Andersson’s Camp is a new 40 bed middle-level tented camp on Ongava reserve, already containing Little Ongava, Ongava Lodge, and Ongava Tented Camp. Conceived by Wilderness Safaris under their parallel branded “Safari Adventure Company”, it is aimed at tourists on a stricter budget than those staying in the more upmarket establishments. It will be expanded to 80 beds in future. Apart from the 40 tents, management staff & guides accommodation, a kitchen and restaurant, reception, service areas and a staff village had to be constructed.
CONTEXT – ENVIRONMENT& TOURISM
Ongava consists of 4 farms bordering the south boundary of Etosha National Park, just east of the Andersson’s Gate to the park. The landscape consists of typical mopane scrub savannah on very white soil, mainly calcrete, with the well-known Ongava “koppies” forming an east-west spine in the landscape. Very hot and dusty early summers are relieved by monsoon-type rainy seasons, with a dry and pleasant winter following. The landscape transforms radically with the change in seasons, mainly due to the colour changes in the mopane leaves.
Nowadays tourism can be said to be the mainstay of environmental conservation in Namibia. Without the income from tourism, it would be impossible to protect such vast tracts of land with its diversity of life. However, the impact of large numbers of tourists can also be detrimental to the environment, with construction, transport and waste all damaging the very environment we are trying to protect.
With Andersson’s Camp, we wanted to go a step further and aim for environmental sustainability in the construction of the camp from the start. Using the theme ‘’Sustainability – the Last Frontier’’, as a rallying cry to link up with the legacy of frontier exploration left by Swedish missionary-trader-explorer Charles John Andersson, Andersson’s camp is unique in Namibia in its approach to date.
Instead of earmarking a beautifully intact piece of nature for development, the derelict farmstead of Leeupoort was decided on as the site for the new camp. Its immediate environment was severely degraded by decades of cattle farming and environmental neglect, thus offering the opportunity to rehabilitate an existing Brownfield site, instead of impacting on a Greenfield one.
The three R’s of environmental sustainability (Reduce, Re-use, and Re-cycle) helped guide decisions made as to the design and construction. At the same time, the aesthetics of the design and the level of luxury had to be considered carefully, as the designated tourist market would not stand for uncomfortable and ugly facilities. This project attempted to reconcile these seemingly opposite intentions, and see the environmental sustainability as a design opportunity, rather than a problem.
RESTAURANT & RECEPTION
To transform the rather nondescript 1960’s derelict farmhouse, we wrapped it in a spacious verandah and clad the building with the abundant limestone on the site, in the form of no-cement gabions. (Low cement use was also a key principle of the project, as cement is one of the building materials with the highest embodied energy and high amounts of toxic by-products).
The re-use of the existing farmhouse and outbuildings meant that far less new building materials were used than a new structure would have required. This saved on the “embodied” energy, or energy lost in the production of building materials.
The image of the traditional farmhouse was further strengthened with the conceptualising of the reception area as a “trading store”, in line with the original occupation of Charles John Andersson. This “store” is also flanked by verandas on two sides.
The site layout did not allow for conventional separate back-of-house access, so a gabion ring wall was built around the service area. Guests can now freely move around the farmhouse without contact with the kitchen and laundry.
The old farmstead was approached from the main Ongava road to the north with the road swinging around to the east of the building. On the south and east side, the house looks out on a cleared area, almost an omuramba, that runs below quite large mopane trees. This area tends to flood in the rains, and also offered the opportunity to watch game approaching a waterhole at a distance. It was thus decided to place the tents in two circles to the north and west side, in amongst the denser mopane-terminalia-sickle bush scrub. This assisted in achieving a greater degree of privacy between the tents, but required the raising of the decks by at least 1 m above ground in order to facilitate some view over the surroundings. By choosing a non-standard golden khaki for the canvas, the tents still blend in with the environment. The last few 100 metres of the road had to be relocated to the northwest, in order to avoid the northern tents, but also to approach the farmhouse from a more convenient point for deliveries and access to the staff village on the northwest side.
The design of the visitor’s tent is based on a standard commercially available tent, with a custom designed bathroom added to one side. Unlike the conventional entrance off the front deck, it was decided to enter from the side, to allow the deck to protrude through the perimeter fence and provide an unobstructed view of the landscape.
Reversible construction was used for the tents – all the tent poles are bedded in gabions (stones in wire baskets) and no cement was used. This means that should requirements change in future, the tents can be dismantled without leaving building rubble or scarring the landscape.
The raised decks from timber, instead of concrete floors, also helped to reduce the footprint and impact on the land.
The bathroom nestles within a curved gabion screen wall, with an old-fashioned tin bath as shower tray and the salvaged basin within a galvanised counter like a traditional wash stand. The toilet cubicle is cladded in corrugated iron, to re-construct the pioneer feel of old mining towns and shanties.
Ongava lodge was renovated just before the construction of this camp, and large amounts of building material was salvaged and re-used in Andersson, namely doors, windows, washbasins, taps and furniture. This meant that in stead of wasting old materials, a new purpose was found for them, saving on their embodied energy as well.
This also fitted in well with the theme of Andersson’s as that of an explorer and trader’s camp, where nothing useful was thrown away, mixed in with an old farmstead. This farming-explorer vernacular constituted an early form of “zero waste”.
The management house, senior staff & guides accommodation are all based on the basic tent design, with the senior staff and guides housed in salvaged tents from the renovation of the Ongava Tented Camp. The intention with this is that senior staff experience the same situation as the guests and can quickly respond if there are unsatisfactory conditions.
An existing row of staff rooms to the northwest was renovated and expanded for the staff village. The traditional row was re-configured into a courtyard each for junior and senior staff, and verandas added to the front doors of each room, to create a shaded private space along the edge of the communal courtyard. A large communal kitchen-dining room was added, with a separate verandah to the north, facing away from the bedrooms, to reduce the impact of noise on the rest of the staff.
No trees were removed during construction of the tents, as each was placed carefully between the large trees. Some had to be pruned to allow the installation of the frame, but the local mopane trees are extremely well adapted to this and were already sprouting at the end of construction. These trees are traditionally “coppiced” in the rural areas, especially around Etosha, where they provide valuable firewood and building material for local people, but easily grow again from the stumps.
All the thin timber poles (“latte”) have been sourced from the Mopane on the reserve. Due to the many years of overgrazing from cattle-farming, mopane has now become invasive, and competes with the grasslands. Using the mopane latte provided a use for the produce of the bush-clearing programme.
The old farmstead surroundings had been severely compacted by cattle movement and vehicle in its years as a farmstead. As a result, the vegetation in front of the outbuildings and around the dam had been eradicated. To counteract this, paths were restricted to certain routes and the remainder is being rehabilitated. This is done by placing dead thorn branches along edges. These trap windblown seeds and fertile sand at their base, and allow faster germination in the shade of the branches.
There were a few exotic trees and weeds around the farmhouse, but these were removed and only indigenous plants retained. These require no artificial watering, and provide nesting sites and food for local birds, insects, small mammals and reptiles like geckos. Further landscaping will also be done only with indigenous plants.
The grey water produced by each tent from showers and basins, is separated from the sewage system and used as irrigation on the vicinity to assist with rehabilitation of the natural environment.
The pool was restored from the farm-houses original reservoir, and the small surface area combined with depth reduces evaporation as a water saving measure. Being partially shaded also reduces evaporation.
Other water saving measures include the dual flush buttons on the toilets, and the plugs for the shower basins. If guests put the plug in when they shower, they quickly see how much water they use. By turning down the shower a little, visitors can shower as long as usual, but using a lot less water.
COOLING & HEATING
As it can get extremely hot in the area, and air-conditioning is both environmentally unfriendly and impractical for tents, passive design principles were applied to make people more comfortable. The tents have a triple layer – a canvas inner, the flysheet, and a shade net above. The air circulation between the two inner layers and the shading results in a much cooler tent than the conventional double layer. In addition, the openings and windows on all 4 sides of the tents, allow cross ventilation of the smallest breeze, to cool the inside.
The toilet cubicle is considerably cooler than the rest of the tent, as the stones create thermal mass that soaks up the heat. This heat is dissipated during the night, and because of the holes between the stones, gets transported to the outside.
People also notice the effect of the thermal mass at the farmhouse and trading store, which had been wrapped in a protective “blanket” of stone gabions. This not only cools the public spaces, but also the kitchen and service areas, making them far more comfortable to work in than the conventional lodge kitchen. Louvered shutters to the windows also allow in cool breezes while shading the interiors from glare.
At the kitchen, a traditional farm cooler that uses charcoal and water to provide evaporative cooling is used to store beverages. This reduces the power required by the coolers.
Solar water heaters were used instead of electrically powered water heaters for tents, kitchen and laundry. As heating elements are the most power-hungry appliances, large amounts of energy are saved.
MATERIALS AND CONSTRUCTION
The reed mat ceilings at the farmhouse and trading store follow a traditional system, and uses invasive reeds from riverbeds in the Omaruru area. This not only helps with clearing the reeds from clogging watercourses and provides an attractive finish, but also acts as roof insulation due to the air trapped in the reed stalk. In addition, local unskilled people are given work through the cutting and making of the mats.
To increase the insulation effects of the reed ceilings, a layer of “Isotherm” insulation was installed below the roof sheeting, which can be seen peeping out here and there. This green polyester blanket is made in South Africa from recycled plastic bottles.
All the light fittings, except the main toilets, have been locally made with mainly recycled material.
Natural paints have been used on the walls and doors, to avoid the emissions of volatile organic compounds, or VOC’s, that are harmful to people and the environment.
The bulk of the furniture was custom-designed for the project, with chunky beds, tables and benches constructed from used scaffold planks