CW Interiors |
India Abroad | November 2013

Across the Border

Morphogenesis works on the Soaltee Crowne Plaza, Kathmandu and airbrushes it with tradition and modernity.

Nestled in the busy capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu, is a gorgeous 40-year-old heritage hotel, Soaltee Crowne Plaza. The brief given to the architecture firm was to refurbish the interiors of this beautiful hotel that looked contemporary but was completely in tune with Nepal´s cultural heritage. A reflection of the past was already in front of us. What was needed was to create a blueprint that could match the richness of its original look and perhaps also be able to surpass it.

´At Morphogenesis we deemed it necessary to enrich the Nepalese aspect of design, so that the sense of being in a place is reinforced. Nepal has an ancient and refined culture that has embraced diversity and has enabled unification of artistic and architectural traditions of the old and the new. The architectural intent and the design approach behind the refurbishment of the hotel is a similar thought process, embracing both tradition and modernity simultaneously´, says Sonali Rastogi, Partner, Morphogenesis.

Showcasing Nepalese heritage
The All Day Dining Restaurant is an integral part of the Soaltee Crowne Plaza. It is an easy, friendly and yet stylishly elegant restaurant where the guest can drop by for a meal, any time of the day. And setting the mood for this is a motif resplendent in looks and so intrinsically a part of Nepalese art and heritage a large bell that is strategically placed at the Porte-cochere marking the passageway to the All Day Dining Restaurant. There has been a conscious effort to bring to the fore and showcase Nepalese history, culture and heritage. In fact, right at the onset, as one enters the reception area, the physical beauty of the Himalayan range is illustrated along with a vibrant setting wherein different textures of colours and stones from these mountains have been incorporated into the wall art.

All materials used in the design are natural and the details that have been used are locally inspired, and specific to the location such as metal and wooden jaalis, sculptures, Tangkha paintings, rice paper, etc. The nature of the project that called for perpetuation of the authenticity of the local area also entailed the planning and implementation of the concept of green interiors.

Jaalis, Tangkhas and more
The material palette for the all-day dining is replete with elements of Nepalese architecture. While care has been taken to shortlist crafts and symbols which are traditional, their actual incorporation in the design finds new and unusual interpretations. Familiarity and surprise co-exist and create an earthy appeal through feature elements such as wooden jaali, exposed bricks, etc. The ceiling is further accentuated with fabric panels (with an acoustic infill), and the fretted screen. The walls have been treated beautifully. Reminiscent of the thousands of candles lit in the various temples in the city, the walls have become the highpoint of the design. This is specially true in the evenings when all the lights are lit up.

Tangkha paintings have been used liberally throughout the hotel´s decor. The Tangkha art (also written as tankha), a part of the Nepalese heritage, is the art of painting on silk cloth and further embellishing it with embroidery. It mainly depicts Buddha and his teachings. Occasionally the painting also features other prominent monks or lamas. Unlike a painting, the Tangkha is not single dimensional. The basic cloth silk has texture, then it is embroidered. The painting is often covered by a silk cloth thus making it last for years. This traditional art form has been used creatively by the designers.

Merging Styles Successfully
The best part of the design of the All Day Dining Restaurant is that while there is ample usage of tradition, never does it get overbearing. For instance, the ceiling of the restaurant also has a jaali kind of look, creating a rhythmic pattern. That combined with the decorative customised light suspensions in copper and brass, create an ambience that almost echoes the rhythms that resonate in communal gathering spaces. The most challenging part of this design was obviously attempting to merge the traditional with the modern and this has been remark¡ably achieved by Morphogenesis. From creative interpretation of Nepalese ceramics as ceilings and walls, to the usage of bells and Tangkhas in a milieu of creams and beiges have made the All Day Dining Restaurant at the Soaltee Crowne Plaza a classy, sleek and modern diner that does not take you away from your comfort zone, thereby offering an artistic infusion of contemporary design with a traditional material.

Project Name All Day Dining, Soaltee Crowne Plaza.
Location: Kathmandu, Nepal.
Completion Year: August 2012.
Client: Soaltee Hotel.
Size: 80,000 sq ft | 10 acre.
Climate: Composite.
N-85B Panchsheel Park
New Delhi - 110 017
Tel: 011-4182 8070

Tell us a bit about your projects abroad?
The Soaltee Hotel in Kathmandu was the hotel to go to and had been like that for the longest time, when they decided to go in for a refurbishment to contemporise and bring their standards up to the expectations one has from a high-end hotel. It serves as a stopping point for Everest climbers, so has to respond to the global tourist. It had some elements of traditional architecture that we wished to preserve. For us, it was very important to make the project socio-culturally relevant and sustainable which is why we worked with local craft and materials, and designed so as to work with its existing form, but gave it the panache it so badly required.

We are also building a commercial building in Dhaka on a 12 acre site in a prime business zone. It´s an interesting project because it stands at that point where Bangladesh is getting into the global economy and it helps define the new face of the capital. It almost becomes a flagship building for the city, not just the client.

How different is it working in a foreign country from working in India?
Our work abroad is mainly in SAARC countries and it´s not that different as people are quite similar. It´s the socio-cultural engagement which is required for the project, and that happens quite easily.

Are the designs for these projects inspired in any way from India?
The very fact that the firm doing the design is Indian, Indian ink will be there in the brush stroke. But considering that we are trying to define a regional language (even whilst working in India) it becomes an interesting mix of what is possible there and what we have learnt from here.

What aspect of Indian architecture would you like to reflect in all your projects?
The fact that Indian architecture is usually designed for people, in response to people, local conditions and climate.

What´s your overall perspective on the design scenario in India?
I think it´s an exciting time, with the whole nation growing and building across new typologies and new demands. And the opportunity to do what we like doing, which is working across various climates and social, cultural strata is enormous.

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