:: home :: news :: our work :: us :: contact

Virtuous Vacations

by Amanda Birch

Building Design, 5 November 2004

Traditional African methods are the star of Cullum & Nightingale's eco-resort.

See also:

Other articles about this project:

'On the east coast of Africa in the tiny, isolated village of Guludo in Mozambique, a string of tented structures and low-level buildings inspired by the local vernacular are nearing completion. They are the first stage of an alternative type of hotel, or eco-resort, tailored for those ready to pay a lot to get back to nature.

'An eco-resort promotes a sustainable kind of tourism that seeks to minimize the negative impact on the local ecology. Locals are used for the resort's construction, and then trained to run and manage the resort once it has been established. It's a far cry from the energy-guzzling hotels lining the Kenyan coast several hundred miles north.

'A striking aspect of Cullum & Nightingale Architect's first new hotel, is that the buildings incorporate materials and technology that have been used by the indigenous population for many years, but adapted specifically for hotel use. This has involved embarking on an experimental journey to test the different materials' strengths and properties. Lessons learned during this first stage will be applied in the next, more permanent phase.

'The camp is on an elevated area behind an embankment, metres away from the shoreline offering views of the sea. It comprises 14 sleeping tents (nine for tourists, five for staff) which use bamboo and posts made from coconut tree trunks for the main structure; and five more solid buildings - a reception, kitchen, diving centre, store room and office - of wattle and daub and bamboo construction.

'For the solid buildings, the architects moved away from the subdivided arrangement prevalent in the local housing, designing instead structures free of internal walls, allowing breezes to flow through. Although coconut posts are not used locally for structural support - hard-wood saplings are more common as they are plentiful inland and resistant to termites - the architects specified them for the ridge and vertical supports to the roof because they are taller and provide adequate height and pitch for the roofs' intricate bamboo basket or frame.

'"We may find that they are eaten by termites," says project manager Rafael Marks. "If this happens, we'll know not to build the next stage using coconut."

'For the roof finish, the architect took coconut palm fronds, tied them to a batten and laid them like tiles. It is a traditional method, but the architect created a different aesthetic and a thicker roof by laying the fronds more close together.

'On the buildings that required a solid wall structure, another traditional method was modified. Pieces of bamboo were laid horizontally and bound together, with the mesh filled with reclaimed rubble and a lime and sand mix (although the locals use mud, sand and water). Grass woven binding was used to tie the bamboo pieces together, and in other places they used string made from discarded car tyres. "The fibres of a tyre with no tread are stripped and tied together," explains principal Richard Nightingale. "You end up with something that is incredibly strong and sustainable because the locals know how to repair it."

'The bases for both the solid structures and tents are formed using woven bamboo to create an upstand and then a layer of reclaimed rubble, sand and a thin coating of lime cement is laid.

'For the tents, the architect broke from its use of local materials for the canvas tarpaulin and mosquito net - which creates an inner space where the bed is positioned - which were made in South Africa. Otherwise, they used coconut poles for the main structure and ridge and bamboo, slightly angled, for the sides to keep the canvas upright. Each of the 50mm-diameter supports consists of four pieces of bamboo bound together and an aluminium spike inserted through the top of the bamboo to pierce through the canvas hole. The total cost of construction and furnishings was £120,000.

'Once the next phase of the eco-resort is complete, there may be little need for this prototype camp. But an attraction of the methods used is their reversibility. The structures could be reused or dismantled and the materials used for other buildings. Now that's what I call sustainable development.'