The Hotel Jukaso Ganges, by ITC Welcomheritage, at Guleria Ghat, designed by architect Mudita Agrawal, this stunning new boutique hotel exemplifies the sensitivity required for adaptive re-use projects. The property is tucked between the imposing Bhonsle Ghat on the south and the Ganesh Ghat on the north. With the charming confluence of the river frontage, existing neighbouring glory of age-old architecture and the views of the rising sun, the Jukaso Ganges stands out as a fine destination for the discerning traveler.
There are no available records to validate the historicity of the building. However, judging by the location and the style of construction, it appears to be a Peshwa building from the mid 18thcentury. The edifices in the vicinity also belong to the Marathas, as is evident from a very imposing, military style of architecture. This was a residential building, with rooms laid out around a central courtyard, two floors above the entrance level- as is common on the ghats in Banaras.
Need for conservation
As true of many old Indian cities and their glorious architecture; neglect, disregard and misuse had caused general decay and ruin of this built form as well. In their initial assessments, Mudita and her team found signs of natural decay caused by weathering, termites and moisture as well. The lower floors were filled with silt accumulated over decades, due to annual flooding. Due to the heavy costs involved in cleaning and disposal of the silt, it had been neglected for decades on end.
The building also suffered from the ad-hoc additions made by the users over the years. The verandah plinth had been extended, thereby concealing the drainage channels as also reducing the scale of the courtyard. Insensitive lime wash and enamel paint had covered most of the stone surfaces, carved or uncarved. Steel girders had been used to extend spaces and left exposed.
The need was felt by both the client and the architect to preserve and enhance the value of this little gem. It was their strong belief that they would be able to provide a showcase and a benchmark in a city where heritage is taken for granted. To achieve this end, the client tied up with the hospitality sector and decided to convert the building into a heritage hotel.
This is a solid built mass, punctured on the eastern façade with an array of balconies and decks, allowing for the cool river breeze and gorgeous river views. The deck and restaurant, at the fourth and fifth levels respectively, have been sited too, to take advantage of these views. The thick walls and river breeze keep the spaces cool even at the heights of summer. The almost entirely punctured east wall facilitates the same.
The rooms are spread over the four upper floors, each room being unique in its design and layout, following the original, intrinsic character of the building. The rooms themselves are complete with all the modern comforts including ductable air-conditioning and luxurious baths.
The original structural system comprised of solid stone foundations and brick walls upto 2 feet thick clad with sandstone on lower levels. Sandstone slabs resting on solid sandstone beams and brackets were cushioned with deep mud filling. On the upper levels, ‘lakhauri’ brick walls, and timber beams were used, perhaps to reduce the dead load on the building. Since the building follows the natural contour of the embankment, the structural loading provides adequate stability.
The original structure was largely retained, except in places where termite had completely damaged the beams or walls. In some cases, stone columns had cracked and also flaked. Such situations were rectified with RCC and clad with matching stone.
The core of the building is the courtyard at the second floor, surrounded by colonnades on three sides. A much revered Vishnu shrine and meditation hall have been retained. This flanks the courtyard on the eastern side, facing the river and the rising sun.
The ‘chhatris’ at the uppermost terrace level were sensitively repaired and restored with stone finials.
Thick walls, solid sandstone beams, columns and finely carved brackets lend character to the building. Upto two feet thick brick walls on the lower levels were found to be largely stone clad. Such features have been retained, cleaned and repaired as far as the site allowed.
Stretching over five levels, the hotel has a wide facade, with 14 out of 15 rooms having stunning river views. Due to its proximity to the river edge, the lower levels are prone to flooding The Reception and Lobby, at the lowest level, have been designed with this in mind, with the use of immovable stone furniture and minimum use of paint finishes. Underwater electrical cabling has been provided for reasons of safety.
Minimum intervention and local sourcing of materials were key aspects of the design and execution process. Due emphasis was placed on restricting the radius of material sourcing, as an effort towards environmental conscious design. This was done by the architect to ensure a quality that is true to the context and critical in retaining the original character. The extended plinth in the central courtyard, the nerve center of the building, was demolished, exposing the drainage channels all around and taking the space back to its original proportions. Painstaking scraping and stripping the surfaces of paint and plaster revealed the warm and intricate stone work and carvings underneath. An old stairwell was cleared to make way for an elevator. The arches closed with stone at the two lower levels were opened to let in light and reduce the solidity of the façade.
The architect has retained the original character of the rooms, keeping the external skin intact, including low lintels as low as 4 and a half feet; exposed stone walls, beams and columns; existing niches and pegs (‘aalaas and ‘khoontis’). To provide privacy to the residents, various alcoves and nooks have been provided across the floors; on the terraces, in galleries around the courtyard and also private balconies.
To cater to the discerning traveler, modern amenities and services were integrated into the original structure with minimal disturbance – either structural or visual. The plumbing contractors and the HVAC team worked within the constraints to achieve quality in execution. In order to avoid chasing into stone surfaces, exposed conduits have been provided for electrification where concealment was not feasible.
Custom made terrazzo floor tiles, exposed wiring, old world switches, local ‘Banarasi dyodhis’ or door frames, copper carvings, furniture with lathe legs, Banarasi paintings and local textiles are some of the elements used to accentuate the project and give it a completely indigenous feel.
Arches, columns and other stone objects were procured from old buildings being demolished, for repair and replacement. Local chunar sandstone has been used extensively, in keeping with the original material palette, and lovingly carved by a dedicated team of stone masons.
- project : Hotel Jukaso Ganges by ITC Welcomheritage
- location : Varanasi, U.P., India
- client : Avantika Agro Services Pvt. Ltd.
- architect : Mudita Agrawal
- electrical consultants : Electrocraft
- water systems : Pure Water Company
- area : 12,500 sq. feet
- date of commencement : 2009
- date of completion : 2012
- photographs: Mudita Agarwal
Mudita Agrawal has worked tirelessly to provide a key balance between the vernacular and the contemporary. She has shown exemplary sensitivity by striking a defined balance between the old and the new. The building has so far withstood the tests of time and now, with this infusion of new with the old, is set to face the coming decades in pristine condition.