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Fort Bishangarh: Heritage Resort, Rajasthan

Posted by
on December 27, 2017 at 12:46 PM

© Courtesy of internet resources

Architects Ritu and Sandeep Khandelwal of Sthapatya Architects, consulting with Ar. Vinayak Diwan for lighting and with landscape designer Mukul Goyal have revamped an old fort, recreating its magic and grandeur; for a bunch of passionate hoteliers. Bishangarh Fort near Jaipur, Rajasthan – which was recently opened up as a heritage resort by the Alila Group. and currently going viral on social media sites – is a splendid example of architectural restoration and adaptive reuse. 

The magnificent 230-year old structure of the warrior fort of the Kachawa clan stands atop a granite hillock looking over the small village of Bishangarh. Lying abandoned and empty, it had been for years inhabited only by bats and monkeys. The decision to adapt in into a hotel property has given it a new lease of life.

Sthapatya Architects, helmed by architects Renu and Sandeep Khandelwal were called in to give the property a makeover to be used as a luxury hotel. Taking up the challenge, extensive research was done, and care taken to derive a vocabulary that responded and adapted to the original structure.  “Design ideas of the past were encapsulated in a way that served the modern needs best. Taking clue from what was found in the ruins, finishes were derived from in and around the area. We can therefore say it is a dialogue between the old design and contemporary architecture and technology. Traditional materials have been used with a certain amount of modernity.”

The warrior fort is built in the style of the Jaipur Gharana, which is an exciting amalgamation of the Rajput and Mughal architectural styles. Conservation of the original structure, therefore became the obvious first step. Any new intervention also had to necessarily derive from the existing vocabulary. “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 Rajasthan. The inner core of the fort has been completely retained where the stone carving pillars have been restored and replicated,” informs the architects’ website.

As there was no real ‘plan’ existing on paper and no typical floor layouts, all additions too were allowed to flow in an organic manner. “The upper wing and an outer envelope were added to the structure. The challenge was to create a completely organic form with no 90 degree angles – and that was one of the major challenges we faced.”

The materials used in the new construction are natural sandstone, marble and granite. The plaster too was made with the local sandstone and tested till it matched the old plaster. Architectural features typical to Gharana architecture like jharonkha styled windows, Tudor and cusped arches continue in the new structure. Other elements replicated from the erstwhile fort architecture include intricate lattice stone work, vegetable dye frescoes, metal screens (jaali), brass embossing and ornate woodwork on doors and windows. Furniture and light fittings were customized to suit the aesthetic style. Vernacular techniques of patchwork, block print, tie & dye and Gudri work have been promoted by sourcing block printed fabric, hand woven carpets and rugs, and hand-crafted accessories; from all parts of Rajasthan.

And of course, it was important to ensure that the new interventions were sustainable; and to minimize the carbon footprint. Thus, all materials from the construction stage to the furnishing stage have been sourced locally, from within a 100km radius. Talent was tapped from the local community in the nearby villages, and roped in to be a part of the new construction process as well.

A more significant intervention came in the lighting of the interior. To break out of the norm of poorly lit forts, cut-outs were made to get in maximum possible natural light throughout each level. The existing courtyard was used as the main source of natural light in the common areas and the corridors running all along the fort. Large and small windows matching with the olden jharokhas were added to afford views from every room, and painted in the same colour as the fort to sync with the character of the façade.

Additions of jaalis and screens in the corridor help create magical reflections on the floor of the corridor; with the shadows changing and the patterns evolving throughout the course of day.

The outcome of a seven-year-long conservation and reuse program is indeed spectacular. The heritage resort with 59 rooms now offers all the amenities of modern living and luxury within the eighteenth century fort precinct. Each room offers incredible views of the landscape of Rajasthan.

Luxury redefined, indeed - and an inspiring example of heritage restoration and adaptive reuse. 

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