Betting big on green: on Studio Lotus’ projects shortlisted for the World Architecture Festival 2021

Sidhartha Talwar, Principal, Studio Lotus takes us through his firm’s projects shortlisted for the World Architecture Festival 2021

Come December, the 2021 virtual edition of World Architecture Festival (WAF) will not just celebrate the best of architecture and interior design but bring together global thinkers and industry personalities from the industry. The three-day event themed on ‘Resetting the City: Greening, Health and Urbanism’ features over 496 projects across completed buildings, future projects, and landscapes from 62 countries. From India, aside from Sanjay Puri Architects (for Aria Hotel, Nashik), Shibanee & Kamal Architects (for Van Gogh’s Garden, Bengaluru), among others, two projects by Studio Lotus — RAAS Chhatrasagar in Rajasthan and The Villa in the Woods in Uttarakhand — have been shortlisted in the Hotel & Leisure and the House & Villa (Rural/ Nature) Completed Projects categories, respectively.

Interestingly, both projects have been designed with ‘custom-made modular construction systems’ that lead to lightweight structures, with low-impact foundations. The reason, says Sidhartha Talwar, Principal, Studio Lotus, is that building in remote areas comes with a huge responsibility, where reckless development over the past few decades has put sensitive ecosystems — that support local communities and livelihoods — at the risk of irreparable damage. “Both sites were part of such fragile ecosystems. As there is a need for faster construction processes that rate high on resource optimisation and environmental efficiency, we explored the possibilities of modular building systems that involve off-site prefabrication of building components to be assembled on-site,” he says. He adds that with virtually no wet-work associated with conventional in-situ construction, the process ensured minimal wastage of water and material, reduced on-site pollution and minimised the building’s environmental footprint.

Sidhartha Talwar 


The Villa in the Woods was built on stilts to preserve the vegetation and natural water drainage patterns on the site instead of using the conventional cut-and-fill method. “We also developed a lightweight, modular ‘kit of parts’ that could be easily transported and assembled on-site by hand, thus reducing on-site pollution,” says Talwar. As for RAAS Chhatrasagar, it is perched atop a nearly 150-year-old check dam that forms a perennial rainwater lake. “Here, we worked with low-impact foundations, a lightweight superstructure, and designed stilted tented pods to preserve the embankment’s structural integrity.”

Excerpts from an interview outlining the design of the shortlisted projects:

The Villa in the Woods | Photo Credit: Noughts & Crosses LLP


The Villa in The Woods

Why did you decide to use timber, slate, and local stone? Where were they sourced from?

Designed to evoke the experience of a treehouse, the villa’s material palette of timber, slate, and local stone builds on the lexicon of koti-banal architecture, endemic to the Kumaon region. The interior design further underpins the experience of being cocooned in a treehouse by using hand-crafted woodwork that blends classic notions of a simple wood structure with modernist angles, clean lines, and contemporary furniture.

The villa is split on three levels?

Yes. This offers differentiated experiences and sightlines. Raised on stilts, the elevated villa features a series of decks and spacious balconies, offering residents solitude and direct connections with the lush outdoors over multiple levels. Residents enter via a wooden boardwalk into the living quarters that also comprise a kitchen and dining area.

The Villa in the Woods | Photo Credit: Noughts & Crosses LLP

A north-facing deck and a south-facing court promote outdoor lounging with panoramic vistas of the forests beyond. The floor above hosts bedrooms featuring floor-to-ceiling bay windows and skylights that frame expansive views of the landscape and fill interior spaces with daylight. The lowermost level houses the guest bedroom, staff quarters and ancillary facilities, merging with the gradient of the slope under the canopy of native vegetation.

What makes the project sustainable?

The integration of the native landscape, seasonal water bodies, and large tree cover ensure comfortable ambient temperatures for most of the year. 100% of the wastewater is treated through a phytorid-based system and is reused for horticulture among other purposes. Through the incorporation of passive solar design and the use of vernacular building material, the design simultaneously addresses aspects of daylight, natural ventilation, thermal comfort, and energy use.

The Villa in the Woods | Photo Credit: Noughts & Crosses LLP


The building orientation and fenestration design ensure effective daylighting, reducing energy consumption to a minimum. Interior surfaces including the walls, floors, and the roof feature adequate insulation layers to regulate temperature and prevent heat loss during winters. Further, a radiant heating system is provided to optimise thermal comfort and energy use.

RAAS Chhatrasagar

Here too, it was imperative that all additions be erected with minimal environmental footprint. How was this achieved?

The original tourist camp at Chhatrasagar, run by the noble’s grandsons, comprised an eleven-key tented accommodation—operational from October to March—and dismantled during the harsh summer months, only to be re-assembled again at the onset of autumn. The canvas tents were charming in their simplicity but offered dismal insulation and lacked visual and acoustic privacy. This combination made for a tough business model to sustain.

RAAS Chhatrasagar | Photo Credit: Avesh Gaur


The design brief called for developing a perennial property resilient to the harsh summers and cold winters of the region. In addition, there was a need to increase the existing capacity to 16 tented units and augment the public spaces with a richer amenity mix. We worked with a system of low-impact foundations and lightweight superstructures employing a dry construction methodology and using lime as a binder for the minimal wetwork. The design intervention also assimilates existing water features such as kunds and swales into the site to facilitate rainwater collection.

Please share details about the project’s sustainable features.

The 16 tented ‘pods’ are raised on stilts to preserve the embankment’s structural integrity and enable MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) services to run off the dam, allowing rainwater to drain into the lake. Guests access the property via a landscaped walkway along the nearby forest belt, climbing a series of stone steps through tree-lined slopes and gardens to a deck leading into the units.

The underlying design principle for the camp was to frame the outdoor experience along both edges of the pods. Thus, each pod hosts spill-outs for outdoor lounging. The structure is made of a lightweight metal weave that springs off pile foundations made of precast concrete hume pipes with compacted waste rubble.

The pods are separated by metal screens with bamboo infills extending towards the edge of the embankment — enabling privacy while seamlessly integrating the diversity of views — from the lake on the east to the farms and forest along the west. Thermally and acoustically insulated fibre cement board panels in the walls and roofing system form the shell for each pod.

RAAS Chhatrasagar | Photo Credit: Avesh Gaur


A continuous tensile fabric canopy stretches over the lightweight partitions spanning the entire length of the structure, providing waterproofing and added insulation. This secondary membrane extends beyond the footprint of the pods to create shaded verandahs overlooking the surrounding panorama. Retractable skylights installed within the roof capture the changing kaleidoscope of diurnal and nocturnal variations.

Native babul and neem trees, and indigenous bird and animal life find expression through woodblock, screen, and digital prints as well as intricate hand-embroidered fabrics, made by printmaker Dhvani Behl’s studio, Flora For Fauna.

The property’s Baradari restaurant, upholstered with country-style furniture is fashioned out of locally sourced Acacia (kikar) wood, and is a subtle counterpoint to the pink stone surfaces.

Details on

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