By Apurva Bose Dutta

The 'Hotel Industry' in India which experienced its first growth in demand in 1990's, today is one of the fastest growing and most favourable industry in the country. Having undergone various transformations, the concept of hotels in India has witnessed an array of prolific heritage hotels, luxury hotels and resorts to the contemporary terminology of boutique, business and green hotels; each hotel being bestowed with solid rooted architectural designs and innovative cuisines.

Any structure invariably is not only restricted to the look of a building but incorporates other relevant aspects like the construction techniques, the building materials ,planning concept and other interlinked aspects. Hence in our country abounding in heritage and culture, conservation and restoration are stoically practised to preserve our culture and expressions.

The endeavour of re-adaptive hotels is to retain the basic essence of the building while holding on to an equally strong urge to have it look 'like new'. The new elements take on a unique expression but one that responds respectfully, harmoniously and congenially with the old. India welcomed the concept of hotel designing by starting with conversion of old forts, castles and palaces into 'heritage hotels'. In a country replete with history, to maintain the thread of continuity, simultaneously keeping in mind the diverse new uses the building had to be put to, while many such old structures were retained as tourist spots, others were restored/renovated into a hotel. Whether in an effort to preserve memories of the Mughal, Rajput, Colonial architecture through various architectural features or in order to give a taste of their social life through old pictures and family memorabilia, or savouring the cuisines that existed at that time, India has a number of heritage hotels to be proud of.

Rajasthan, long hailed as the abode of kings and princess, has a number of heritage hotels. Shiv Niwas palace (built in late 1880's), a part of the former residence of the Maharana of Udaipur was renovated as a heritage hotel in 1997.Famed architectural firm, Ahmedabad based ABHIKRAM, the architects for the palace have preserved the past through historical ornate benches, gold paint, ivory and wooden doors and scalloped arches.

At Hotel Narayan Niwas Palace, Jaisalmer's first heritage property, a 37 keys hotel (originally built in 1928); the Rajput architecture is much evident in the pillars and arches besides props like camel saddle, harness accessories, Jaipur style painted wall decor and period furniture used as decor pros. The hotel is exemplary of the famous 'Jaisalmer' stone and some part of the original structure is witnessed in the sunken seating in the reception area and mud plastering on the walls. The Umaid Bhawan Palace at Jodhpur, one of the world's biggest palaces built in the twentieth centre has also been converted into a luxury hotel.

The Taj Lake Palace at Udaipur is built on a four acre island. The palace hotel preserves the heritage and tradition of erstwhile rulers of Udaipur through its implementation of opulent silks, richly coloured murals, ornately carved wooden furniture and rooms in traditional style with stained glass windows and ornate glass works.

Examples are umpteen like the Fort of Mandawa in Fatehpur, Dundlod palace and a fort in Mukundgarh. The Lallgarh Palace built in 1902-1926, has been converted into the Bikaner Heritage Hotel and the Devigarh Hotel in Udaipur, a 250 year old structure has been converted into a luxury hotel.

Down south in Chennai is the restored Chittoor Palace, the summer abode of the Maharajas of Cochin, a 400 year old mansion which has been now converted into a heritage hotel. With four rooms on 3000sqft space it is rented out to only one family at a time. Kerala based architect Jaigopal G Rao who restored the hotel adds, "Sustainability, conservation and gracious living go hand in hand in this restored hotel". The rooms while being finished with replicas of furniture from the Maharaja's other palaces bear contemporary fittings and finishes in the toilets. Traditional lime plaster retained on the walls, handcrafted athangudi tiles flooring, polished craft wooden ceilings and Mangalore patterned tiles reiterate the 'Kerala architecture'.

The Old Harbour Hotel at Cochin besides having wooden roofs, terracotta flooring, high ceilings, open-to-sky shower, has 13 spacious rooms named after various old streets of fort Cochin. The Oberoi Cecil at Shimla aptly gives a taste of colonial living through its paraquet flooring and old wood panelling. More readaptive heritage hotels in the South include Taj Gateway in Coonoor and Taj Savoye in Ooty.

In architecture, an art grounded in social responsibility, change by default becomes coherent with existence. To be able to foresee the future, it is important to be able to live our past. Most of the new hotel design concepts still believe in borrowing from the country's rich culture. The design concept of the eco sensitive luxury resort of Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur (2002) has been taken from the emerging option for contemporary Indian architecture - beginning from traditions rather than borrowing from them. On 25000sqm, it reflects the continuity of the traditions in its planning, spaces, forms and aesthetics without compromising on the more contemporary needs and technologies. Courtyards, water bodies, paintings, 125 types of cusped arches and brackets, and the city's famous 'deep green marble' lend an ode to the 'Mewar tradition'. Nimish Patel and Parul Zaveri (ABHIKRAM), the principal architects and craft consultants for the same add, "Udaivilas is a testimony to the continuing relevance of the traditional materials, technologies, and the still available craftsmanship base, in the contemporary context, for buildings and complexes. The project generated continuous employment for 300 highly skilled craftspersons for three years."

The Imperial Palace in Mumbai, a recently completed 418 keys hotel combines the classic art deco with state-of-the-art technology and has the old world charm of majestic chandeliers, frescoes and vibrant colours. The classical design of Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra (2001) spread over nine acres of elaborate gardens, terraced lawns, fountains, reflection pools and pavilions is a tribute to the legacy of Moorish and Mughal architecture. Capturing unique vistas of the Taj Mahal, the hotel's interiors are replete with intricate filigree and marble inlay work, jaali screens, gold thread, bead embroidery, wood carvings, leather crafts and handcrafted furniture. The royal look starts right from the high, sandstone gateway flanked by marble elephants which further opens on to a courtyard of four illuminated pools with 64 fountains, laid out in a classic Mughal arrangement. Jaipur sandstone, lime plaster, handmade mosaic tiles, exquisite frescoes, domes and arches are reminiscent of the Mughal grandeur. 30 flaming torches at different places in the hotel are lit in the evening to create a magical ambience.

The concept of resorts caters to features related to entertainment facilities - spas, badminton courts, a bowling alley etc- a place where one can spend an entire weekend and relax. The concept of resorts stepped into India with the Golden Palm Hotel & Spa, Bengaluru, a luxury resort on 19 acres nestled in lush green foliage, creating a paradise in waiting within golden coloured palm trees. It was conceived with the notion of being a life enhancement centre, an oasis of ease, serenity & tranquillity. The central theme revolving around a free form large pool (Asia's largest pool) has low rise guestrooms blocks and cottages on the periphery. With a five storied health spa building, the design follows Mediterranean architecture with a rustic adobe look with stucco plaster for interior and exterior walls, terracotta ceramic tiles flooring, slate, local rough hand dressed granite and cobble stone. Mumbai based Architect Prem Nath who has designed it says, "Golden Palm - Luxury Spa hotel being first of its kind is meant for high class clientele from India & abroad. Large spacious landscape with extensive gardens, various species of flora, sculpted & dramatic surroundings, luxurious rooms, etc create an aura of heavenly effect - a out of the world experience along with the relaxing spa treatments."

The Poovar Island Resort at Kerala is an island resort created within swaying coconut palms, golden beaches, and emerald green backwaters with 22 land cottages (built on stilts on a moat) and 16 eco friendly floating ones. Reasonably priced resorts like the Windflower resort and Spa at Mysore are set amidst a serene setting of coconut trees, wading waters, lush plantations, a rock pool, spacious rooms with rain showers and private sit outs.

In its category of 'Luxury Hotels', India now builds hotels in tune with international standards which need to act as trendsetters for lifestyle and interior design achieved through their innovative and dynamic architecture, technology, tryst with new styles and contemporary fittings. While aesthetic appeal in such hotels remains very important - the words opulence, magnanimity and functionality remain the key words to enjoy comfort.

Built in the late 70's ITC Mughal, Agra - A luxury Collection Hotel encompassing salient features of Mughal architecture is a compelling composition of building blocks arranged around three sunken landscape courtyards. Delhi based architect Ravindra Bhan, who won the Aga Khan award for the hotel adds, "It was one of the most economic hotels built in the deluxe category at that time. All the corners have been opened to the outside and inside. All the 250 rooms look into the garden, a feat which I am yet to come across in any other hotel of the world".

India also has iconic hotels which are landmarks owing to their design sensibilities. The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai till date remains India's most prized possession. A symbol of Indian affluence and sophistication, the hotel combines Moorish and Byzantine design with European ideas which is visible in its onion domes, pointed arches, onyx columns, and vaulted alabaster ceilings.

The dynamic and contemporary structure of the more recent Vivanta by Taj at Bengaluru has flowing spaces, styling in stone, rough plaster, wood and an astounding digitized landscape image of green and blue glass. The accommodations are named to describe the stay experience - Charm, Delight & Indulgence rooms and Allure, Temptation and Nirvana suites!

The upcoming Hotel Radisson at Kanjumarg, Mumbai by Architect Hafeez Contractor is already a landmark owing to its structure of four giant columns and an elliptical form jutting out of these columns. The upcoming Keys Hotel at the Mumbai international airport will also be iconic due to it setting of partially sitting on top of the terminal building of the airport with an atrium covered with ETFE air pillow lit with LED.

The new adage of 'business hotels' in India is all about creating an ambience where corporate professionals can unwind. The emphasis is on comfort, and the hotel necessarily would mean a smaller, cosier place to relax. While generally a contemporary design is prevalent for such hotels, but a bit of traditional dose also reflects in its architectural features. Even in these hotels, dynamic and revolutionary designs exist. Bengaluru based architect Sandeep Khosla is coming up with a 60 room business hotel in Bengaluru converted from an old shopping arcade and he maintains, "The design elements in the hotel while being wholly contemporary, will in parts recall a sense of nostalgia to the city's colonial past, thus providing a successful gateway for its guests to the city". Hotel ITC Fortune, a 90 keys hotel in Mumbai by Mumbai based architect Reza Kabul springs up from a combination of art and contemporary architecture. The terrace with a swimming pool with split level terraces and open Jacuzzi and kiddie's pool serves as the soul of the project.

At Chrome Hotel in Kolkata (63 keys), small circular openings punctuate the entire volume of the facade to allow natural light into the public spaces at daytime. The 24' high lobby has a wall of varied rectilinear composition of wood and glass that curves into the ceiling, slowly fragmenting into individual suspended glass cuboids, creating a sculptural effect. The graphical composition of each room differs so that no two rooms in this boutique hotel are identical. Mumbai based architect Sanjay Puri who has designed the hotel adds, "Chrome is designed in reference to its location and is yet a complete deviation from hotels as they have been designed in the past. From its punctuated skin that transforms it into a lantern at night to its sculpted interior spaces, everything about Chrome lends it a unique identity".

There also exist bigger business hotels like Hyatt Regency in Kolkata - a five star hotel with 250 keys.

The term 'boutique hotels' though popularised in UK and America has now gained worldwide recognition and would generally mean smaller hotels catering to personalised services. The upcoming Atara Hotel, Gurgaon designed by Mumbai based ZZ Architects on 12,000sqft is contemporary and rooted in the context. Principal architect of the firm Krupa Zubin while talking about the hotel features adds, "The atrium on the arrival has a skylight and reflects the natural heritage and culture of Delhi. The double height wall has projected images of Delhi's monuments running on a loop." Entailing a cigar lounge in a sober colour palette of grey and white, bright orange chairs, a modernized fireplace and a magic mirror are features provided in this public room. Clean straight lines embellish the rooms designed in a simple yet classy and modern style.

Park Hyatt at Goa, a 'luxury boutique hotel' on 45 acres of lush beachfront gardens features a unique village concept. Dragonfly in Mumbai, an upcoming small boutique hotel by architect Sanjay Puri is an energy efficient building where the ingenious facade is punctuated in an abstract composition of trapezoidal openings. The room interiors are also abstractly composed with varying materials and angular planes.

India now proudly possesses ITC Gardenia Hotel in Bengaluru, a seven star super luxury hotel and the world's largest LEED 'PLATINUM' Rated Green Hotel. The hotel's adage of 'responsible luxury' is visible in its design concept of vertical gardens, green roofs, wind pool atrium lobby, electric cars and their 'locavore cusine'. Chic and contemporary in design, the hotel pays tribute to Bengaluru deriving inspiration from the city's birds, flowers, places of interest as well as it's erstwhile capital- Mysore. A Japanese restaurant called EDO inspired from the Japanese modern stone gardens has been designed on the Izakaya style of dining. There is also the Kaya Kalp Spa voted as India's most eco friendly spa and the presidential suite with a helipad spread over 5040sqft (the largest in the country) deriving its design concept from the peacock, the national bird of India.

India now looks forward to entertainment, recreation and theme based hotels and the trend has already started with few projects.