In true Travancore tradition
Taking nearly 12 years to build, Kollams first five-star
property, The Raviz, on the banks (literally) of the famed Ashtamudi Lake in
south Kerala, is an epitome of traditional elegance, a paean to the history
of Travancore and an environmentalists delight. By Steena Joy
location of The Raviz Kollam on the banks of the serene Ashtamudi Lake has a
vast historical importance. The first documented history of Travancore of the
eighth century happened across this lake. The property is located in an ancient
fort area, which was one of the strategically located islands earlier connected
to Thevally by a pedestrian wooden bridge, and to Mathilil by a narrow strip
of land. The historic fort and a palace built with laterite and roofed with
palace tiles (the traces of archaeological remains of these structures and remains
were available till around the 1960s) was earlier occupied by Venad rulers till
the roadways developed, making Thevally more accessible by road and waterway.
Urban designer and heritage conservator, Prof Eugene N Pandala,
who is also the architect of The Raviz Kollam, points out that it was during
the time of Colonel John Munro, resident of British India in Travancore, that
a palace for the king was built in Thevally, and a residency built for the British
residents in Ashramam. Thereesapalli (Thevally) sasanam, the first available
documented history of Kerala during AD 774, a copper plate with an inscription
announcing tax free benefits to the Christian settlers of Manigramam in Thevally,
by the then rulers of Venad, was discovered just across the lake. Kottayathukadavu,
was a prominent local boat jetty with a connecting ferry till the Thevally Bridge
was built in 1966.
I am of the opinion, that any architecture should definitely have a cultural
continuity in terms of style and relevance to have a lasting impact. The more
it is connected to the history of the region and to the context, the more shall
be the relevance of the expressed spaces. The Raviz has an architecture style
derived after a lot of research. In 2000, when I started the project, the contemporary
style of architecture was to do buildings with structural glazing. However,
my client Dr Ravi Pillai, owner of The Raviz, gave me all the freedom to choose
a style, which would last forever, says Pandala, who is also the co-convener
of the Kerala Chapter of INTACH.
Speaking on the kind of research that went into conceptualising
this hotel, he adds, Being an important historical site, my research was
linked to the history of the cultural and natural heritage of this region. I
had little information readily available, but went round the historic places
that influenced this region with the modest documentation we had.
The property offers an experience, a journey through the natural and cultural
heritage of the Veenad, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the English and the Travancore
kingdoms, which had a strong presence in the ancient historic port town of Quilon.
History of Kollam
The T S (Travancore Sheerthala) Canal, build in
1880, is a linkage of lakes and estuaries of Travancore. This canal was
the main water transport route from Trivandrum to Sheerthala, Cochin and
beyond till 1950s, this was the main trade route specially to transport
spices and grains to the ancient port of Kollam. The government has now
taken initiatives to revive this Canal heritage. The ancient port of Kollam
visited by the historic travellers, is sited to have been near Velliman
in the bank of Lake Ashtamudi, and when the ships became larger they could
not access lake Ashtamudi due to the shallow draft at Neendakara, earlier
known as Nalkonda, and hence the port was shifted to the Covlam
(Kollam) later on known as Quilon.
The Ashtamudi lake is an ecological hotspot. So in this project, Pandala decided
to do up the landscape a bit differently. I had no second thoughts as
to what to plant. The local species of flowering plants, fruit trees, the plants,
which attracts the birds, and the nectar and host plants to invite the butterflies,
the ground cover and all the plants chosen for the landscaping were sustainable
without the use of any form of pesticides.
The site by itself is a lateritic formation, and the local
stone was laterite so the natural option was to use it. The incredible
possibilities of laterite boulders to create hideouts and improve safe breeding
for fish and crabs, and the use of waste laterite pieces over fibrocement landforms
to create water bodies are all what makes this project a unique ecological journey.
I chose to plant trees including mangroves, which were endemic to this region,
Ashtamudi Lakes importance claims to be dated
to the days of the Phoenicians and the Romans. Ibn Batuta, during his
24-year sojourn in the 14th century, is reported to have mentioned about
the Quilon port as one of the five ports for Chinese trade. Ashtamudi
Lake is known as one of the prominent hotspots of biodiversity comparably
undeveloped, with few buildings. It is an integral part of the Kallada
River basin. The Kallada River originates on the Kulathupuzha hills near
Ponmudi and travels for 121 km, and then drains into the Ashtamudi Lake.
This lake listed as a Ramsar site has amazing surprises of nooks and corners.
The blue coloured and clean water of Ashtamudi has many species of flora
and fauna endemic to this region. The well-connected water bodies are
rich reservoirs of food (including fish) and thousands of migratory birds,
representing over 30 species, visit this water body.
The lobby of The Raviz is designed to continue the tryst with nature. The centre
of attraction is a snake boat filled with all kinds of spices (Kollam is known
as a centre for spices) complemented by ancient looking fans near the front
desk turning slowly on mechanised rollers.
The porch is a difficult implementation of the roofing done
in the radiating rafter style of the Travancore region. It is complicated,
costly and the knowhow to implement this roofing rafter system is disappearing.
All these long rafters are without any joints: that was the traditional rule,
Pandala elucidates. The timber used in the structure was mostly traditionally
cultivated timber. Jackwood and Anjali wood were used commonly for building
the auspicious elements of the property like the front porch.
Raviz is a project where Pandala has used natural building materials as far
as possible with no reservations about using glass and concrete wherever it
was necessary, but to the minimum essential. Local artisans, craftsmen and masons
were engaged to implement the project. Wherever possible, we have used
bio fencing and plants to build barriers. Our philosophy was mainly to construct
using reusable building techniques, he states. The plot on which The Raviz
now stands was originally a fish processing factory which was not demolished
but integrated into the design of the hotel.
One of the reasons why The Raviz took 12 years to build.
The project was also delayed because it happened in two phases. The first phase
was completed in 2004. Then when the adjoining land was purchased, Dr Pillai
decided to expand the property size to include a capacious convention centre,
more rooms and a spa. Also, the design was so intricate with lots of detailing
to the timber craft, that it took a long lime to implement.
But it was well worth the wait. The project is unique because it gives
us a profile of the natural and cultural heritage of Kerala for many historical
centuries. I have a passion for conservation of our natural and cultural heritage.
When I was given the brief for The Raviz Kollam, I knew that here was an opportunity
to express my version of how a sustainable tourism project can be implemented,