Interview: Walt Miller

Tuesday 09 Oct 2012

John Portman & Associates complete luxury, eight-storey Park Hyatt Hyderabad

John Portman & Associates (JPA) has recently seen its stunning design for the Park Hyatt Hyderabad realised in one of India’s most rapidly developing cities. The team worked in collaboration with HBA on the scheme. WAN quizzed Walt Miller, Senior Vice President at JPA about the design:

What were the defining inspirations for the Park Hyatt Hyderabad?

Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh in south central India, has always been a bustling city and, with its recent emergence as a hub for the information technology industry, the rapidly growing metropolis has begun to expand across the area’s arid terrain. The hot environment, coupled with the fast pace of India’s fourth most populous city, led us to design the Park Hyatt Hyderabad as a place of cool, calm serenity and tranquility - a refuge from the intense traffic, harsh climate, and parched landscape.

We believe that a design should take its cues from historic elements of the surrounding architecture to create a modern yet sensitive response. We examine the overall and immediate context of a project to create a design vocabulary attuned to its community, yet not an imitation, to ensure that the new design becomes an integral component of the existing environment and that it responds the physical opportunities and constraints of the site. This strategy not only benefits the project, but also increases the aesthetic appeal of the neighborhood and provides a catalyst for the growth of the surrounding area.

Drawing inspiration from traditional Indian architecture, the design was conceived as a microcosm focused around an interior courtyard with terraced gardens, descending into a reflecting pool highlighted by a monumental sculpture that soars two stories high. Abundant interior plant life, the large reflecting pool, the openness of the atrium space, natural light, the color palette, the spa spaces, and air conditioning all contribute to the creation of an indoor oasis.

The main goal of the design is to provide a place where guests and residents can stay, enjoy and relax. During the day, guests can appreciate the gardens with natural light penetrating through the vast skylights. At night, they can delight in restaurant and bar activities around the sparkling waters of the reflecting pool.

The large interior space was designed, in part, to accommodate the pageantry of grand Indian weddings, which were targeted as an important source of business for the hotel. Interior design by HBA accents the strong architectural detailing. Drawing inspiration from the local culture, the carpets feature Indian motifs inspired by henna patterns, while sumptuous fabrics, such as silk, in vibrant colors add a sari-inspired element.

What were the design challenges faced and how were these overcome?

Probably the biggest challenge was mitigating the hot and arid climate in a sustainable and operationally efficient manner. In order to temper the intense sunlight typical of this part of the world, the east and west façade provide sun shade screens. The atrium features several long span skylights with the use of Kalwall (instead of glass), a material that takes full advantage of the day lighting benefits of the harsh sunlight while rejecting most of the thermal heat gain.

Natural boulders are a protected part of the landscape in the Banjara Hills region, so the building had to be designed so as not to disturb these naturally occurring boulders - making a ‘tight’ site even tighter. But our design was able to successfully overcome this challenge by embracing the natural beauty of the boulders, which is evident in the large one found to the left of the front entrance.

How does the design blend elements of traditional Indian architecture and modern technology/building processes?

A Vastu Master was consulted and Vastu principles influenced how the space was organized. The site is naturally sloped towards the North and Northeast, which is considered excellent per Vastu principles. Vastu considerations which were incorporated into the Park Hyatt Hyderabad include:

1. The Northeast and Northwest angle of the plots were each aligned to be at a perfect 90 degree angle. A Northwest triangle subplot was used for ancillary building services and the boundary wall between the two sub-divided plots was camouflaged by landscaping.
2. The Main Entrance for the hotel was positioned to be from the Southeast sector of the plot. Once inside, the primary entrance into the hotel faced East. No entrances or exits were allowed in the Southwest or South sections.
3. The Southwest corner of the plot was heavily built with minimum open space, in contrast to the Northeast, North and East sectors which were designed to have maximum open spaces.
4. The Southeast corner of the plot was reserved for 'fire elements' such as generators, etc.
5. An underground Sump (Water Tank) was located in the Northeast sector of the plot. 6.

The pool in the center of the atrium and the way the atrium steps inward also acknowledges traditional Indian architecture. For centuries, water has been featured throughout traditional Indian structures to take advantage of its cooling properties. Baoli - the Hindi word for stepwell - are bodies of water encased by a descending set of steps. As a building heats up, evaporating water cools the air. Of course, in the case of the Park Hyatt, air conditioning actually cools the building, but the stepwell look of the atrium lends a comfortable familiarity to underscore the tranquility offered by the space.

The façade, designed specifically for the region’s harsh climate, combined modern extruded aluminum sunscreens and low E insulated glass with a rain screen design featuring natural Madurai granite from South India in the cladding. The façade further gives a modern interpretation to traditional Indian architecture in the east and west elevations. In traditional Indian architecture, windows are often divided into 3 fields: A larger, almost square, center and two vertical panels at the sides. In addition, the top part of each window is usually divided again into elements that break the sunrays: latticed screens or ‘jaali’ to filter direct sunlight. The effect is not just decorative; it also helps reduce the heat and provide internal shade. The bottom part is often solid or semisolid so that the only part left for vision is the very center part of the windows.

The spa, while featuring the latest equipment and a cosmopolitan menu of treatment offerings, is inspired by the wellness practices of Hyderabadi Nizams.

Has John Portman & Associates benefited from the industry boom in India?

We’ve been involved with projects in India since the mid-1990s. In addition to the Park Hyatt Hyderabad, our portfolio of completed projects includes projects such as Taj Wellington Mews in Mumbai and the Indian School of Business also in Hyderabad. We enjoy working in India and actively seek new opportunities there.

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