Singita Kwitonda sits at the foot of striking volcanoes in the Volcanoes National Park in the northwest of Rwanda. This extraordinary site borders the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. It is primarily recognized as the natural habitat for the critically endangered mountain gorilla and is home to five volcanoes, covered in bamboo and rainforests.
Impact investment and ecotourism have been designated as the cornerstones for a new era of conservation in Rwanda, thanks to a government-led initiative. In partnership with the Rwanda Development Board, the project was a bold undertaking lead by developers Milton Group and renowned hospitality and conservation brand, Singita, to support the conservation of the legendary gorilla population and uplift the local economy.
In keeping with their sensitive approach to their developments in protected areas, the brief from Singita was clear; to design a lodge that embodied Rwanda’s ethos and captured the gentle humbleness of the country.
Designed by GAPP Architects and Urban Designers in collaboration with interior designers HK Studio and Cecile & Boyd, the lodge has eight luxury guest suites, and an exclusive four-suite villa, Kataza House. After years of working together for this luxury brand, the design team has developed an absolute respect for the wilderness, aligned with Singita’s generosity of spirit, which lead them to generate contextually appropriate and imaginative solutions for all aspects of the project.
The lodge is made up of a collection of small buildings laid out along the natural contours of the ground to ensure minimal impact on the land. Placement of buildings was informed by the distinctive character of the site, the natural flow of the contours and watercourses, the views, and the prominence of the volcanoes. All buildings are single storey structures allowing the volcanoes to dominate.
The design aesthetic was inspired by local culture, workmanship, and traditional Rwandan architectural technologies, combined with more contemporary influences to create a unique but fitting language that is sensitive to its context. A large percentage of the construction spend stayed within the local community. By promoting the use of locally available materials, more than 500 local artisans and builders were involved in the project, crafting lava rock walls, impressive woven ceilings, and hand-fired terracotta brickwork pods, ensuring an authentic translation of local culture into key elements, while also adding a significant boost to local employment and businesses.
The team searched all corners of the country to uncover the extraordinary talent of the local population. Many of the design materials were tried, evaluated, abandoned, or retried until workable solutions were found. It required an enormous amount of resolve, building up and chipping away at ideas until they came together. Most gratifying and humbling, was working together with the local weavers to produce wonderfully innovative ceiling panels, through inspiring the invention of new techniques that were equally authentic, but with a more contemporary spin.
Although perched above the ground, the buildings have a sense of being connected to the landscape, mainly through the introduction of wide stone wall extensions that project beyond the building envelope and have reference to the existing stone water channels of the site. Buildings are made up of combinations of green-roofed, cabin-like structures, set alongside lighter glazed-wall veranda-like elements. Organically shaped brick-clad pods provide a sculptural, vertical accent reminiscent of the volcanoes, their curved edges providing softness to the built form. A detail of staggered, projecting bricks creates a crystallising effect to the vertical elements as shadows fall across the pod surfaces.
Scale and proportion were important devices used to prevent the new buildings from appearing diminutive next to the volcanoes. Striking vertical brick-pod elements contrast with and offset the low-lying stone buildings. Over-scaled projecting windows allow for perfect framing of the volcanoes from all guest areas while providing welcoming window seats for guests to immerse themselves in the setting. All elements combine to create a unique and richly textured architectural language that is true to place.
Bold, striking interiors by HK Studio, combined with Cécile & Boyd’s vibrant color palette of lava black, khaki green, and blazing orange, provide an earthy sophistication to the interiors that is innately African.
Landscape, architecture, engineering, and interiors were all developed in accordance with a precise set of environmentally responsible requirements. Driven by the One Planet Living Framework, all aspects of the design were interrogated by a specialized consultant team to provide holistic sustainable solutions at all levels.
Understanding and restoring the hydrological functioning was crucial as part of the effort to repair the land. The reforestation operation used 250,000 plants, all of which were purchased locally. A permanent nursery was also established on site for the duration of the construction project as well as future replanting efforts.
Through powerful collaborative effort, Singita Kwitonda has achieved exactly what it set out to do and should be seen as inspiration to others wishing to make a positive impact on the planet.