Karjat Resort

Entrance aangan to a cottage

Entrance aangan to a cottage. The overall design was meant to create the ambiance of an Indian village.

Satya Health Farm, now Satya Resort, is situated in the Karjat region — about two hour’s drive from Bombay. With the river Pej flowing past the northern edge of this 50 acre (20 Hectare) property and surrounded by the ranges of Matheran, Dhak and Bhimashankar, it is an excellent spot for either purpose.

The brief given by the developers was to recreate an Indian village. Not in the literal sense of course – Indian villages are generally short of water, electricity and telecommunication infrastructure. What the clients really wanted was, for the design to generate a feeling of rustic community. A place where time flows slowly and you are not under any kind of stress. No deadlines, no schedules — just a feeling of well-being.

Courtyard around which are some rooms and suites

Some of the rooms are in arranged around central open-to-sky courts

The layout makes full use of the variable slopes with clusters of ground-hugging cottages following the contours of the site. A monsoon stream flows through before joining the river to the north. The river itself is a perennial one since it comes from the Bhivpuri Power Station which generates electricity throughout the year.

The requirement for peace and tranquility is reflected in the choice of building materials and the overall aesthetic appearance. Rooms are arranged around courtyards or as part of a larger cluster – a Mohalla. With their front Aangans and rear Otlas every room gets as much space outside, as within. The idea is to draw people out – to cajole them into shedding the attitude that makes city folk hesitate to speak with their neighbours.

The cottages are arranged in clusters

The cottages are built very close to each other without sacrificing privacy.

Locally made burnt bricks were used to erect a load-bearing structure resting on a foundation of local black (basalt) stone. This is topped by a traditional wooden roof with Mangalore tiles. The entire roof planking was done with treated rubber wood which is not just economical but ecologically friendly too, being a by-product of the rubber industry.

The design needed to have a feeling of softness. This was achieved by avoiding sharp edges and by the use of warm colours on the walls. The flooring too, is of red terrazzo tiles with patterns and borders in green and yellow marble. For the detailing, traditional forms and patterns have been drawn upon – in the archways connecting cottages for example.

The lighting, especially for the exteriors, has been deliberately kept at low levels not just because bright lights would attract insects from miles around but also because harsh illumination would shatter the tranquillity and obliterate much of the night sky.

You may also want look at the list of materials, consultants and contractors.


Kaya Kalp

The sandstone ghats of Maheshwar

Maheshwar’s sandstone ghats seen from across the Narmada river

On the North bank of the River Narmada, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is the town of Maheshwar, old capital of the Holkar kingdom. Mentioned in both, the Ramayana and Mahabharatha, it rose to prominence during the peaceful reign of Maharani Ahiliyabai Holkar in the 18th century.

The fort which houses the palace and other important community buildings, opens out on to what are, arguably, the most beautiful sandstone ghats in the whole country.

Layout Plan of Kaya Kalp

Layout Plan of Kaya Kalp

This place is home to the famous Maheshwari handloom sarees with their distinctive designs and silk/cotton blend. The Kaya Kalp project was commissioned by Rehwa Society, a highly successful co-operative that markets local products at exhibitions throughout the country.

When Rehwa Society began with a single weaver about two decades ago, there were a handful of looms in the entire town. Today, close to a thousand of them operate in and around Maheshwar. Kaya Kalp was the brainchild of Sally and Richard Holkar who felt it was time to repeat the Rehwa success story in other weaving communities in Madhya Pradesh, where the local skills are being lost due to lack of exposure.

Detail of window and brick jali

Detail of window and brick jali

Careful attention has been paid to the materials used in construction. The consumption of environmentally expensive materials was minimised. With no wasteful reinforced cement concrete anywhere in the building. The load-bearing structure is built from locally made burnt brick, set in a mixed lime/cement mortar. There was minimal plastering of the external walls and certainly none on the inside.

The roof framework has steel trusses covered by corrugated galvanised iron sheets  which are, in turn, clad with interlocking half-round terracotta country tiles. Together they create an insulating air-gap that keeps the rooms cool, even in the 46° Celsius (115° Fahrenheit) summers. The combination also prevents even the slightest leakage, which could easily ruin many days of work as it lies stretched out on a loom.

Steel trusses below the iron roofing sheets are very durable and can easily be reused or recycled at the end of the building’s life span. I am happy to say that, though the Maheshwari people were initially sceptical about the efficacy of this system, it has now become their “industry standard”.

The dyeing area where the yarns get their colour

The dyeing area where the yarns get their colour

Kaya Kalp covers a total area of 7500 square feet (~ 700 m²) and has been built (in the mid-1990s) at a cost of just Rs. 105 per square foot. These figures surprised everybody because no inferior materials or processes were used. It must be mentioned though, that local labour is very cheap and contributed greatly to lowering of the overall cost. On the other hand, other similar projects in Maheshwar at the time had cost up to three times as much.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Poonamchand (affectionately known throughout Maheshwar, simply as “Ba”). He was among the last of a dying breed of master-builders and a repository of knowledge on local construction methods. Without the knowledge and experience of this young septuagenarian, Kaya Kalp may never have turned out as it was intended. I would also like to acknowledge the valuable input given by Architect Sanjay Prakash at the initial stages.


This has always been my favourite area of work – even more than interior design – because it gives me the best opportunity to follow my ecological design principles. The ultimate aim is to show that construction can be economical and nature-friendly at the same time.

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Factory [PSah] – Initial Visit

laterite blocks

Laterite blocks

I’ve never done a factory design before so this is going to be a lovely challenge. The clients contacted me because they want a plant which is as ecologically sound as is possible.  The site is a 2-acre plot in Cuttack, Orissa on the banks of the Mahanadi. I spent most of my two days in Cuttack absorbing the processes and work-flow of the packaging industry.

It was my first visit to Orissa and a couple of things really surprised me:



:: Laterite: I always thought it was a stone found only along the Konkan but apparently the Eastern Ghats have it too. Being found locally, we’ll be using it.

:: Calotropis: This shrub – food plant of the beautiful danaus chrysippus – grows more abundantly than I have seen anywhere before. The local horticulturist called it a weed which was not surprising.