Get shipwrecked – experience beauty and solitude out of this world

by Ofentse Sefolo
Get shipwrecked – experience beauty and solitude out of this world

The Skeleton Coast National Park is officially the least visited of all of Namibia’s parks – just the sort of place then for one of the most evocative lodges you will ever see.

Uniquely designed around the enigmatic shipwrecks that line Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, there is nowhere on the continent quite like Shipwreck Lodge. In fact, there is nowhere on the continent quite like the Skeleton Coast. It is a raw, rugged and impossibly remote slice of African wilderness, where towering dunes and wind-swept plains roll as far as the eye can see, buffeted by the icy Atlantic Ocean.

A joint venture between three companies bravely took on this challenging site to develop the destination of a lifetime. Piet du Plooy, the owner of Trip Travel in Namibia, had long been pursuing a dream to build a lodge in the park and won a concession bid put out by the Ministry of Environment (MET).

Piet unfortunately died before the realisation of the lodge, but his successors, Trip Travel (concession holder and travel agency), Journeys Namibia and Natural Selections (both lodge managers and operators) continued with his legacy.

Located in an unrivalled spot in the Skeleton Coast Central Concession Area, a piece of land between the Hoarusib and Hoanib Rivers, the lodge is within the Skeleton Coast National Park and roughly 45km from Mowe Bay.

The area contains an irreplaceable and vulnerable wildlife habitat for species of the highest conservation importance, including the elephant and the elusive brown hyena. Importantly, it also hosts the only other viable lion population in Namibia outside of Etosha National Park.

This exclusive destination opened its doors in June 2018 and is one of Namibia’s most mystical places to spend the night.

A project with a difference
The challenge was to design a 20-bed luxury lodge in an extremely harsh environment, with almost zero environmental impact and a high level of guest comfort. Potential full removal of the infrastructure at the end of the 25-year concession period had to be kept in mind.

Apart from the guest cabins, main lounge and dining areas, provision had to be made for full on-site staff accommodation and back-of-house services such as kitchen, storage, workshop, laundry, water supply, photovoltaic (PV) power supply and sewer treatment.

Accommodation and dining remoteness
The Skeleton Coast is named after the many foundered vessels littering this treacherous shore. Trying to capture the sense of harshness and desolation that shipwrecked passengers and sailors experienced in earlier times, the timber cabins were designed to evoke broken pieces of ships.

Each of the ten remotely appointed cabins consists of two elements – a bathroom in a pointed bow section facing south into the wind, linked by a small lobby to the bedroom in a piece of hull lying on its side. The beds face a large horizontal window looking out towards the sea and the sunset, so that guests are fully aware of the wind, sand and fog, while being sheltered in the warm wooden structure with its closed stove.

The lounge and restaurant follow a similar style but on a much larger scale, with generous curves to the walls creating an organic spatial quality in harmony with the natural surroundings. Despite the references to wooden boats, the forms are abstracted, with only a few broken spars adding a light-hearted touch to signal the shipwreck theme.

Revolutionary materials and construction
Timber structures were selected to allow for the pre-manufacture of walling panels, to provide resistance to the salt- and moisture-laden coastal air and to ensure ease of demounting if needed in the future. Back-of-house components were customised from shipping containers and transported to site, for the same reasons.

Cabin panels were pre-manufactured in the nearest city, Windhoek, to minimise the site impact, and transported on a twelve-hour journey to the site, to be assembled by a small team of tenacious and dedicated builders. The containers were customised in the small coastal town of Swakopmund, six hours from the site.

The siding was installed by using a revolutionary new Lignoloc nailing system from Beck, whereby timber nails are driven into the wood to fix it to the support frames. This is the first time it has been used under such conditions and its performance will be monitored.

Construction challenges
The remoteness of the site made the logistics extremely difficult (no forgetting your pliers at home!), but the relentless wind which removes the sand around the footings is the most challenging feature of the site. Maintenance is relentlessly ongoing and constant vigilance is needed to ensure that the wind does not undermine the structures, which are fixed to poles bedded deeply into the sand.

Like nothing on earth
Stay at Shipwreck Lodge and do a game drive in search of desert-dwelling fauna, discover the enchanting desert flora (succulents and lichens), sit atop the dunes as the sun sinks below the horizon, spend the day beach-combing for whale bones and debris from centuries of shipwrecks, and marvel at the geologically-remarkable Clay Castles. Really, there is nowhere like it on earth.

Project details: Shipwreck Lodge, Nina Maritz Architects
Project name: Shipwreck Lodge
Location: Skeleton Coast National Park, Namibia
Architect: Nina Maritz Architects
Client/owner: Trip Travel
Project type: Hospitality
Project scope: New construction
Year completed: 2018
Shared by: Miabelle Salzano
Project status: Built
Cost: $2 000 000

For more information on this project, visit http://www.ninamaritzarchitects.com/shipwreck-lodge-skeleton-coast/.

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