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Going wild in the country at Sandibe Safari Lodge

by Michele Koh Morollo on Apr 30, 2017 in Architecture , Interiors , Lifestyle , Top Story
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Earthy yet glamorous, this beautiful safari escape co-exists harmoniously with the beasts of the spectacular Okavango Delta in Botswana

Surrounded by a forest of wild palms and fig trees, and inspired by the nests of weaver finches and the armoured shell of pangolins, Sandibe Safari Lodge appears like a mythical village hidden in the heart of Botswana's Okavango Delta — one of Africa's densest and most diverse wildlife habitats.

Commissioned by luxury experiential travel company &Beyond, Sandibe was designed by London-based practice Michaelis Boyd Associates in collaboration with South African firm Nicholas Plewman Architects (plewmanarchitects.co.za). Constructed sans concrete and using biodegradable materials, Sandibe is as ecofriendly as it is stunning.

Timber was sourced from sustainable forests, while Zambian hardwood and support columns from the original lodge were upcycled

Timber was sourced from sustainable forests, while Zambian hardwood and support columns from the original lodge were upcycled

Separated from civilisation by a hundred miles of swampland, grassland and river crossings, Sandibe is respectfully designed and built around the site's existing trees, so its ecological impact is minimal.

"The task was to replace an old lodge building located on a Unesco World Heritage Site in northwest Botswana with a dramatic design that would provide a lighter, more sustainable footprint while ensuring a five-star experience that captured the tranquility of the Okavango Delta region," says Alex Michaelis, one of the founders of Michaelis Boyd Associates (michaelisboyd.com).

All concrete from the former lodge was removed and the design team ensured that noconcrete was used at all in the over-ground construction of the new buildings. All timber for the project was sourced from sustainable forests and, where possible, elements from the original lodge, such as Zambian hardwood and support columns, were upcycled.

The interiors, designed by Fox Browne Creative, feature neutral colours, natural materials and white washed timber walls

The interiors, designed by Fox Browne Creative, feature neutral colours, natural materials and white washed timber walls

"The Botswana government requires that 70 per cent of total energy consumption should be generated from renewable energy sources. We responded to this by using photovoltaic cells to produce electricity. We used solar-thermal panels and heat exchangers to transfer surplus heat generated by refrigeration units for the hot water," says Michaelis' partner Tim Boyd.

"Lighting was kept to a minimum to avoid disturbing the animals at night, and the buildings blend in so well with the surrounding environment that the abundant wildlife in the area continue to live on the site oblivious to the existence of the lodge."

Over time, Boyd expects that the timber of the buildings will turn grey, enabling the lodge to completely blend into the landscape.

Sandibe was respectfully designed and built around the site's existing trees, so its ecological impact is minimal — and native wildlife, like these elephants, wander unperturbed among the man-made structures

Sandibe was respectfully designed and built around the site's existing trees, so its ecological impact is minimal — and native wildlife, like these elephants, wander unperturbed among the man-made structures

The interiors, orchestrated by Fox Browne Creative, are a clear transition from the typically dark interiors of traditional safari lodges. The use of neutral colours, natural materials, white washed timber walls and highlights of copper created a sumptuous, cosy and serene ambience.

Comprising a main building surrounded by 12 nest-shaped guest suites, the striking cedarshingle
façade of the suites resemble the hard scaly shell of the insect-eating pangolin, while sweeping, curved timber ribs give each structure a rounded, organic, and sculptural form.

The architects replaced an old lodge building located on a Unesco World Heritage Site in northwest Botswana with a dramatic design that provides a lighter, more sustainable footprint

The architects replaced an old lodge building located on a Unesco World Heritage Site in northwest Botswana with a dramatic design that provides a lighter, more sustainable footprint

According to Michaelis, the aesthetics were influenced by the nests of the indigenous weavers and the elusive, nocturnal pangolin, a type of anteater that is covered in tough overlapping scales with an undulating elongated body. "The pangolin inhabits and carries its shelter with it, creating a home however far it travels. This influence can be seen in the private seating areas adjoining each suite, and the lounge in the main building with its curved walls embracing an open log fire, creating a feeling of seclusion and shelter," he says.

Guests arrive at a drop off point not far away from the building. Initially there is no sign of habitation. Then, they are led through a bower woven from saplings and laths to a threshold, where they get their first glimpse of the lodge, nestled between the trees.

This is an excerpt from the “Beauty & the beasts" article from the May 2017 issue of Perspective magazine.

To continue reading, get your copy of Perspective.

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