Tembo Tembo Lodge
Size: 650 m²
Completed: December 2022
Location: Elephant Point Private Reserve, Kruger National Park, South Africa
Nestled within the pristine wilderness of Elephant Point private reserve (part of the Legacy Hotel group) alongside the majestic Sabie River, Tembo Tembo Lodge is a stunning architectural masterpiece that seamlessly blends with the natural environment. With its solid rammed earth walls, natural interiors, and unobstructed views of Kruger National Park, this luxurious retreat offers an unforgettable bush experience in true South African safari style.
Site and brief
The site called for a building that would be in harmony with its natural surroundings rather than stand out and overpower the bush. The client’s brief was to create a uniquely architectural lodge that would marry an authentic bush experience with luxury comfort levels and a contemporary design aesthetic. The client wished for us to create a user-friendly space that a family could enjoy as a ‘home away from home’, whilst still being a contemporary experience. As such, we were tasked to create something different from the other offerings in the area.
The lodge is a beautiful rammed earth structure designed by Nicholas Plewman Architects, with interior design by Paris-based Studio Asaï and landscape architecture by GREENinc. The architect conceptually designed the house as a series of solid boxes linked by open, glazed spaces. The solid ‘boxes’ house the more private, retreating spaces (such as the bedrooms, study area, and scullery), while the very lightweight, glazed spaces form the main communal living area (the lounge and open-plan kitchen), finally opening onto the deep terraces.
The main living area is enclosed by large cavity sliders that, when opened, disappear completely into the structure. This allows the house to open up to the outdoors, inviting the bush right into the living room.
The bedrooms, study, and lobby housed in the rammed earth boxes, become cool, peaceful spaces sheltered from the intense heat of the area by the thermal massing of the rammed earth. With large sliding doors set in deep reveals, these spaces become almost like viewing hides, allowing guests to view the wildlife from the comfort of their own bedroom.
Rammed earth walls
Rammed earth was chosen as the main building material due to both its practical and aesthetic properties. As a natural material, rammed earth speaks to the connection between the house and the surrounding bush. The earth used was sourced from land very near the site, meaning the house is built from the same material it stands on. Evoking pictures of termite mounds, traditional mud building technologies, and slowly eroded river banks, Tembo Tembo is a nod to strong landmarks of the bush.
Furthermore, rammed earth also has a practical function in its effective thermal performance. The walls, which are all at least 350 mm thick, create a thermal massing effect that allows the house to regulate its internal temperature naturally.
As with any building process there were challenges to be faced. The building process was interrupted by the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, and continued to be disrupted throughout the remainder of the project. This contributed to a particularly long construction period as well as causing budget concerns with sudden increases in building materials.
We also had technical challenges to overcome. Tembo Tembo Lodge aimed to achieve a meticulous level of detail and finish, involving some elements of great technicality and precision. Rammed earth, being a completely natural material, has a certain level of unpredictability. In rammed earth walls, there will often be slight variations in thickness and straightness, especially in longer sections of wall. While this is the beauty of rammed earth, we had challenges in marrying this technology with some of the more precision elements, such as the large-scale cavity sliders.
Overall, the project construction was a challenging process, but one we were able to learn a lot from. We had an amazing team to work with who were all eager to find solutions and work together to create a building that is completely unique and pushes the boundaries of the rammed earth materials in its level of precision and detailing.
The landscape is subtle and restrained. Using locally indigenous plants only — mainly large container-grown trees and carefully-selected grasses, but also some bulbs and flowering plants — the landscape nestles the lodge comfortably into the surrounding bushveld. Polished concrete steps were designed to lead to the front door, matching the interior floors, while sand was used for the driveway and pathways for low impact, both visually and environmentally.
MEET THE TEAM
Client: Donald Kramer
Architect: Nicholas Plewman Architects + Associates
Interior designer: Studio Asaï
Landscape architect: GREENinc Landscape Architects
Main contractor: Nick Fry Construction
Rammed earth specialist: Simply Sustainable