­ment are the win­dows that of­fer in­cred­i­ble views of sur­round­ing vil­lages and hills. The win­dows are of jharokha style, is a typ­i­cal el­e­ment of the gha­rana ar­chi­tec­ture style seen across this royal state. Ac­cord­ing to the ar­chi­tects, the win­dows had to be de­signed in such a way that it did not dam­age the el­e­va­tion of the Fort and, at the same time, it was nec­es­sary to har­ness the mag­nif­i­cent views of the land­scape of Ra­jasthan. In or­der to achieve this, they came up with a unique com­bi­na­tion of un­equal (small and big) win­dows which were painted in the match­ing colour of the Fort. The ma­te­rial used to res­tore the Fort com­prises widely nat­u­ral sand­stone, mar­ble, and gran­ite. Even the plas­ter was made with the lo­cal sand­stone and tested un­til it matched the old plas­ter.

Driv­ing up the wind­ing road from the base of the hillock to the main ho­tel en­trance is, per­haps, one of the most spec­tac­u­lar at­trac­tions for petrol heads like us. The sharp hair-pin turns and a breath­tak­ing view of the land be­low leave a last­ing im­pres­sion of the time spent at Alila Fort Bis­hangarh. San­deep en­thu­si­as­ti­cally ex­plained how the roads to the ho­tel had to be im­aged and con­structed from scratch since there wasn’t any vis­i­ble path in ex­is­tence and how, ini­tially, most of the equip­ment and build­ing ma­te­rial had to be fer­ried up on mules just as in the an­cient times.

What is also in­ter­est­ing is that at the base of the hill is a haveli com­pris­ing the ar­rival court­yard and Jodh­pur-tent like struc­ture which re­sem­bles the ones used dur­ing the game hunt­ing ex­pe­di­tions of the royal years. The area also has a lux­u­ri­ous ban­quet lawn and a pool with a ter­race. The usual lin­ea­ments of a five-star like a bar, fit­ness cen­tre and spa, four dif­fer­ent restau­rants cu­rated by a celebrity chef can also be seen in this bou­tique re­sort.

We had the good for­tune to spend a night at this mag­nif­i­cent ho­tel and can vouch for the lux­u­ri­ous rooms re­plete with ev­ery mod­ern con­ve­nience one could de­sire, in­clud­ing a spa­cious bath­room, in­built bath­tubs, and large, com­fort­able beds. In the morn­ing, we had break­fast at the roof-top, open-air cof­fee shop that of­fers a breath­tak­ing view of the sun­rise. No ar­ti­fi­cial cam­era fil­ter can match up to the vi­brant colours this nat­u­ral land­scape had to of­fer.

As we wrapped up our photo shoot and were walk­ing through the cor­ri­dors, the air felt heavy and laced with mys­ter­ies and un­told sto­ries from the past. It felt as if one could stum­ble upon a hid­den trap-door that would open a new chap­ter from the royal his­tory, undis­cov­ered so far. It is this essence which can only be in­her­ited by her­itage prop­er­ties such as the Alila Fort Bis­hangarh, which makes it an ex­pe­ri­ence of a life­time. And this feel­ing is what in­spires us to get back on the road with the trusted Hyundai to dis­cover more such ar­chi­tec­tural gems of In­dia.

( Above) A view to kill: seen through one of the can­non holes

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