CW Interiors |
Luxe Life | May 2012

Tranquil Tryst

Australian architect and designer Nick Juniper from Grounds Kent Architects plays with traditional and contemporary design to create the breathtaking Vivanta by Taj-Bekal in Kerala.

Romance comes to life in every sense at the Vivanta by Taj-Bekal – it is evident in the marriage of nature and design, in the sweet union of natural and artificial water bodies, and in the affair between the traditional and contem­porary facets of design!
The idea of the resort was conceived when Dinesh Khanna, Executive Director, Vivanta By Taj-Bekal, Kerala, visited the tropical resorts Four Seasons Maldives Kuda Huraa and Jimbaran Bay, Bali, created by Grounds Kent Architects (GKA). Enamoured by their designs, he approached the firm with the brief of a villa style resort offering a strong sense of the architecture, location and natural beauty of the site in Kerala.

Lush locale

"While Kerala is a well-known holiday destination, Bekal is largely undeveloped in terms of luxury hotel properties. So, we needed to create an experience that would keep guests captivated during their stay," states Nick Juniper, Partner, GKA. Borrowing from their expertise in tropical resort projects throughout Asia, for the architects, the emphasis was on romance and the guest experience.

Cultural canopy

A distinctive feature of the buildings at Vivanta by Taj-Bekal is the roof. Martin Grounds, one of the principals of GKA, was fascinated with the Kettuvallam houseboats that feature strongly in the imagery of the location. After extensive research on the forms, material and construction of the boats, he decided to make them an identifying feature of the hotel. The structures, completely hand woven with bamboo by local craftsmen, infuse regional authenticity in the construction. The effect is an architectural aesthetic that is culturally referential and creates a strong sense of local design throughout the hotel.

The green axis

At the Vivanta by Taj-Bekal, the central facilities buildings are arranged on a strong axis through the property, down the river, terminating with a bridge over the river that leads to the Grande Jiva Spa. Water gardens, deliberately arranged to emphasise the axis, provide freshness to the site. This picturesque landscaping is the handiwork of renowned landscape designer Made Wijaya from Bali.

The landscape is a wonderful sequence of water features, gardens and lighting created by Wijaya's team of master gardeners, enhanced by the beautiful sculptures and artworks adorning the garden and the Ivory Bar's external feature wall. Juniper highlights, "The images for the murals were taken from traditional illustrated palm leaf manuscripts called Chitra-Pothi and hand painted by Indian artist Christopher Fernandes."

Ethnic touches

On arrival at the resort, the guest is greeted by an open lobby with a direct connection to the water gardens and landscaping. As Juniper points out, "Tropical climates provide the perfect opportunity to open up architecture to the exterior." Inside, one is engulfed by the sweeping lines of a traditional Kerala rice boat. Custom-made bronze chandeliers nestle against a mag­nificent arched ceiling, reflecting light onto a stone floor with a handcrafted mosaic pattern. Adding to the charm is a large copper and gold leaf mural that forms the ideal backdrop for the stone-carved service desk.

The rooms are luxurious, with some of them offering private courtyards and outdoor dining areas. Others have plunge pools that are just a few metres away from the back­waters. Sanskrit-inspired artworks form full-scale wall murals in each room, while carved timber screens, fabric motifs, individually designed lanterns, daybed swings and vaulted ceilings complete the look.

Tribute to tuskers

Juniper planned the all-day dining restau­rant, Latitude, as a flexible interior space with views across the backwaters and expan­sive outdoor dining terraces. The standalone Ivory Bar is a majestic, dome shaped island that pays tribute to one of the most revered creatures in India – the elephant. At the approach to the bar is a hand carved stone mural depicting two elephants with their trunks spouting water into a moat. Borrowing from the main design, the doors have the archetypal curved Kettuvallam arches, and a gorgeous hand painted, full-height wall mural. Stepping stone pavers, leather bar stools, dramatic chan­deliers and an ivory stone-top bar with carved hardwood timber elephant heads, all blend in seamlessly with the theme.

Tropical twists

The site is glorious, with the meandering Kappil river cutting through the land and feeding into the Arabian Sea just 200 m from the hotel. However, executing the project was not easy. As Juniper says, "According to the new restriction by law, we could not construct any new building within 200 m of the beach or the river backwater. So, we had a relatively small area to develop, and fully free standing villa units were not possible. The villas had to be designed as clusters, and the challenge was to give each a sense of privacy and sanctuary."

Apart from this, the designers had to consider the tropical monsoon, during which a large portion of low lying areas gets flooded; hence, the property has a large expanse of outdoor gardens and a variety of terraces and levels that maintain these spaces throughout the monsoon.

Nevertheless, these very challenges have worked to bring about a charming union between nature and design – which is inevitable, one supposes, when the property is in God's own country, Kerala!

Total Area: 7,500 sq m
Text: Shanti Padukone

Meet the architect: Nick Juniper

Firm: Grounds Kent Architects, founded in 1993.
Firm Specialisation: Resort hotels and residential.
Design Philosophy: We firmly believe that where possible architecture should involve and reflect local conditions, materials and traditions, and our architecture attempts to provide romance, something that uplifts and enriches the spirit.


Grounds Kent Architects, Tel: +61-8-9335 7622. Website:
Vivanta by Taj-Bekal, Kappil Beach, Kasaragod, Kerala-671 319. Tel: 0467-661 6612.Fax: 0467-661 6613.
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