A wildlife camping experience that reinterprets the historical, and weaves in the biodiversity of its setting with resilient ways of building, RAAS Chhatrasagar seeks to stand out from the crowd by blending in with its environment.
RAAS Chhatrasagar is a 20-key hospitality property located near the town of Nimaj, in Rajasthan. Perched atop a nearly 150-year-old check dam that forms a perennial rainwater lake, it reinvents the earlier property that used to operate out of seasonal tents, thereby providing guests with a year-round opportunity to observe the region's abundant biodiversity amidst 800 acres of pristine forest.
The design brief called for replacing the temporary camps with a perennial property resilient to the region's extreme temperatures. Additionally, there was a need to increase the capacity to sixteen tented units and augment the public spaces with a richer amenity mix. The sensitive ecological context made it imperative that all additions to the locale be erected with minimal environmental footprint. The architects thus designed a system of low-impact foundations and lightweight superstructures employing a dry construction methodology and using lime as a binder for the minimal wet work.
The site revealed in layers, uniting the experience of discovery with an element of surprise, by working in harmony with the context and tying numerous touchpoints to establish meaningful connections. Guests arrive at a drop-off area and walk through a shaded path, climbing a series of stepped stone plinths before emerging in a courtyard that frames a view of the Chhatrasagar Lake with sweeping vistas of the wilderness. This courtyard gets established as the heart of the property, unifying the project's public and private spaces.
Designed using a lightweight metal frame dry mounted with hand-dressed stone infills, the Baradari is a contemporary expression of the Rajputana traditional gathering space. Housing the restaurant for the property, the Baradari creates a seamless connection between the two key experiences offered by the site — the panoramic views of the lake, and the serenity of the forest belt with its built envelope extending up to the embankment walls on one side, and the deck lining the private infinity pool on the other.
Upholstered country-style furniture, fashioned out of locally-sourced Acacia (Kikar) wood marks a subtle counterpoint to the pink stone surfaces. The bar counter features elaborate hand-carved relief work depicting a flock of flamingos; the overall design expression conjures up images of the surrounding landscape while injecting the space with a series of tactile gestures.
The underlying design principle for the camp was to frame outdoor views along either edge of the pods. The sunrises over the lake and sunsets into the forest become an integral part of the guest experience. Each pod hosts spill-outs for outdoor lounging. The pods are separated by metal screens with bamboo infill extending towards the edge of the embankment, enabling privacy while seamlessly integrating the diversity of views.
A continuous tensile fabric canopy stretches over the lightweight partitions spanning the entire length of the structure providing water proofing and added insulation. This secondary membrane extends beyond the footprint of the pods to create shaded verandahs overlooking the surrounding panorama. Retractable skylights installed within the roof capture the changing kaleidoscope of diurnal and nocturnal variations.
The fabric lining create a canvas that celebrates the diversity of plant and animal life in the region — a reflection of the wilderness beyond. Native Babul and Neem trees, and indigenous bird and animal life are brought to life using a combination of hand-crafted furniture by Mangrove Collective and vibrant woodblock-printed illustrations and hand-embroidered fabrics by Dhvani Behl's studio Flora For Fauna
The masterplan lays out the sixteen 'pods' as an arrangement of conjoined suites raised on stilts to preserve the embankment structural integrity and enables MEP services to run elevated off the dam, allowing rainwater to drain freely into the lake. Guests access the property via a landscaped walkway along the nearby forest belt, climbing a series of stone steps through tree-lined slopes and gardens to a deck leading into the units.
Baradari is a contemporary expression of the Rajputana traditional gathering space — capped by a tukdi roof. Dhvani Behl's woodblock prints for the tents being translated into hand-chiselled wall panels to create tactile surfaces for the Baradari's interiors. Lightweight steel columns being encased in hand-dressed local Chitar stone wall panels. The region's lush forests and teeming biodiversity are brought to life using a combination of indigenous crafts and vibrant wood-block printed illustrations by studio Flora For Fauna.
The functional programme for the new camp comprises a central public space and private suites tracing a linear configuration along the length of the dam. It is imagined as a system of a low impact foundations and light-weight superstructures that blend harmoniously with the environment.