Morphogenesis conceptualises innovative design for India’s best hotels

Rastogi's architectural forms are fused with the legacy of the past and the spirit of the location

Founding partner, Manit Rastogi
Photo Courtesy: Vibhor Yadav
Founding partner, Manit Rastogi Photo Courtesy: Vibhor Yadav

Founding Partner, Manit Rastogi’s architectural journey, spanning over two decades, is replete with exemplars of sustainable and passive design approach. His innovative design not only reinterprets India’s architectural roots and traditional wisdom in a contextual vocabulary but also places Indian architecture on a world stage.

The architecture firm Morphogenesis, which he co-founded with his wife, Sonali Rastogi, is globally recognised for its diverse work that encompass a range of specialised practice areas. These include master planning, residential, commercial, workplaces, institutional, hospitality and houses, backed by in-house integrated project delivery practices in sustainability, interiors, landscape, digital technologies and design management. The practice operates in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Afghanistan and the UAE.

Soaltee Crowne Plaza, Kathmandu, Nepal

As a Founding Partner of India’s leading and award-winning firm, Rastogi believes that climatic specifications and socio-cultural contexts are imperative to be taken into consideration before designing any building. Every design undertaken by the firm says Rastogi, is conceived through the lens of “sustainability, optimisation, uniqueness and livability, in order to meet certain aesthetics and experiential standards to fit into ‘the Indian perspective and the global context," which also serves as a core principal to his design philosophy.While working across a diverse repertoire of design segments and complexities, Rastogi seeks inspiration from the evolutionary processes in nature, to create a built form that is both optimised for the built environment and the community. He believes that “sustainability is a core creative value and is practiced in the evolution of any design.” He also draws inspiration from his environment, whether it is historic, vernacular or from the changing paradigm of what India is today.

Kumarakom Resort

A classic example of the Kumarakom Resort, which highlights the use of new technological solutions, local craftsmen, materials and traditional methods of construction. The resort is located in an ecologically sensitive region of Kerala’s Kayal (backwaters). The site is a striated prawn farm with a 5-metre striation of water and land grafted on to a site, which is in parts 1 metre below sea level and often partially flooded.

For Kumarakom Resort, Morphogenesis referenced local architectural and construction techniques

The brief called for an ecotourism- based luxury retreat with villas and spas. Morphogenesis' approach was to develop a Masterplan that changed very little in the land formation. For the built structures, the design borrows from local architectural references that have stood the test of environmental sustainability, creating a strong sense of the location. Traditional references to the Nalukettu form (four halls joined together by a central open-to-sky courtyard) and the Kettuvallam (houseboat) have inspired the planning of the villas. This allows for a pleasant indoor-outdoor experience and mitigates the high temperatures to a reasonable level. The designer also addressed high humidity level prevalent here. The hyperbolic paraboloid form of the roof structure of the Kettuvallam houseboat provided the solution, and lent each built volume a distinct regional identity whilst enhancing the level of human comfort. The form accentuates wind speed due to the Venturi effect, thereby offsetting the humidity prominent in the region.

Driven by design

Along with employing sustainable techniques and approach, Rastogi also has a fondness for technologically advanced designs. In addition to the standard design software, his firm conceives all their projects three dimensionally through incorporation of the best visualisation tools. “In the concept stage, we use Enscape and Sketch-up and in the execution stage, we use Rhino and BIM. We also use various parametric softwares, including building information modelling systems and algorithms that lead to optimisation in spatial planning. This further results in efficient designs and managing the time and cost of construction. On the hospitality front, new technologies such as precast, aluminum forms, jump forms, tunnel forms, PEB, drywall, etc. are gaining popularity. In the last few years, the industry has witnessed growing interest in prefab and precast construction techniques, wherein pre-fabricated steel structural components, which are standardised and factory manufactured, are transported to the site for assembly,” he says.

ITC My Fortune Hotel, Kolkata

His impressive portfolio of hospitality clientele, which include, Taj, JW Marriott, Four Points Sheraton, Radisson Blu, Aloft, The LaLiT and ITC amongst others, is a testimony to the extraordinary design experiences crafted by Rastogi for these brands. He says, “We ensure a holistic experience of design and functionality for the end-user, in order to create memory and recall value. Also, in terms of success of a hotel, design plays a crucial role because a small change in design can have an exponential effect on revenue. It is only through design that experiences can be created.” Talking about the role of design in F&B segment, he adds, “Drawing in people, making a statement or driving in revenue is a natural outcome if the design of the F&B is in sync with the cuisine and the experience of dining being offered there. It is a known fact that architects and interior designers are food connoisseurs and the evolving trends comes very naturally to us.”

ITC Surya, Kathmandu

Sharing an interesting viewpoint on evolution of design of suites and public spaces, Rastogi says, “In the last decade, we have seen a shift from air-conditioned rooms with comfortable furniture to one where space itself lends to luxury. A lot of this has been seen in the vestibule which incorporates the toilet and dressing design from being segregated, to where it is almost a spa-like experience of being one with the room. A room design is now moving to experience design versus comfort and function design.”

A recent hospitality project in Goa, is a 100-year-old Portuguese villa that is surrounded by lush green vegetation. The heritage site is enclosed by a curved nightclub at the front and a linear guest room block at the back. "The challenge lay in the juxtaposition of the two styles—marrying the old with the new.” Another challenging hospitality project is for ITC in Kathmandu, Nepal. “Being located in the rugged Himalayan belt, each terrain presents unique topographic challenges. Furthermore, hilly areas face a severe risk of loss during earthquakes, which is amplified due to the construction of buildings on slopes. The design is driven by the need for immaculate planning for mitigation and measures to prevent the loss of life and property in the region,” he adds.

Gran Carmen Club, Bengaluru by Morphogenesis, Photo Courtesy: C Shimroth J Thomas

Rastogi also recommends necessary policy changes to make the construction process easier. He feels the laws for each state vary and whilst there is always room for improvement, they will be specific to the location. "For example, in Delhi, due to a very aggressive parking requirement, there is a need for multi-level basements, which are both costly and unsustainable. The easier solution would be to allow for podiums and rationalise the parking requirements as per use. In Chennai, all transformers and electrical equipment have to be situated at site on the ground level, and not in the basements, therefore leading to severe restrictions in terms of access and aesthetics."

Although Morphogenesis has set a benchmark in the hospitality segment, there are challenges. “Hotels must fulfill certain experiential, financial and marketing parameters. What also comes into play is ‘brand significance’. To translate our imagination and conception of idea into reality within these parameters is the most difficult task.” Rastogi perceives competition against international architects and designers, who are making their presence felt in India, as healthy. “Every designer is different and understands the context within the background of their own experience and judgment.”

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