Compiled by Avinash Yadav
Photography: Courtesy Carlo Ratti Associati
Read Time: 2 mins
To live in the midst of nature without having to lose connectivity with the digital world; 'Pankhasari Retreat' aims to promote sustainable tourism design in the bed of the Himalayas!
“For the first time in history, it might be possible to locate on a mountain top and to maintain intimate, real-time, and realistic contact with business or other associates.” These words were famously written by urban designer Melvin Webber in the 1970s, as he imagined how networks and digital technologies, still in their infancy, would impact our ways of living in the future. Today, Pankhasari Retreat - a decade-old collaborative effort - plays with that vision.
Design and innovation studio head, Carlo Ratti of the eponymous practice, in collaboration with Turin-based architect Michele Bonino and a team of over 20 professionals has led the design of this connected venue for co-living and co-working.
Located in a mild-climate valley in India’s Darjeeling region near the Sikkim border, the site is a south-facing mountain bound by a swift river and waterfalls, not far from Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. The sacred black boulders that punctuate the site are incorporated into the design, which is split over three stacked volumes connected by a covered footbridge.
The complex includes residential, business, sport, and farming facilities. The houses, built with local materials like stone, farmed teak and sissoo, reinterpret the verandas and overhangs of vernacular architecture, protecting residents from extreme weather conditions. Each unit can host 3-4 people at a time, with living space, studio, kitchen, two bedrooms, and bathrooms. Built-in furniture serves as a focal point in each of the three volumes that compose the complex, creating a “living around the fireplace” model, where all activities take place.
The project responds to the environment using bioclimatic principles in architectural design, with a specific focus on cooling and shading, improving natural ventilation, and protection against monsoon. With its light, resilient structure, the buildings can be dismantled, eventually restoring the land to its original state.
The project also stands out for its iterative building process that has involved local residents, craftsmen, and practitioners from the surrounding area in an attempt to build a bridge between local and global communities.
With its mix of working and leisure facilities, the retreat exemplifies the ongoing changes in our lifestyle facilitated by the emergence of global communication networks. High-speed Internet connection and extensive tele-working facilities permit living in one of the planet’s most remote and beautiful corners, while at the same time engaging with communities around the globe.