Richmond Town's Bohemian House is an architectural marvel of adaptive reuse

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Richmond Town's Bohemian House is an architectural marvel of adaptive reuse

An essay by Deeksha GM, Varshini Gopal, Merina Benny and Ananya N S, all students of Acharya NRV School of Architecture.

A city made up of a blend of cultures, Bengaluru has the heart of a village and at the same time the lifestyle of a metropolis. The growth of Bengaluru is credited to the IT industry boom and its adaptability to new migrants, but the city was once the headquarters of British administration in the 19th century, housing tree-lined roads and flower-decked parks with filter coffee brewing from its homes wrapped in an air-conditioned climate throughout the year. The cantonment paved the way for Colonial architecture to be strewn around the City, letting you sink in the moment and take it slow.

The historic urban environment is currently facing challenges in cultural conservation, posing a threat to what the city once stood for. In light of this, there is a need to protect and conserve the few Buildings of architectural, historical and aesthetic significance that Bangalore holds.

Located in the central historic district of Bangalore, the Bohemian House stands as an addendum to the Woodland’s Hotel. In the same compound as the popular Bangalorean eatery, the Bohemian house retains the beauty of colonial architecture and brings in a mixed crowd to its co-working space, quaint coffee shop and event area.

The surrounding region abounds with colonial architecture, this particular structure being no exception, has gone through its share of peak usage as well as low activity.

1. The Bohemian House
1. The Bohemian House

History

The building itself does not exhibit major architectural changes, the walls and flooring are intact, with a few interior design elements bringing out the natural charm of the existing spaces. There have been interesting changes in the function over the decades.

Woodland hotel or Woody's as the locals call it is a Bangalore institution that’s been an iconic eatery of the city for South Indian cuisine.

It was established by K Krishna Rao, a renowned hotelier, who began his rags-to-riches career in Chennai and worked himself up from the position of a dishwasher to successfully running the first woodland hotel in the building of a posh British residence in Royapettah, Chennai.

After the success of this first hotel, Rao continued to expand the chain all over India. While looking for a similar setup, Rao came across a British colonial-style residence and a horse stable located near Cubbon Park in Bangalore. The Bangalore Woodland’s was then established in 1956. The hotel was frequented mostly by Upper-class Brahmins and like many Udupi hotels then, the restaurant had a separate seating section for Brahmins up until the 1960s.

The existing structures which were once residences were adapted to the uses of a restaurant. As the hotel grew, changes were made and additional structures were built. The structure that houses the Bohemian house today was one of the original structures on the property. Since then it has been used for quite a few functions. It used to act as an extension to the hotel, mainly being used as a banquet hall for special events and large gatherings. It also briefly housed the Kalandale Krishna Rao College of Hotel Management and it also served as a restaurant and bar for several years before being shut down. After several years of non-use, the structure was leased to The Bohemian house to set up their establishment.

Since 2016 The Bohemian House has been transformed into a creative space for writers, artists, designers, and anyone you can categorize as creative under the ‘creative rock’. It has been divided into a co-working space, an event space, a cafe, a workshop area and an indie home decor store.

2. Banquet Hall
2. Banquet Hall

Architectural Style

Looking into the architecture of the building, one can notice striking features of Classical colonial style. During the 19th century when the British consolidated their rule in Bangalore, they established the Bungalow type of houses which was an amalgamation of the Indian and European styles of architecture. These are now what we call the Colonial style Bangalore Houses.

The noteworthy characteristics of the bungalows include the pathway leading to the front porch, the intricate trellis work, the stunning Tuscan pillars, the decorative parapets, the balustered railings, flooring with detailed floral patterns, Mangalore tiled sloping roofs, ornamental grill works and stained glass windows.

Though the plans of these bungalows were laid out by the Britishers, the craftsmanship was done by the local Indians and hence the typical feature of decorative plaster can also be seen. The architectural style of the bungalows can be classified into Classical and Gothic. The Classical types of bungalows were one-storeyed and represented horizontally whereas the Gothic types of bungalows were double-storeyed and represented vertically. The Bohemian House falls under the category of the Classical type of bungalows.

Built approximately a hundred years ago, the structure reflects the surpassed cosmopolitan era of Bangalore with its architectural elements. It is a one storey building laid out lavishly into various indoor spaces and a large outdoor space merging well with its context and surroundings.

3. Front Facade of the structure
3. Front Facade of the structure

Construction Details

It has the regular features of a Bungalow with thick walls and high ceilings adapting to the Indian weather. The roofing was entirely done with Mangalore tiles. The floors are lined with age-old mosaic tiles which have intricate floral patterns on them. Different rooms have different mosaic tiles varying in colours and patterns giving a more diverse finish.

4. Floral Patterned Tiles
4. Floral Patterned Tiles

The structure has been maintained to a certain extent. Renovations done here included the construction of a false ceiling to accommodate the air conditioning ducts above it albeit the actual ceiling is about 20 metres high. The roofing is done with Mangalore tiles. Wainscoting has been used for lining of the interior walls. This is where the lower parts of the wall are finished with a different material than the upper parts to counteract the rising dampness but now its purpose is decorative. The interior spaces have niches in the walls which are layered with wattle and daub giving an earthy feel to the interior space. Decorative showpieces are placed in the niches with accent lighting to enhance the interiors.

5. Niches
5. Niches

The building consists of wide doors and windows without grills which were constructed in the British era in wood and has been polished and painted now. They all have fanlights placed over them which were a prominent feature throughout Europe during the Victorian era.

One of the most significant features of the colonial bungalows was the ‘monkey top’. It was a pointed hood or canopy of tiles over a window or part of the sloping roof which was ideal for the climate of Bangalore as it kept away the sun during the summers and prevented the rainwater from entering the house during the monsoons. The building has plenty of monkey tops over all its windows and entrances.

6(a). Portico with Monkey Top
6(a). Portico with Monkey Top

6(b). Monkey Top
6(b). Monkey Top

The northern portion of the building opens up to an outdoor area with a portico that was included by The Woodlands’ owners. This portico is supported by metal pillars which have been painted and knotted with ropes giving an extra-rugged vibe. It has monkey tops over the roofs on all the three exposed sides. The space under it functions as a semi-open working zone and converts itself into a main dais during functions and events.

There is an additional auxiliary block to the structure which was initially intended as an outhouse but later got converted into a bar and is now used as workshop spaces and dance studios. The roofs are covered with thatch and metal sheets while the walls are painted and paneled with wood.

7. Outhouse
7. Outhouse

Modifications

The uniqueness of the Bohemian house is that it retains the originality although it has been readapted multiple times.

The Bohemian House has undergone a renovation before it turned into an art gallery, but the structural part remained the same. There was no addition or removal of any walls or any other structural elements.

When Woody’s initially bought the property they enhanced the backyard with a waterfall that separated the space from the main entrance. This waterfall was created using a rubble stone wall and it secludes the backyard and creates a calm environment.

8. Before it was owned by the Bohemian House.
8. Before it was owned by the Bohemian House.

Changes with time

The House has remained an important part of the Woody’s experience, although with a variety of changes in function. Upon interacting with the employees, it was evident that the ever-changing functions did not yield a single identity. Rather, the space changed according to the times and what the owners anticipated.

Presently, the structure is inner-facing, with most of the activity happening in the courtyard or the rooms with retail and office spaces. The previously installed water feature has been retained by the makers of The Bohemian House to give the area a unique and soothing ambience. The courtyard ties together all the spaces beautifully, with the workshops and cafe overlooking it, along with alternate entries, both from the co-working lounge as well as a small bridge from the main road.

9. Floor Plan.
9. Floor Plan.

The relevance of the structure

The Bohemian House has created a new identity within the existing building. What was previously seen as a sort of outhouse or addendum to the old timers hotel and restaurant now has its own identity, with inherent features slowly adapting to the changing times. As people walk in, they are curious to know what this colonial structure house is. The Woodland’s Property went from being a spot for the limited older generation of Bangalore restaurant goers, mostly there to enjoy the food and nostalgic ambience, to a much more varied crowd now visiting the place. It ranges from young professionals using the co-working space to shoppers, curators and students attending workshops, events and flea markets that are hosted there.

Bangalore has always been cosmopolitan, now more than ever, with various people from all over India as well as a global crowd visiting the city for its culture, food and art. Over the years, the city has developed an ever-growing community of art enthusiasts, curators and designers. Along with this, there have been more spaces like galleries, co-working spaces and performance centers popping up all over the city. In the past few decades, the city has become a fast growing business and IT hub, with a creative crowd thriving alongside it.

Being conscious of the existing heritage and colonial influence, many conservationists and property owners are converting old spaces into commercial establishments or re-using them effectively for creative endeavors. This also fosters awareness on how spaces in the older times were much simpler and how retaining or restoring these structures is a good alternative to removal or rebuilding the same.

The Bohemian House stands out as a good example for adaptive reuse as it still retains its antiquity and manages to effortlessly attune with the changes required for providing better uses.

These bungalows are indeed becoming a place for creative arts and public importance. They emphasize that in order to be accepted by the present, the old must give room to the new.

10. Sketch of The Bohemian House
10. Sketch of The Bohemian House

Note from authors: The Bohemian House had to close operations indefinitely a few months ago due to the pandemic. Many such small businesses have not been able to survive the current economic climate and we feel it is essential to document such places so as to remember how they were used by the community and also to encourage people to use such spaces for their businesses in the future.

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REFERENCES

  1. Krishnendu Ray; Tulasi Srinivas (2012). Curried Cultures: Globalization, Food, and South Asia. University of California Press.
  2. Muthiah, S. (2004). Madras Rediscovered. East West Books (Madras) Pvt Ltd.
  3. 3. S. Krishnan (1983). Host to the millions: The Story of Krishna Rao of Woodlands. Madras: New Woodlands Hotel.
  4. Roshni M (2016), GoUNESCO- Colonial Bungalows of Bangalore
  5. T.P. Issar (2002), The City Beautiful, Tata Press, Mumbai
  6. Architecture and Independence: The Search for Identity - India 1880 to 1980, By Jon Lang, Madhavi Desai and Miki Desai
  7. An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and Britain's Raj (1989), By Thomas Metcalf

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PICTURE CREDITS

  • Figure 1, 4, 5, 6(b), 7, 9 ; Images developed by students of ANRVSA, Bangalore
  • Figure 2, 8;www.hotelsinbangalore.com
  • Figure 3, 6(a); www.coworker.com
  • Figure 10; taken from the bulletin board at the Bohemian House

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

  • Shalini Prasad - Founder of The Bohemian House
  • Sumangali Balakrishna – Works as the Administration Executive at The Bohemian House
  • Staff and Employees at Woodland’s Hotel
  • Sridevi Changali – Conservation Architect, Masons Ink Studio
  • Pooja C. Ugrani – Asst. Professor at Acharya’s NRV School of Architecture

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Essay by Deeksha GM , Varshini Gopal , Merina Benny and Ananya N S , all students of Acharya NRV School of Architecture at the time of writing this article.

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