An exemplary example of practising what you preach, the Sunyata Eco hotel is a boutique hotel located in Chikmagalur, Karnataka. Completed in 2021, this 11-room hotel complex is settled into the hills of Karnataka, surrounded by coffee and tea plantation and is entirely made out of natural materials. Designed by Bangalore-based practice, Design Kacheri, the hotel is based on vernacular planning and construction using alternative materials for a sustainable and luxurious hospitality experience. The hotel is sustainable not just in terms of its design but also concerning the materials used and the building services adopted.

Sunyata Eco Hotel by Design Kacheri - Sheet1
Sunyata Eco Hotel by Design Kacheri_ ©P Shamanth

Design | Sunyata Eco Hotel

The design brief was to create a boutique hotel with luxury and comfort but at the same time, it was expected to be eco-friendly and sustainable. The layout for the hotel is derived from the “thotti mane” principle, courtyard homes, quite prevalent in Karnataka.  The three-storeyed building accommodates guest rooms on each level. Every level retreats from the lower level, creating a series of receding terraces. Each terrace looks out to the landscaped garden and the hills in the distance. Natural light and ventilation are regulated through brick jaalis and shading devices.

The floor layout has been connected with the landscaped green area at its centre. This landscaped garden is organic in its planning and a contrast to the rectilinear built forms throughout. This thus creates a captivating interconnection between the built and unbuilt. The interior of the rooms has been kept to a minimum. 

Every material and element utilised has been left in its truest form. The bricks used for the walls are left exposed, and the earthen walls and exposed concrete blend with one another, contrasting with the black stone used for the flooring. The furniture goes along the minimalist tone set for the interior. The furniture was made with cane and reused old wood by the local artisans, employing them during the non-harvest months. The sense of openness created through the planning, the tranquilness brought in via the material and colour palette and the natural and indirect light, all cumulatively create an enticing atmosphere, the paramount characteristic essential for any hospitality building.

Sunyata Eco Hotel by Design Kacheri - Sheet2
Sunyata Eco Hotel by Design Kacheri_ ©P Shamanth


The predominant construction material used was locally available earth. This was modified and further utilised in various forms like mud blocks, rammed earth and mud concrete. The hotel was constructed as load bearing structure to minimise the amount of concrete required for construction. Elements like brick vaults, jack arch roofs, precast clay roofs and filler slabs have been adopted to minimise the usage of concrete. 

The bricks used for construction were eco-friendly and made on the site itself. These bricks were from the soil used to level the ground and from locations in a 15-mile radius of the site. Combined with less than 5 percent of lime and concrete these bricks were baked on the property itself using solar power. The foundation walls were built using mud-pressed bricks and a very minimal amount of concrete and lime. The ventilation in the hotel corridors is circulated via the brick jaalis.  

Coconut shells and pot fillers have opted for the ceiling. This provided a strong base for the upper floor and added a visual appeal to the room while keeping the interiors cooler. The walkways in the open area are covered with permeable bricks which allows water to seep deep into the soil.

Sunyata Eco Hotel by Design Kacheri - Sheet3
Interior view of the room_   ©P Shamanth.jpg

Sustainability | Sunyata Eco Hotel

The design has been devised based on the ideology to create an urban architectural intervention in the form of a boutique hotel with traditional building practices and alternative building materials to reduce the overall carbon footprint. The hotel uses electricity generated from solar panels, rainwater harvesting systems for its water supply and earth tunnels to keep its premises cool.

The water supply for the entire premises is met via the rainwater harvesting system. Collected via the courtyard and the terraces the rainwater is stored in an underground water tank. This tank has a 50,000-litre capacity and is used to supply water for drinking and cooking. The reason to keep the tank underground was to avoid the growth of bacteria and algae. A well is also constructed to store the excess rainwater. The rainwater collected in public areas like parking lot and courtyards is also made to seep into the ground thus improving the water table. 

The greywater generated from the bathroom is purified with a system created by the Bengaluru-based start-up ECOSTP installed in the hotel system. The water purified from this system is further reused for flushing and watering in the garden. This unique system purifies water using the natural system of a combination of microorganisms, plants and gravel to clean and returns clean water to mother earth without using any chemicals or energy.

Passive cooling | Sunyata Eco Hotel 

Another challenge while designing was how to achieve cooling sustainably. This problem was resolved with the help of a passive cooling system. Located in Chikmagalur, the temperature during summer reaches up to 30 degrees Celsius. The premises are kept cool without the use of any air conditioner through a natural cooling system. In this system, a PVC pipe is installed ten feet under the building. This pipe sucks out air from the outdoors. As the air passes through the pipe, it cools down and is then released into the rooms from various outlets. The rooms are also provided with chimneys for letting out warm air. With the assistance of this system, the ambient temperature of the rooms ranges from 18 to 25 degrees Celsius, irrespective of the air temperature outside. 

The Sunyata Eco Hotel demonstrates how an urban building can operate sustainably without compromising on luxury and comfort.

Landscaped Garden area_ ©P Shamanth.jpg



Prachi is an architect by profession,an avid reader and a potential ‘keen observer’. She juggles with words in order to make the best out of them to recite her simplest stories with minute details. She now intends to expand her scope of knowledge and understanding of architecture through her adventures and experiences.