Wind, sun, soil, and culture- these are roots from which the tremendous structures of SJK Architects led by Shimul Javeri Kadri arise, creating intertwining environments that beam with life. Their design ideologies demand more than enclosures for survival, but holistic atmospheres that integrate the community and the natural environment with the building.
The architectural philosophies of this esteemed firm tend to be most elegantly manifested in their recent hospitality project, Hotel at Bodhgaya. Situated in the midst of one of the holiest Buddhist sites, Gaya, Bihar, the very location where Buddha received enlightenment, this hotel has done perfect contextual justice through its form, materiality, landscaping, and overall aesthetic quality.
Buddhism through Form | Hotel at Bodhgaya
Located on the banks of the Falgu River, the vast acreage of 4.5 acres sustains approximately 76,000 sq ft of built spaces that merge with serene biophilia in the form of graceful water bodies and shaded courtyards, while the Bodhi tree acts as the pivot that binds them.
The breathtaking architecture of ancient Buddhist monuments engulfing the region has influenced every aspect of the hotel’s design. Corbelled arches, stepped jambs, brick-vaulted verandahs, and tiled sloping roofs gently envelope the built and unbuilt into a seamless atmosphere that imbibes the Buddhist architectural vocabulary in a rather minimalistic tone. This delicate form, combined with keyhole windows, stained concrete vaults, lush trees, and glistening pools, manipulate an interplay between light, shadows, and reflections that produce a peaceful yet volatile ambience.
The public and the private spaces tend to resonate with multiple qualities of the religion, thereby rooting its residents into the vibrance and tranquillity of the region.
The amalgamation of Symbolism and Spaces
Buddhist culture has always upheld the value of symbols in their design, predominantly in the form of mudras or gestures of the Dhyani Buddha. These mudras are not singular icons but a combination of a colour, an element, a season as well as a symbol.
The architects at SJK have been successful in designating a specific mudra to each space, which has been rudimentary in defining the structure’s varying functional, aesthetic and experiential requirements. The Spa, pool, and gym area have been assigned the Bhumisparsha Mudra, which means “One with the earth”.
The colour blue, the symbol of a thunderbolt, the element water, and the winter season have been associated with this mudra and are clearly depicted through the overall design of the space. The white flowers added with the green blades of the frangipani trees tend to compliment the blue hues of the space, thereby producing a state of complete calmness in its inhabitants.
Similarly, other spaces in the complex have also been merged with mudras that depict each of Buddha’s five pearls of wisdom. The residential unit consists of five blocks and follows the Vajradhatu Mandala, which symbolises the palace that houses the five Dhyani Buddhas. Each block has 2 floors with eight rooms in each and has also been assigned a specific colour. Rooms have been furnished with traditional yet comfortable upholstery to provide the residents with an enlightening and contented visit.
Abhaya or fearlessness takes form in the lobby and reception with its subtle beige tones, green furnishing, and abstract rain murals. The lounge expresses the Dharmachakra through its white walls, autumn-themed furniture, and the extensive use of chakras as an aesthetic element. The act of giving and sharing or Varada has been represented in the hotel’s Café. This beautiful expanse connects the nurturing interior spaces with the scenic views of the exterior through its large fenestrations.
Finally, the conference/banquet area has been symbolised by Dhyana or unity with oneself. This 2100 sq ft space opens into a verandah that overlooks white bougainvillaea creepers and ficus trees, creating a rather tranquil ambience for outdoor gatherings.
Materiality and Culture
The enduring nature of this hotel derives its strength from the vernacularity of the structure. Locally available materials and craftsmanship have been of great significance to the success of this design. Brick making is one of the most predominant cottage instriesdu in the region, which explains the extensive use of bricks throughout the complex, especially in the load-bearing components. The work of local craftsmen comes to life through architraves, vaults, pillars, jambs, furnishings as well as works of art.
The tiled sloping roofs also add to the sustainability of the overall design. Along with ecological advantages, these contextually appropriate elements also prove to be beneficial in uplifting the historical and cultural relevance of Bodhgaya and rekindle the Buddhist architectural style from a modern perspective.
The Old, the New, and the Living | Hotel at Bodhgaya
The delicate structural components, reconnection with the natural environment, vibrant yet serene hues, culturally driven forms, and vernacularity in material choices have been the fundamental reasons for the creation of this timeless masterpiece. The entire expanse consumes religious traditions and history in order to create psychologically uplifting experiences. It extracts memories of an ancient world to surface hidden emotions through its spaces of elegance, serenity, and tranquillity.
The teachings of Buddha take a physical form and convert into subconscious experiences in every human who inhabits this complex built environment. The Hotel at Bodhgaya is truly a pleasurable rendition of Buddhist architecture and culture with a contemporary refinement while reconnecting body, soul, and soil.
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