WORDS Amelia Brown PHOTOS Dook
Geometric steel juxtaposes organic desert rock in the striking upgrade of this luxury lodge in Sossusvlei.
It takes a singular vision to renovate an existing property significantly yet sensitively – to make an original statement while retaining as much of the existing structure as possible.
To expand – yet maintain – the footprint while prioritising sustainability is especially challenging when the property happens to be located not just in Namibia’s remoteness, but in the world’s oldest desert. And when the brief is a total overhaul, as was the case with &Beyond’s Sossusvlei Desert Lodge – architecture, interiors and guest experience – it takes a team versed in the rigours of a certain type of multilayered hospitality that goes beyond quality linen. It requires a team that appreciates the tangible and intangible aspects of luxury; that knows how to offer guests an immersive experience.
After two decades at the helm of their award-winning multidisciplinary design agency Fox Browne Creative, Debra Fox and Chris Browne are specialists in this subtle alchemy. They collaborated with architect Jack Alexander, and worked with the existing buildings, constructed in the mid-1990s, to create something contemporary yet timeless and appropriate to the context.
The landscape was the steadfast focus in terms of inspiration, as well as minimising impact and maximising the guest experience. The lodge sits on a 12 715-hectare sprawl of desert wilderness that encompasses a variety of habitats and awe-inspiring vistas, from rocky mountains and gravel plains to vegetative, petrified and sandy dunes.
The team began by researching the area’s topography on Google Earth and were struck by how, unlike many other places in the world, there are no obstructions, trees, rocks or buildings. The only shadows are cast by dunes.
The lodge’s most defining feature – and a counterpoint to its burrow-like rock-wall curves – are the striking steel shades. “We tried to imitate nature in the architecture, and mirror the way in which the enormous dunes rise from the flat desert landscape,” Jack explains. The similarity is best illustrated at dawn and dusk, when the angular steel sails are in silhouette. “Much like life in the desert, I wanted the buildings to have different day- and night-time personalities,” he adds. At night, they’re illuminated from below by red light, chosen not for dramatic effect, but rather to avoid light pollution – the property borders the NamibRand Nature Reserve, Africa’s only International Dark Sky Reserve.
The night sky, so densely packed with stars here, was the reference for the laser-cut pattern in the shades. Working with an astronomer and studying astrological charts from the area resulted in a two-dimensional celestial design. The shades made it possible to use floor-to-ceiling glass on three of the walls to maximise the magnificent views. They work throughout the day, providing a shield from the harsh sun and filtering light into the main area. In the evening, they prevent light from the lodge disrupting stargazing from the observatory.
When guests are not out exploring the magnificent surroundings, there is much to be seen at the lodge. You’d be forgiven for not leaving your room, with a pool positioned to reflect the sunrise and sunset, an ample, stylishly appointed lounge area, a butler hatch to deliver an early-morning cappuccino, and a retractable skylight for in-bed stargazing.
“Solitude, silence and space are a rare commodity. This destination offers those qualities in abundance,” says Debra. “We hope guests feel instantly at peace as they arrive, that time slows down for them, and that our design allows them to connect with the landscape and reconnect with themselves.”