Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge
Redefining safari chic, &Beyond Sandibe, which is situated in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, features a brand new take on these magnificent surroundings. Commissioned by &Beyond, Nick Plewman Architects and Michaelis Boyd Associates have created a lodge structure inspired by the nest of the weaver birds and the pangolin’s body armour of scales. Elegant interiors by Fox Browne Creative mimic natural patterns while creating an atmosphere that is both tranquil and ethereal.
Situated on a private concession in the magnificent Okavango Delta, Sandibe boasts exclusive traversing rights over a vast stretch of land adjacent to the wildlife-rich Moremi Game Reserve. The most architecturally magnificent lodge in the Delta, Sandibe combines outstanding design, exceptional wildlife viewing and warm local hospitality. The Okavango Delta has recently been named the 1 000th UNESCO World Heritage Site and the design for this incredible new lodge draws its inspiration from this unique natural setting.
In keeping with &Beyond’s core ethos of Care of the Land, Care of the Wildlife, Care of the People, Sandibe has been designed with a light footprint and a heavy focus on sustainability and efficiency. Situated in a remote area without easily available electricity, instead of relying on a generator to supply the lodge’s extensive energy needs, Sandibe’s combined solar electricity and hot water systems will produce in excess of 200,000 Kwh of energy per year. This will save the lodge 67,000 litres of diesel per year, which translates into a carbon footprint saving of 180 tons of CO², an amount that the lodge would have had to plant 4,615 tree saplings to offset.
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is an environment like no other, where the wonder of big game sightings combines with spectacular scenery and a special brand of peace and tranquillity. A journey through the heart of the Delta offers an unmatched combination of land and water experiences. Thanks to the continual cycle of water that reaches this lush wetland, the Okavango remains an exceptional destination throughout the year. Beginning in the highlands of Angola, the floodwaters of the Okavango River travel through Botswana, reaching the narrowest part of the Delta at the end of the wet season. From here, the waters gradually fan out through innumerable channels over a period of four months or so and then recede again. Thus, the amount of dry land may depend on the time of year, although the waters at the heart of the Delta are deep enough to be permanent. Excursions in traditional canoes known as mekoro or conventional speedboats explore the intricacies of this glorious ecosystem.
“Sandibe draws its inspiration directly from nature with organic shapes, natural textures, serene, earthy and organic pieces were chosen for the interiors. We approached the interior design of this lodge in such a way that the interiors did not compete with the Architecture. We are thrilled to have been nominated as winners in the prestigious Interior design category of the 2015 Gold Key Awards in the US.” – Fox Browne Creative
At &Beyond Sandibe, guests can awaken to the sound of animals, laugh at the antics of baboons and squirrels over breakfasts and tread in the footsteps of elephants as they walk the ancient paths that bisect the forest. Days are spent exploring a maze of papyrus and exploring the wide floodplains in search of wildlife. The lodge’s exceptional design creates a sense of space and grandeur where guests can revel in one of Africa’s most untouched landscapes, drinking in the serene beauty of the unique natural spectacle that lies right on their doorstep.
Michaelis Boyd Associates:
Michaelis Boyd [MB] has worked alongside the local architect Nick Plewman on Sandibe Lodge in Botswana to create an iconic sustainable new build safari lodge evoking a creature of the forest.
The lodge is sensitively designed to blend in with the surrounding landscape in Okavango Delta adjacent to a lively games reserve. Clad in natural shingles and woven saplings, the entirely timber structure is bold and dramatic unlike anything that has been seen before in the Delta region.
Sandibe is intended to be the anchor lodge for the destination and with generous design freedom and budget; it was possible to produce a striking design that evoked the Pangolin, a solitary creature from the African bush.
The scheme design is luxurious, sculptural and clean, from the twelve elevated guest suites to the sweeping timber ribs in the main areas leading to the dramatic curved bar. Demonstrating MB’s design focus on flow, light and space and capturing the tranquility of the region, the design shows a clear move away from the typically dark interiors of Safari lodges.
Constructed using light natural materials local to the area, the scheme is entirely concrete free and a solar panel farm supplies the electricity. The focus was on a lighter, more sustainable footprint for the new lodge.
Nicholas Plewman Architects:
A 24 bed luxury boutique hotel in the heart of the Okavango Delta, Botswana. The Okavango Delta is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the African continent. Since the original lodge was built seventeen years ago, it has been declared a world heritage site and in consequence a raft of wholly appropriate, but formidable restrictions have been imposed on building there.
The design of Sandibe not only meets these challenges but is invigorated and inspired by them. It is habitation made manifest of all the creatures that have ever found or made shelter in and beneath the site’s ancient trees. The lodge draws its inspiration from animals that carry their shelter with them or weave it from the organic materials to hand. We chose the pangolin – Africa’s armadillo –as a specific motif because of its shy, elusive and completely harmless nature and its ability to curl into its own protective carapace of scales. The final building appears to have grown organically from its riparian site or, metaphorically speaking, to be some endemic, gentle and maternal creature leading her off spring through the swamp forest.
Although LEED or GREENSTAR ratings tools have not been developed or applied to this sort building – the project proceeded on the basis that if they were, the highest standards of accreditation would be aimed for. The sustainability imperatives of the project were:
The new buildings had to be wholly built of ultimately bio-degradable materials. The site, separated from civilisation by a hundred miles of swampland, river crossings and rough tracks had to be completely cleared of all previous non degradable material – literally hundreds of tonnes of demolished bricks and mortar gently removed from the forest and trucked out of the delta. 70 % of the luxury lodge’s, not insubstantial, energy requirements had to be of sustainable origin. Minimal to zero physical impact of any sort on the site, fauna and flora. Complete treatment of sewerage and removal of waste.
Notwithstanding the above the client expected a boutique hotel that would deliver the very highest standards of luxury to its well heeled and well travelled guests. Essentially this meant, in addition to unique and inspiring design, there could be no compromise on power, copious hot water supply, luxury bathing and food preparation equal to the best hotels in the world. The sorts of compromises that inform most eco lodges were not acceptable.
The completed project meets or exceeds all of the above imperatives:
Sandibe is built almost entirely of wood. Laminated pine beams give curvilinear shape. The building skin is formed like an inverted boat from layers of butt jointed pine scale planks; waterproofed with an acrylic membrane and covered in Canadian cedar shingles. There is no glass other than in the retail shop and library, the “glazing” such as it is, is Serge Ferrari Soltis fabric – a permeable but highly weather resistant and thermally efficient membrane.
External screen walls and balustrades are fashioned from an interlocking mat of eucalyptus laths woven onto stiff wire. Decks and floors use FSC approved hard woods. Power is sourced from a 100 KVA PV array that means generators need only run for 3 to 4 hours a day. Hot water is delivered instantly even at the furthest cabin from a solar array of evacuated tubes backed up by heat pumps continuously pumped through a 2,5km ring main. Notwithstanding the distance the measured loss of temperature between source and furthest tap is 1.7 degrees.
All water and soil waste is collected and pumped through an accredited biological treatment plant that renders effluent certifiably safe for discharge into the highly sensitive environment. Finally, the environmental success of the project is perhaps best judged from the fact that the area’s prolific wildlife including big animals like elephant, hippo , lion and leopard have continued to live on and use the site with such disregard for the emerging and completed buildings that you might imagine they simply don’t see it at all. As IM Pei said: “ Good architecture lets nature in.”
&Beyond is one of the world’s leading luxury experiential travel companies, designing personalised luxury safaris in 15 African countries, as well as India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. The company also owns and operates 33 extraordinary lodges and camps in Africa and India’s natural highspots. Established in 1991, &Beyond takes exceptional care of its guests in order to make a difference; its commitment to sustainable responsible travel and community empowerment is world renowned.
Project name: Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge
Location: Okavango Delta, Botswana
Coordinates: -19.453022, 23.302444
Type: Lodge & Tented Camp
Project Area: 5,384 sqm
Completion Date/Year: 2014
Opening Date: September 1, 2014
Visit Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge’s website: here
Client / Owner / Developer: &Beyond – Private Bag X 27, Benmore, Johannesburg, 2010 South Africa
- Nicholas Plewman Architects – 49 7th Ave, Johannesburg, 2196, South Africa
- Michaelis Boyd Associates – 108 Palace Gardens Terrace, London W8 4RT, United Kingdom
Interior Designer: Fox Browne Creative – PO Box 2826, Saxonwold, Johannesburg, South Africa 2132
- Architects Team: Nick Plewman, Duran Bezuidenhout, Alex Michaelis, Karolina Szarmach
- General Contractor: Lodge Builders Botswana (Maun, Botswana)
- Engineers: De Villiers Sheard Consulting Engineers (Cape Town, RSA)
- Alternative Energy Solutions: New Southern Energy (Cape Town, RSA)
- Landscaping: Mr. Gordon W Kershaw
Text Description: © Courtesy of &Beyond, Nicholas Plewman Architects, Michaelis Boyd Associates, Fox Browne Creative
Images: © &Beyond, Nicholas Plewman Architects, Dook Photography