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Letter from Mozambique

by Richard Nightingale

Architects' Journal, 1st September 2005

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'In a village close to the new eco-resort that we have designed in northern Mozambique, there is a tree that is more than just a tree, writes Richard Nightingale. It is a large, spreading mango. That provides shade and shelter for, potentially, hundreds of people. It is the largest thing in the vicinity and serves as village hall, council chamber, shopping mall and general meeting place. Buildings are modest affairs in this part of the world. Built of bamboo, mud and thatch, they are low, simple and functional and very beautiful too!

'An effect of Mozambique's 20-year civil war is that the country has missed out on some of the Westernisation and development that has altered much of eastern Africa. Traditional building skills are still intact. There are none of the huge modern hotels lining the beaches in resorts further north (using up vast quantities of energy and manpower) which are virtually indestructible should they cease to be viable.

'So when we were deciding how to house the visitors to the resort we set out by learning from the locals. Starting with a palette of bamboo, grass matting, rope, coconut frond thatch, sand, rubble and mud, we developed and adapted local methods to create a restaurant and bar, kitchen and stores, large bedrooms with outside shower enclosures, and all that is associated with a comfortable hotel. This had to be done without the benefit of a 'professional' builder by minimizing imported material and energy use and on a very tight budget.

'Concrete and steel frame were too expensive in terms of cost, specialist skills, transport and embodied energy. Cement use had to be kept to an absolute minimum. For the floors and terraces we found that a weak lime / sand screed with a little cement added to the mix around vulnerable points is relatively robust. To create larger spans than local techniques allow we bundled together lengths of bamboo, hung them with buckets of water to test deflection and sent the results back to our engineer in London (Price and Myers) for analysis. We brought in as little as possible from outside and, where possible, we recycled what had already been imported by others.

'Our clients, Amy Carter and Neal Allcock of Bespoke Experience, persevered tirelessly. Following many trials the first phase of Guludo resort is now open. And when it is no longer needed, we can be sure that the soft screeds will crumble, the bamboos will be eaten by white ants or knocked down by elephants, and nature will take control again.

'Richard Nightingale is a partner in Cullum and Nightingale.'