This project by the A.R.C.O.P. Design group won the first Aga Khan Award for excellence in Architecture in 1980. The design team consisted of Ramesh Khosla, Ranjit Sibikhi, Ajoy Chowdhury and Ravindra Bhan.
The hotel is located to the south of the Taj with a view of the monument; however, many of the guestrooms look inward on the garden courts. There are three quadrangles, one of which contains an outdoor swimming pool. Landscaping is organized on an informal geometry of squares and octagons.
Flowering water channels, pools and fountains, subtle level changes buttressed with planters and formal rows of trees and flowers graciously fuse the Islamic garden tradition to the modern context.
The buildings themselves are unimposing with their low-rise brick construction. The massing and articulation of the architecture, internal planning and the overall concept of an inward-looking garden hotel closely resemble another hotel built in Montreal a decade earlier by the Canadian members of this international design team.
A contemporary pleasure garden
A hotel complex is organized into blocks, separated according to function. A central block houses all the public spaces and the administration. Services are grouped in an adjacent block all the public spaces and the administration. Services are grouped in an adjacent block to the west, directly accessible to the service yard. The 200 guest rooms are arranged in two-story quadrangles, which define three gardens courts. The guest wings are connected to each other and to the central blocks by enclosed pedestrian bridges, which span the gardens.
The hotel is pulled back from the road, and on entering the driveway one feels at once a sense of lush sanctuary. Thickly planted banks line the approach to the complex. From the entrance canopy, the visitor is led, by a bridge, across a large reflecting pool, past fountains, and the lobby beyond.
The primary focus of the complex is inward to the gardens courts. From the room level, the courted gradually step down, through a series of terraces, planters, pools and the fountains, to a level twelve feet below grade. Here, pools are used extensively, the largest designed as swimming pool. A network of walkways weaves among the planters and pools, forming small terraces and seating and linking various courts.
Site plan of gardens with roof plan of building
The first floor throughout the interiors has a spread of regional carpets, exclusively made of the local fabric, and traditional crafts, emphasizing the Indian character of the hotel. The massing is low, fortress-like, and modest from the exterior, as was characteristic of Indian series (traveller’s rest houses). Once you are inside, it is light and cool with room opening onto the garden courts.
Of the large lobby are a shopping arcade and an open lounge overlooking a formal garden. At the mezzanine level is a tearoom and an observation area offering views of the Taj Mahal. The four restaurants, each with its own distinctive character are at the garden level, as are conference rooms and a ballroom, where activities can spill out on to the garden terraces. Three enclosed pedestrian bridges led the visitor from the lobby area to the guest wings, always with a view of the garden below.
The gardens are the place of greatest activity, in much the same manner as were the garden courts at Fatehpur Sikri. The three landscape courtyards are enclosed by the guest wings. The wall of these wings from wide planters at their bases, providing a privacy screen for the rooms and a transition from a building to landscape. From the room level, the courtyards gradually step down, through a series of terraces, planters, pools and fountains, to a level of 3.65 meters below grade. The cooling presence of large water tanks, well understood by the Mughals, has been introduced also. Pools are used extensively with tanks of varying size, the largest designed as swimming pool. A network of walkways weaves among the planters and pools, forming small terraces and seating areas, and linking the various courts.
In the centre, on an axis with the Taj Mahal, is a formal garden similar to the gardens of the Mughal Period. Cyprus trees line terraced water tank, which is enclosed at the far end by sand stonewall curved with lantern niches, into small pools and fountains.
Surrounding the guest wings are two hectors of informal gardens which offer further recreation, including putting greens and archery and croquet facilities. The entire site is bounded, not by a wall, by thick bougainvillaea.
Response to Climate
Agra is hot, with temperatures in mid-summer typically reaching 40° C. although the temperatures in mid-summers typically reaching 40°C. Although the temperature moderates in winter, the season of heaviest tourism, it is still warm and dry. Even in winter months, temperatures are known to reach 36° C.
The Mughal hotel serves as a cool haven from the hot, dusty Agra plain. All the rooms are oriented to take advantage of the cooling effects of the gardens and pools. The thick masonry walls of the guest wings aid in cooling, and windows.