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Okavango Delta gets sustainable, Pangolin-inspired camp

Published at: 23 February 2016



One of the world’s most endangered animals informed the design of Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge - a luxury eco-camp in Botswana’s beautiful World Heritage Site

In the Okavango Delta the remarkable pangolin, which is under threat of extinction from Illegal trade in South Asia and Africa, has inspired the design of a new 100% off grid bush camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The curvaceous all wooden structure, designed by Nicholas Plewman Architects – who specialize in bush lodges and camps, comes about more than 17 years after the first camp was built in that area which Plewman also designed.

“I had been waiting for the last 17 years, wondering how I would rebuild the lodge,” he says of the Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge. “I returned to the site for the first time since the lodge was completed. We came up with two leitmotifs as a starting point for the design: one was the weaver’s nest, the other was the ever- elusive pangolin” Plewman said in an interview recently.

Due to the site’s World Heritage Site listing in 2014 and new regulations set by Botswana’s government the new structure Plewman was responsible for needed to be significantly low-impact. This meant that Plewman needed to collaborate with a highly skilled project team that could realise this complex building on a site over 100km from the nearest town. “The structural engineers, De Villiers Sheard, had significant experience in a number of environmental projects and were comfortable with complex designs made from local materials. Similarly, we turned to New Southern Energy, who did a sterling job on the building’s alternative energy technologies.”

The final installation sees a large 100kWp ground mounted polycrystalline solar array providing the bulk of the lodge’s energy demands, with two 150kVa diesel generators relegated to producing a maximum 30% of the lodge’s power. Because the site is 100% off-grid, this normally results in most power being produced by a diesel generator. “This made it easy to justify the large initial outlay for solar energy,” says Plewman. “The one thing you’ve got is sun, and so it has to be solar...The system will pay itself back within three years. We also implemented every kind of power saving device, for example all the lighting is latest technology LED lighting.” Misae Furugori, an associate at Michaelis Boyd, says the bedrooms were designed with cross ventilation in mind. The client also asked for air-conditioning so they designed units to cool bedroom areas, powered only by solar energy. “The air-conditioners are run from the normal power supply of the lodge, which is fed from the integrated PV solar-battery-generator system.” He says water is sourced from boreholes near the lodge and heated, mainly by solar power, using evacuated tube technology. This is backed up by heat pumps, which run for one to two hours per day. Water is stored in a central tank and a highly insulated ring main provides hot water on demand to lodge visitors. There are two supply loops; the longest is just over a kilometre. Plewman says the insulation ensures the temperature drop between the furthest unit and the generator unit is only 1.5ºC.

To read more about the project, click here.

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