Nyungwe Forest Lodge is Rwanda’s only five-star accommodation outside of the city. It within a working tea plantation perched on the very edge of the ancient Nyungwe forest. Completed in 2010, the lodge attained Green Leaf Environmental Standard green status for 2010/11. This was deemed the most appropriate certification for rural African conditions.
Nyungwe is owned an operated by investment company Dubai World Africa. Nick Webb, MD, says the visitor profile includes European or American travellers and expatriates working in East Africa, Rwandese nationals and corporate clients from Kigali. It is also a retreat for celebrities and VIPs.
EarthQuest management consultant Allister Starke says the objective was to rehabilitate the forest edge and existing tea plantation around the lodge buildings. The lodge blends into the forest by using indigenous plant material, and plant palette combinations inspired by the natural forest ecology.
“It was a real honour to work on this project. We felt obliged to bring out the best of this stunning land, but also, with the difficult history, we felt the need to do something really special for Rwanda. It was unlike any project I have ever worked on,” explains M2K Associate Architect Mark Treon.
The major attraction of the site – its remote location – was also the biggest obstacle before and during construction. Sustainable sourcing of materials and skills was a great challenge, because there was simply no industry to draw from in Rwanda.
Treon explains that the major guiding principle was to “reduce need”, be that the need for materials during the construction phase, or for water and energy during eventual operation.
Being situated at a remote location in Africa also meant that complicated techniques were not always the best option. The lack of choice often drives innovations that are more simple, but effective. Design cues came from local materials and methods, influencing the building’s roof typology and overhangs, wall construction, and the use of porches and verandas.
“This is a very special site – the juxtaposition of the forest and the tea plantation highlights the biophysical and social environments – and we had to do right by the environment,” says Chand Environmental founder Sadia Chand.
Chand Environmental Consultants were brought in at the very start, and a baseline study of the area was conducted before any construction began. Guidelines for design included consideration of water supply, energy supply, waste management, and management of the gardens and tea plantation. Criteria for building principles were also developed, as well as guidelines for the operation of the lodge.
Chand Environmental officer Ingrid Eggert explains that environmental education of the contractors on site was a high priority, as many workers had never worked according to environmental specifications before.
A preferential procurement policy is in place and the lodge endeavours to source goods and services from within Rwanda. Fruit and vegetables are sourced from local farmers and markets, while the lodge gift store includes hand made ceramics, imigongo panels and rattan and grass weaves from artists and crafters in the region.
Nyungwe Forest Lodge scooped an environmental landscape work award of excellence from the South African Landscapers Institute (SALI) in 2010.
* The full article is featured in the April – May 2013 issue.