No tears were shed, no heritage conservationists shouted slogans, and no movie buffs blocked the demolition ball which knocked down Lido cinema in Bangalore a couple of years ago. The demise of Lido went unnoticed and the birth of Ista in its place has been largely unobserved.
The understated, unobtrusive hotel which has come up at the bottom end of Bangalore’s MG Road (the city’s five- star hotel district—there are four jostling in one sq. km) is quiet and invisible, except to its high-end clientele—mainly business travellers. Design jargon would dub it minimalist, or Zen-like or even existentialist, which would effectively encompass the East meets West feature rampant in almost all buildings built in modern India during the last decade.
So when Ashok Khanna, managing director of Ista, briefed his architects, Delhi-based RK & Associates, these catchphrases were part of the concept, but his diktat also was that the hotel would look outward, so that there was always a room with a view.
This formed the central link between floors, corridors, restaurants, bars and guest rooms. And this is where Ista scores—the filtering of natural light at every possible level, into every available built-up space.
The interiors have been designed by Hong Kong-based interior designer Chandu Chhada, who says the brief did pose something of a challenge but was ‘ultimately rewarding’. All areas of the hotel were carefully thought out and planned. Every solution was created with a focus on user comfort—physical, aesthetic and, to some extent, spiritual, bringing about a sense of calm and facilitating ease of function. Ista is at its best in the day time, for it captures the essence of what is quintessentially Bangalore—its bright blue skies, cool climate and its alfresco living, real or imagined, through large picture windows. The hotel generates, paradoxically, a feeling of aloofness and a sense of intimacy, with the use of tropical plants creating ‘walled’ spaces and full-grown palm trees creating an illusion of being in touch with the earth. All this, however, begins only on the fourth floor.
The lobby presents a different ambience. The entrance foyer, with its stark white walls, emanates “a slightly cold look”, says Nina Bopiah, a Bangalore-based architect. This, despite the fact that the monotony of the walls has been broken with horizontal belts of rough hewn stone and a custom-designed, sunflower-yellow rug below, centred directly beneath the oval ‘spaceship’ ceiling, with lighting in subtle hues of pink and gold.
As for the grey-veined white marble sarcophagus-like bench, which is supposedly the piece de resistance, it loses some of its visual drama with an electrical box vying for equal attention in the background. For Chandu Chhada, designing the marble bench was “a (difficult) experiment that was meant to evoke a sense of spiritualism, difficult also because the first one broke while being shipped from Delhi and had to be replaced”.
The interiors get better as you go higher up to the fourth floor, where the restaurants and bar are located—Zaman, the Indian restaurant, Liquid, the bar, and Lido, the all-day dining space. The Lido (appropriately named in tribute to the old cinema) attempts to be an Italian brasserie, with its terrazzo floor and the large garden making it an easily likeable space. The Lido’s wood-coloured furniture and dune-shaded walls open out into a full-fledged garden and swimming pool, on the fourth floor. But it is an opening with no windows, no doors, no boundaries and is in fact a natural extension of the restaurant.
The gardens have been designed by Belt Collins, an international design firm. Alcoves are created by lush tropical plants around the pool and then again at Liquid, the bar which has open-air cabanas and light cane seating. The space, with its mirrored drapes separating the cabanas and islands of green shrubs, is a favourite with most guests as it is with both Khanna and his wife, Neelam. “I love the ambience we have managed to create here,” she says.
Although half the bar is located outside, Liquid has an inside space, too. However, Chhada’s design vocabulary of muted and earthy colours , evident in the entire hotel, takes a different turn here. So the deep maroon wall in the interior of Liquid is ‘a brave move’ for him, says Neelam. An eclectic mix of furniture adds character and at the same time defies categorization, for as Nikhil Kapur, the GM at Ista says, “Chhada is of the view that today’s contemporary is tomorrow’s vintage”.
Having designed over 100 hotels all over the world and won several awards, Ista was easy work for Chhada as he says, “there was not much left to experiment with here. But the path leading to design was a pleasant experience”.
It is also here at Liquid’s inner spaces that some of the art selection seems more striking. Neelam has always been interested in sourcing and displaying original art and, as she says, “Not all artists are established or well known, so I thought I would showcase some of the smaller names as there’s so much good work being done today.”
So there are works by both famous and unknown artists—there is a vintage fresco look behind the reception counter and a muted Rahim Mirza, highlighted by a touch of terracotta, a stark and striking Madan Mohan Malviya with his white-on-white embossed technique and sculpted, abstract silver trees from China that highlight niches and alcoves.
It is probably this clean look which makes Rumi Mistry, art collector and visitor to the hotel believe Ista is too understated. “The food is superb at Lido and everything works well, but the hotel feels like a monolith, it’s too still,” adds Mistry.
The GM Nikhil Kapur, counters: “This is a business hotel and most people don¹t sit around in the lobby. Once executives finish their work, they either go up to their rooms or to the restaurants, so the lobby was not designed to induce people to linger. He explains that the word Ista translates into ‘my own space’ in Sanskrit and that, he believes, is the mark of a young, energetic, business hotel.”
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