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Paradise Found

by Catherine Slessor

The Architectural Review, July 2005

'This tourist resort in Mozambique aims to minimise its impact on the local ecology.'

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'Tourism is now the world’s biggest industry and one of the most rapacious in terms of development, particularly along coastlines. For many of the world’s poorer coastal areas, tourism represents a crucial impulse for economic development, but often at immense cost to the environment and local communities. If we really cared about the planet we wouldn’t go anywhere, but in our First World hunger for new experiences, few places are off limits.

'As one of the world’s poorest countries and still recovering from a devastation civil war, Mozambique is not an obvious tourist destination. But paradisiacal landscape and climate still lure more intrepid travellers. The trick is to make tourist a catalyst for sustainable development and provide models that can be fruitfully emulated as the country slowly recovers its economic and social equilibrium. In the northern province of Cabo Delgado, British architects Hugh Cullum and Richard Nightingale have just completed a new tourist resort which attempts to minimize its impact on the local ecology and have sustainable, long-term benefits for the local community. Cullum and Nightingale have worked in Africa before, but the challenges of designing the British Embassy in Nairobi (AR July 1997) were somewhat different to this latest project.

'Set on a picture perfect tropical coastline of palm-fringed beaches, Guludo eco-resort lies in the Quirimbas National Park, a maritime and wildlife conservation area run as a collaborative project between the World Wildlife Fund and the Mozambican government. The project aims to promote the area’s sustainable development and involved extensive consultations with the community. Development is encouraged in various ways, initially through employing local labour for the construction of the resort buildings and the use of locally sourced materials. Local people will be trained to help run the resort and part of its profits will be reinvested in community development projects. The resort has a commitment to buy locally grown produce and promote small-scale craft enterprises.

'Cullum and Nightingale reinterpret local vernacular traditions by developing modest, low energy, low maintenance structures that touch the ground lightly. The resort is conceived as small-scale buildings strung out along a path in the manner of a traditional village. At its heart is a central hub with facilities for eating, cooking, lounging and teaching loosely arranged round a courtyard. Guests are housed in 12 independent bandas facing the beach. Each banda consists of a double room opening onto a shaded verandah overlooking the sea, with washing facilities in an enclosed courtyard to the rear. Staff are housed in a secondary cluster of bandas set back from the beachfront.

'Drawing extensively on local materials and construction techniques, building structures are generally timber framed with infill panels of mud, masonry or woven matting. Roofs are thatched with grass or makuti, coconut palm thatching panels. Non-ferrous jointing methods include simple timber pegs and cord or rope bindings. Imported components are kept to a minimum and wherever possible are long life and locally maintainable. Energy use is carefully considered, with fossils fuels minimized. The form of the architecture exploits passive methods of cooling through shading, thermal mass, stack effect ventilation and prevailing winds. Solar energy is used to generate electricity through photovoltaic arrays, and to heat water by direct radiation. Human waste is recycled in waterless lavatory units to provide dry compost for fertilizer.

'With its array of sheltering thatched roofs, the little colony evokes archetypes of the primitive hut or desert island shelter (albeit reinterpreted for the modern tourist), but the buildings have a scale, dignity and materiality appropriate to their setting. If only everything built for tourists could be so physically and culturally tactful.'