Being recognized as a virtuoso is an understatement when Charles Correa is described. This master architect indulges in every design he has crafted meticulously, a level of detail that is revered and has inspired architects all over India, and even abroad. As Kenneth Frampton described Correa’s work while writing the foreword for his book, “Thus one may find in Correa’s work subtle level changes having a certain oriental character that simultaneously serves to articulate different living zones in a particularly vivacious way”. Frampton recognized the genius of Correa’s design and planning and regarded him as having an extraordinary portfolio of work.

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Concept sketch by Correa of Kovalam Beach Resort Source- Charles Correa Book, 1997,  ©(Thames & Hudson)

Initiated by the Government of India as a project to increase the influx of tourists to Kovalam Beach in Kerala, the to-be-built resort had a magnificent view of the sea and lush verdure all around. Though the assigned area was much larger, Correa grouped the activities of the resort, to increase future growth options. The resulting concept was a large mass, sloping towards the sea, ensuring each room had a frame to the breathtaking view that lay in front of each room and a frame to the breathtaking view that lay in front. 

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View of the resort from the beach, Source- Charles Correa Book, 1997,  ©(Thames & Hudson)

Exploiting the limitations of the site, Correa designed 3 room configurations- the kudils, at the edge of the beach, which was designed for longer stays and featured its own cooking space. The main hotel is layered above, around 100 guest rooms overlooking the sea, while detached units are placed between the kudils, at higher densities.

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Kudil Unit Design, Source- Charles Correa Book, 1997,  ©(Thames & Hudson)

Though at first glance the unit may be very simple, its brilliance is seen in the section of the entire structure. Here, each unit below is countersunk with the unit on top, creating privacy for the inner part of the room, while the sundeck is flushed into the massive sloped surface- giving a view of the beach. With this pragmatic technique, Correa can provide all 100 rooms with a stunning view and an abundance of natural light and ventilation.

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Section through the hotel rooms, Source- Charles Correa Book, 1997,  ©(Thames & Hudson)

Utilizing the contours to his advantage, Correa’s resourcefulness doesn’t end here. The master plan is a plan worth studying for the dexterity shown in effectively zoning circulation, activities, and spaces without compromising on the view or overall aesthetic borrowed from Kerala’s vernacular architecture. From the driveway and entry is the central buffer that is the restaurant’s foyer, which leads to the lounge and rooms. The lounge extends into the restaurant and kitchen on the East, whereas the West has a covered verandah and pool. In overview, these 4 spaces are united by an undivided floor plate that once again exploits the view of the sea.

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Plan of the hotel on the slope, Source- Charles Correa Book, 1997,  ©(Thames & Hudson)

Building into the slopes, Correa not only utilizes the view and flush into the natural slope but manages to blend into the thick green that has been retained on site. The simple element of a framed view being a constant feature gave rise to an underappreciated structure, one that can be regarded as one of the best in Correa’s attempt to link the built and unbuilt. Chosen by many architects as a concept relying on the natural topography and contextual gravitas, a certain mastery has been observed in this massive structure.

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Section through the entire hotel, Source- Charles Correa Book, 1997,  ©(Thames & Hudson)

As the structure serves to be a tourist magnet, activities such as Ayurveda, water sports, and handicrafts of the region are highlighted and act as incentives. Using the locally available materials to retain character in the region, white plastered walls reflect light into spaces, red-tiled roofs imitate the other built structures of the region, and pavilions made of bamboo chhatris and coir mats on the floor enhance the aesthetic of the region.

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View from hotel room sundeck, Source- Charles Correa Book, 1997,  ©(Thames & Hudson)

This region required a magnet that increased tourists in the region and exposed a beautiful beach to the outside world, a melting pot of cultures and arts and crafts of Kerala. Using an elegant site to create a picturesque view and utilizing locally sourced materials, Kovalam Beach Resort utilizes Correa’s classic design approach and craftsmanship to adapt to the need and experiment with volume every time. Though it may not seem like a new and fresh concept now, Correa‘s method for making the volume a malleable entity and exploiting it for new designs and techniques. As the natural beauty of the site is emphasized, the architecture remains unique and famous for how well it adapts to the setting, without compromising the quality of the spaces provided.

Nishant Varma
Author

Nishant Verma is a designated college nerd and has been writing ever since you could define the term “bullying”, first to vent out feelings and eventually to an amateur writer. Pastimes include productive activities- reading, writing, movies, the history of music and architecture, with whom he enjoys a love-hate relationship.

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