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Designing for the wilderness

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It is challenging to design for properties in remote areas and the wild. Zubin Cooper, CEO, Bentel Associates India, writes about the designing techniques for jungle camps and different areas that can be used in a diverse country like India

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Zubin Cooper

Remote boutique hotel design can take many ‘guises’. From the contemporary to the vernacular. It can also be staged on a hill top, a mountain range, by a lake or in the wilderness close to wildlife. But one of the most important aspects of designing in remote areas is all about customer experience. The type of customer attracted to such getaways is in search of a multitude of sensory experiences and of course to quench his thirst for adventure.

Needless to say, the location of such a bespoke hospitality offer is paramount in heightening this experience: be it a safari venture, surrounded in an oasis of nature, or on a mountain top. Eco resorts, escapes and tourism is a growing love in India and need to be designed to respect nature and the immediate environment.

A well designed layout with thoughtful way finding is essential for low lying developments set deep into nature. From identifying the reception area, which of course could be as discrete as a small hut in the wilderness, to finding one’s accommodation. This could be a glass box discretely designed in the jungle, a tree house, a log cabin or a more traditional bungalow. One thing is for certain – the singular feeling of being connected to nature is of utmost importance, and let’s face it it’s why the client is there in the first place. So it is imperative, that whilst the accommodation building should be well detailed, homely and exude with comfort internally, centre stage should be the natural surroundings. The popular Taj Village in Goa is a good example of an exclusive resort offering a more local experience.

Local and environment sensitivity

This means a well-designed landscape should feel natural and not manicured, and still give the client the feeling of being in the wild. Very much the ‘needle’ that threads the resort together, the landscape offers a myriad of possibilities to reinforce the aesthetic quality of the offer. Winding paths leading to spectacular viewing platforms offering breathtaking panoramic views.

It is vital that the impact of the resort on the environment is negligible, ideally treated as a zero carbon footprint. For nature lovers visiting these types of resorts knowing that the building is wholly ‘sustainable’ will only become a good sell point for the given operator/ hotelier. Whilst initial operating costs may be higher, savings in the long term will pay dividends. Using sustainable and local materials must also be high on the agenda.

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Local stones, woods and a natural material palette not only spell a homely environment, but keeps transport costs and pollution down to a minimum. This also helps to provide local jobs for local people. It also becomes an interesting cultural point of conversation. In Karnataka and in other parts of India we see many leaving their villages for a supposed better quality of life and better job opportunities in the cities. As we begin to develop with thoughtful design solutions across the remotest areas of India, we also create employment opportunities near local villages. Local culture and handicraft can also be part of the greater experience, offering more possibilities for the local population to earn and share their local culture and art.

The amenities

Designing adequate on site amenities is also integral to the extension of this experience, a specialist restaurant allowing the visitor to sample the taste of local cuisine. The experience of outdoor seating surrounded by natural beauty, with only a burning flame providing light and the sounds of the jungle is an exquisite one.

Resorts well connected to nature have many synergies with the feeling of well-being, so the design of a spa will also add much value. Taking the concept further to offer dietary, cosmetic and health screening with alternative treatments to certain medical concerns is also a fast growing industry. Short excursions should also be a part of the offer that allow certain guests who may be staying at the site longer to see other areas of cultural or natural interest a short journey away.

Exclusivity and privacy

Whilst common areas and shared dining spaces are important to connect guests sharing a similar experience, the visitor must also feel exclusivity and have privacy. Separating accommodation into individual bungalows, allows for such an experience. The resort designed over a larger area, allows for a feeling of being connected to nature, increasing opportunities for expansive views. Imagine being woken up not by the cries of city crows but by deer rustling in the forest and pressing their faces close up to your patio window.

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I have often believed the most precious landscape design is an architecture that barely changes the landscape, almost remaining untouched. In the same way for sensitive sites particularly in protected areas or national parks, the design of the buildings must be secondary to the beauty of one’s surroundings. An analogy would be how the interiors of an art gallery cry not for attention themselves, but allow the paintings to create dialogue. The design of the rooms themselves should allow for visual connectivity between the indoors and the outdoors. An example could be offering large glazed windows that slide open to verandas so as to engage with the outside.

With the ever growing market of weekend getaways in ever remote places and Indians becoming more adventurous in their outlook, a growing demand for such experiential hotels will continue to build.

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