Singita Lebombo Lodge
People:DESIGNWORKSHOP : SA: Architect
The Singita complex, a private concession situated on the eastern boundary of the Kruger National Park, is set against a rhyolite ridge of low hills that are part of the Lebombo mountains and is bounded by the N’wanetsi and Sweni Rivers. The Singita Lebombo lodge was the first of three interventions, the other being a second lodge and a commercial complex. While the chosen location has great scenic beauty and provides fantastic views over the N’wanetsi, it has a low absorption capacity for a range of negative impacts related to a physical development of this scale.
The architects have admirably taken up the responsibility that comes with designing for a site with these environmental qualities, and fulfilled the demands of the brief that required that the project be sustainable, have minimal impact on the environment and be easily removable at the end of the 20 year concession period. The choice of structure type and the positioning of structures on site ensure that there was minimal disturbance of the natural environment. Indigenous plant material and site features were protected vigorously, buildings in the most sensitive areas of the site were constructed on stilts, and the components of most buildings are demountable. The design incorporates for passive design principles to temper the extreme heat and humidity that is prevalent in the area, as can be seen in the use of lightweight materials, shade screens wrapping around the skins of inhabited spaces, the use of large overhangs over large glass surfaces, and in the use of mass to delay heat penetration for spaces that need constantly cool temperatures like the wine store tower. The liquid waste system was designed to prevent pollution of the N’wanetsi River. While the 5 star establishment provides every conceivable luxury on demand, patrons’ water use is restricted. It is admirable that the project used a large amount of local labour, that there was a high degree of skills transfer, and that the health profile of the local community increased positively due to the project’s sustainability approach.
The design has an active dialogue with both physical and intangible aspects of the site and the surrounding environment. The commonly used method of referring to traditionalist African architectural form and space typologies, which typify most game lodges in the country, are avoided in lieu of a critical regionalist approach. Neo-Modern architectural devices are used but details and elements are inspired by the local condition and through rich historical referencing. There is a synergy of crafting, engineering and space making. The architecture shows an honesty and ingenuity in terms of material use, in terms of the locality, detailing, assembly and finishes. There is a planned mix of foreign and local, high and low tech, engineered and on-site crafted elements. In all these dualisms there is engagement with the tangible and intangible dimensions of site as well as of the region.
Apart from possessing the required architectural qualities for an Award of Merit, the mastery shown achieving all the design objectives, in making meaningful place and an architecture with strong associations to place, in forging a non-stylistic approach to the existing bush lodge typology and in achieving a high level of sustainability, the Singita Lebombo complex expresses a high level of architectural excellence.
Prior to the development of their Lebombo and Sweni lodges in the Kruger park, Singita had won broad international acclaim by being rated Tattler's 'Best Hotel in the World' for their two existing lodges in the Sabi Sands.
The success of the Singita brand rested on fulfilling the expectations of the very top end of the international tourist market by combining the experience of the raw African wilderness with the refinement of ultimate luxury. This combination also represented a paradigm shift within the African bush lodge sector. This was expressed by making design reference to the luxurious Colonial homestead in the wild African bushveld.
As this sector grew and became increasingly competitive, Singita needed to again redefine what the luxury African wilderness experience was. Our appointment was to achieve this without compromising the Singita brand.
Our response was to respond directly to the full range of physical realities (permissible materials within the KNP remoteness, etc) and environmental constraints, and enable guests to get a sense of the non-material indigenous tradition (continuity of all time, place and things, etc) to the extent that film, art or music facilitates the observer 'seeing what they had not seen before.'
Instead of the colonial tradition being the vehicle to enable guests to interpret their African experience, we aimed to define their experience by achieving a sense of 'infinite space' without placelessness. This is the defining and differentiating characteristic of the project.
Both the central lounges and dining rooms, and the bedrooms, are ‘veranciahs' sequentially weaving external experience and 'internal' spaces into variations of one another. There is a mixture of heavy and lightweight, predominantly light. Structures are draped in atte veils for privacy, camouflage and sun control. Maximum impact, amenity and variety is gained from minimum built area with a repetition of bespoke technology and detailing.
All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.
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