Saloni World: Mud Hut and Secret Garden – SALONI

“The purest and most thoughtful minds are thosewhich colour love the most.”  John Ruskin

At the heart of SALONI are beautiful conversations between Saloni Lodha's Indian upbringing and the global influences she draws upon.

One of the most striking features of the three-day Holi Saloni event was the secret garden, a series of resplendent mud huts at its centre. On the second day, these curving organic forms were the focal point around which everyone danced and played Holi, an ancient Hindu festival that ushers in Spring and represents the triumph of good over evil. Traditionally, people wear white and play Holi, covering one another with vibrant colour during celebrations.

As Saloni reflects, Holi is a celebration "That's closest to my heart as it is the most dramatic expression of love.” She continues “My brand is known for vibrant prints and colour. I wanted everyone to wear white and experience the joy of playing holi in a richly tactile and sensory space. So we made white dresses for everyone and collaborated with Kunal Rawal to make white cotton kurta pajamas for men. We created a complete built environment - a magical garden - to immerse guests in a world of colour.”

A fantastical garden made up of sculptural form

An entire section of the Palace gardens was transformed into the “Secret Garden”. Months before, when Saloni first spoke to architect Jonathan Mizzi she playfully explained her vision for the secret garden in terms of “Indian tribal meets Star Wars”! Jonathan says.

"Essentially, we had found our soulmate client! Saloni’s visual cues were linked with tribal, organic forms, natural materials, colour, and texture. So we knew immediately that this project would perfectly be aligned to our design ethos.”

Mizzi Studios, a London and Malta-based architectural practice, is renowned for biomorphic structures, including striking restaurant and cafe spaces in London's Kew Gardens and Hyde Park.

Jonathan continues "the project provided the perfect opportunity to showcase the power of design to transport people and fuel their imagination." It brought together computer-aided design with vernacular Rajasthani building techniques. These include weaving using vertical (theeni) and horizontal (baati) bundles of stalks to form the base structure. Once these stalks are densely woven together, they are rendered with mud and cow dung, the latter revered in India for its medicinal, cooling and antimalarial properties.

Bringing together indigenous traditions with sci-fi influenced futuristic architecture is not as strange as it may sound. In fact, vernacular traditions of building with mud are at the heart of a cutting-edge architectural movement. This uses earth (whether as surface render, made into sun-dried bricks or machine-rammed) to build beautiful and sustainable buildings. Mud architecture represents a truly forward-looking commitment to living lightly on the earth and working in tune with natural materials.

Locally-sourced materials have for centuries provided ways to make shelters in the desert climate of Rajasthan, which experiences seasonal hot, dry winds and cold nights. The circular design of the huts protects the structures from strong winds and earthquakes. A katcha is a structure made from sticks, mud and grass, and these are built across rural Rajasthan with variations in building styles. For example, the small villages north of Bikaner have thatched roofs known as jhompas. Whilst in the tiny hamlet of Jalwali near the Indo-Pakistan border, huts have a curving structure rendered all over with mud, much like the ones made iconic in the early Star Wars films.

Collaborative working process

An architect from Mizzi Studios’ London office was on the ground at Raas Devigarh Palace for over a month, working closely with local artisans.

The artisans are not formally trained in construction or architectural design, and their work is deeply rooted in the rich diversity of Rajasthan’s climate and cultural traditions.

Although the huts for Holi Saloni were inspired by traditional structures, they were contemporary interpretations with more bulbous forms than found traditionally. This required a close working relationship between the artisans and the architects to adapt and fine-tune vernacular building methods to the exaggerated shapes and curves of the design.

The architect uses calculations and precisely mapped drawings, the artisan’s draw upon years of experience and knowledge with a finely-honed sense for the pliability of the stalks and how to weave them into a robust structure. Their ingenuity and skill created a shared dialogue with the architect as they worked to interpret the contemporary design. As Jonathan reflects

“We love to collaborate with craftspeople and makers, so this project was very exciting for us to be involved with. The amount of knowledge we gained on traditional Indian building practices and how to merge craft and technology in new areas was staggering and has elevated our own practice.”

Mizzi Studios and the Saloni team undertook detailed documentation of the hut-building process, with well-over five-hundred photographs and short video clips. These record the intensive and skilled processes of building the mud huts. In and of itself, serving to provide invaluable documentation of this vernacular technique.

Immersive design: Colour, decoration and joy

The secret garden was all about creating an environment to experience colour. As well as the mud huts, a series of raised mud platforms were built and covered with a tent made from SALONI archival prints. A mud rendered bar was also created.

In the center of the garden, the architects designed a spiralling mud pyramid, with a lattice relief design creating crevices from which thick handfuls of vibrant Holi powder could be scooped up. All part of a tactile and immersive built environment that encouraged movement and playful energy.

Natural light was also an important decorative element. Tiny and delicate mirrored artwork called thikri adorned circular openings in each hut’s bulbous roof. The mirrors refracted bursts of patterned light as it entered into the dark, womb-like interiors. During the party, guests retreated to the cool indoor space of the huts, enjoying each others’ company. As they rested from playing Holi, they could look up into the sky and gaze at the thikri, glittering as it reflected the sunlight beyond. After the sun set, the mirrors danced like fireflies in the silver moonlight that shone above the gardens.

A few months after the event, the monsoon arrived, and the mud huts washed back into the earth. After all, mud structures use natural materials in tune with the rhythms of nature and leave zero waste.

The huts may have folded back into the natural world, yet, the vibrant and magical memories of Holi Saloni live on...

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