New technologies like Glulam and CLT excite me; Shankar Prasad

New technologies like Glulam and CLT excite me; Shankar Prasad

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Out of the box-thinking is required when it comes to adaptive reuse of heritage structures. If we are offered a design commission in an eco-sensitive zone or a heritage destination, our first efforts would be to explore if there are edifices that can be put to adaptive reuse. In Uttarakhand, we are searching for abandoned hamlets that can be modified to create a lifestyle experience and in Varanasi we are searching for a textile factory building that can be converted into a boutique hotel showcasing the weaving traditions of the city.  Allepey has amazing coir factory buildings on the backwaters that demand conservation. Stepwells of Gujarat are ideal for a spa retreat, the actual edifice used for yoga and performances, tented camps for the accommodation and f&b enclaves

“Good Sybaritic guides you to healthier and mindful lifestyles. In our resorts, we have experimented with eliminating air conditioning and mini bars- a few globally acclaimed resorts have been successful in this. Our objective is to establish that luxury does not have to be at cross purposes with ecological safeguards”, says Shankar Prasad, Principal Designer, Concepts Infinitum

Let us know how and why the Concepts Infinitum evolved? What’s your main philosophy and how is it different from others?

Concepts Infinitum is a dedicated hospitality design firm with two verticals, f&b ventures design and leisure/wellness ventures design. Our primary service is to offer conceptual and ideation studies that help create a unique enclave- restaurant, hotel or resort, that can hold against the test of time and competition. We help clients achieve contextual appropriateness, dictated by locale, brand profile, budget and other such paradigms. Design is the corollary of this, where-in layouts, materials, finishes etc., come together based on the dictates of the conceptual studies. A good example of this would be Balsamand, a truly unique property that has not achieved its potential. Our concept proposal eschewed all cliches of Rajasthani elements and focused on restoring the property to what it should stand for- An Equestrian Resort showcasing the rugged frontier Romance of Marwar.  The designs translate this. Stable rooms below an aquaduct are to be restored with equestrian motifs on the walls, the bed, which is the dominant feature of the room will have the galloping movement graphics in the bed framework, there would be a wall plaque fireplace and a loveseat that’s conducive to propinquity and romance. A private courtyard adjacent has a jhula for moonlit romance. The restaurant and spa would continue this theme without dilution by extraneous elements-the cuisine will be a contemporary take on Rajasthani food and the spa will showcase the hoary Jain therapeutic lores. And there will be equestrian activities. The intensive ideation has ensured a unique ethos that has a marketing edge. Our clients include young brands that want a stronger identity and other architects who consult us for design audit.

You are known to use SYBARITIC QUOTIENTS in design schemes. Explain that for our readers? Tell us some of the projects where you have used this concept?

Sybaritic quotient to us implies curation of tangible elements that highlight sensorial pleasures and create exalting experiences. l elucidate this with two examples:

a) For a wilderness retreat planned at Dandeli, we created translucent tensile roof glamp camp structures, located under dense trees, you experience the sensational shadow play of the trees in the varying lights and a stream serenades you. At ConceptsInfinitum, we firmly believe that it’s our birth right to get up to a birdsong and have a spa ambiance in the vanity bay.  It’s all in the details. Shower bays have ledges that help you scrub your feet without too much bending, wc’s are always inside a cubicle so that the smell does not permeate, wardrobes are inside the vanity bay so that you don’t have to crisscross. Luggage racks are wide and at good height so that you can flip back both sides of your suitcase. Night lamps are concealed below side tables to create gentle romantic glow. Beds look on to the exterior with private landscape bays and meditation pods. Lightning has mood variations controlled by automation.  Restaurants are designed in such manner that even during peak hours visual elegance is maintained, service stations are placed so that waiters never have their back to the guests, kitchen doors are camouflaged, the point of arrival in a resort or hotel is designed for exalting alluring impact, etc.

b) A resort proposed in Ladakh takes Sybaritic to higher levels. Rooms have meditative music based on aural therapeutics, aromatic juniper wood fragrance from the fireplace, and the retreat has activities and spa programs that encourage meditative pastimes. Sybaritic quotients are not based on expensive materials nor are they hedonistically self-indulgent. And more importantly they are eco-sensitive. For instance, we try and avoid bathtubs in guestrooms as they are not really helping with water conservation, even if the bath water is recycled, minimal glass on facade etc. Good Sybaritic guides you to healthier and mindful lifestyles. In our resorts, we have experimented with eliminating air conditioning and mini bars- a few globally acclaimed resorts have been successful in this. Our objective is to establish that luxury does not have to be at cross purposes with ecological safeguards.

You emphasize on adaptive reuse of heritage buildings. Explain this in Indian context? In such cases, is it possible to ensure low carbon footprint?

Out of the box thinking is required when it comes to adaptive reuse of heritage structures. If we are offered a design commission in an eco-sensitive zone or a heritage destination, our first efforts would be to explore if there are edifices that can be put to adaptive reuse. In Uttarkhand, we are searching for abandoned hamlets that can be modified to create a lifestyle experience and in Varanasi we are searching for a textile factory building that can be converted into a boutique hotel showcasing the weaving traditions of the city.  Allepey has amazing coir factory buildings on the backwaters that demand conservation. Stepwells of Gujarat are ideal for a spa retreat, the actual edifice used for yoga and performances, tented camps for the accommodation and f&b enclaves. Adaptive reuse should go beyond hospitality. Renovated Nayak era chatrams in Tanjore are ideal for schools, community centres, edifices elsewhere are good for showrooms and shopping arcades (I have studied beautifully restored monuments in Europe put to viable commercial use). Obviously, this would result in low carbon foot print. India does not have the privilege of allocating extensive financial outlays for conservation so adaptive reuse is the only solution to preserve.

How your passion for classical performing arts, literature, archaeology, wildlife conservation and forest regeneration have influenced your works?

It was music and dance that led me to design.  I belong to an art loving family of Mylapore, Chennai. Stalwarts of music, dance, literature were frequent guests. We were exposed to Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil, English and French literature. Creative endeavours were actively encouraged. Travel invariably meant visits to museums or rendezvous with local performing artists.  All this leads to a single point that benefited me immensely- while an idea can be spontaneous, perfection of the idea comes with refining it over and over again, as in performing arts wherein practice was crucial and essential. And of course, the tangibles like observing stage craft and lighting at Kalaskhetra, ballet in Europe…… it is singular privilege that l am grateful for.

Finally, tell us about your aspirations and how far you have been able to achieve them? 

With the Taj group, it has been a very felicitous journey, with many doyens from the group sharing with me intricacies of hotel operations and their impact on design and they have been very open to my proposals.  With a few other overseas brands, they have seen the validity of my concepts and are encouraging us with design commissions. The journey continues, new technologies like glulam and CLT excite me, new destinations and approaches to hospitality design are opening up. India needs the revenue that tourism can earn. We cannot compare our beaches to overseas locales like Maldives or Mauritius. We don’t possess vast savannahs with teeming wildlife like Africa.  But we do have an extraordinary diversity of culture, hoary heritage yoga and Ayurveda and it should be the collective endeavour of all to showcase this to the world.