South African architects Justin Cooke and Jessica Cohen received an acknowledgement by the Africa Middle East Regional Holcim Awards 2011 for the design of their sustainable eco-tourism facility, the Oudebos Mountain Camp, located in the Cape Floral Region, a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to 1 600 species of fynbos.

Because this was one of the most critically important reserves in the country, it required an integrated, ecologically-based sustainable. The construction replaces the original six forest huts with five self-catering cabins and a small conference building – lightweight, stilted structures designed to blend into their environment.

In their notation, the Holcim Awards jury pointed out that the strength of the project lay in the consistent implementation of its initial idea to minimise impact on a valuable biosphere and to rehabilitate natural conditions on the previously operated site.

Most challenging was integrating all the biophysical constraints of the site into the project, given that this was a highly protected site. Specialists and expert consultants in, for example, fresh and groundwater, energy, the environment, sanitation and botany were brought in to analyse the terrain and its sensitivity ahead of construction.

The original cabins were either scrapped or donated to the local community, while reusable parts were recycled. Roof sheeting, for example, was retained, while one hut was temporarily converted to a site office and another used as a workshop for the duration of the construction project.

Low-energy systems included solar water heating, a closed combustion fire, gas cooking and LED lighting. It is expected that each unit occupied by 4 adults and 2 children will consume around 2kWh  per day representing 10% or less of the typical electricity use of a middle class South African household.

Other aspects included the sustainable use of water sourced from a mountain stream in summer and the Palmiet River in winter for human consumption. Indigenous plants irrigated with grey water, and mulch basins helped to minimise water consumption along with low-flow showers. The design ensured there was no black water, as South African designed composting toilets were installed, Cooke explained.

Sean Privett’s Fynbos Ecoscapes undertook a botanical assessment ahead of the construction to assess the botanical needs, conservation management and what needed to be cleared. A fire management plan was also drawn up. During the site visits, seeds and other plant material was collected either for propagation or storage at his nursery.

Plants belonging to the Kogelberg biosphere have been reintroduced and Kikuyu and Buffalo grasses around the houses are now being replaced by a mosaic of indigenous species that are not susceptible to fire.

Frames using coconut fibre, among other materials, were built to accommodate planting on some of the roofs and Cooke and Cohen used natural materials wherever possible, recycling bricks and wood from the forest huts that had been on site. Between 80% and 85% of all materials used were sourced in South Africa. In addition, materials also had to be non-toxic and durable.

Dr Donovan Kirkwood, ecological planner in CapeNature’s business development unit, emphasised that the Kogelberg Oudebos development included multiple design features that greatly reduced both construction and operation phase carbon footprint, although many of these features were also associated with lower impact on the site itself, “a key consideration for us as a biodiversity agency”.


Read the full article in the December- January 2012/13 issue. Images: Kobus Kruger