WORDS Tracy Greenwood PHOTOS AND PRODUCTION Mark Serra
A well-designed safari lodge should reinforce the design story of a place without attempting to reinvent it; and it should tread lightly on the earth – disrupting quietly and without causing harm. As it is at Silvan Safari.
In each of the six pods – or suites – that make up the accommodation at Silvan Safari in Sabi Sand Game Reserve you will find a copy of Thoreau and the Language of Trees by Richard Higgins, with a foreword by Robert D Richardson. American naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote prolifically about trees during his lifetime. “He looked at trees every day. He observed their shape, colour, texture and stance on his daily walks. His eye took in all – root, trunk, bark and branch, crown, leaf, blossom and cone,” Richardson writes.
Trees are such an integral part of the Silvan experience that the presence of the book in each pod is fitting and in keeping with the names given to each suite: Knobthorn, Kierie Klapper, Cassia, Blue Guarri, Tree Wisteria and Leadwood, indigenous trees around which the suites have been woven in an architectural tapestry, a little dance between the manmade structures and the natural world.
The brief,” says architect Marcus Smit of Marcus Smit Jacobs Architects in Somerset West, “was to design a compact high-end lodge with a fresh take on lodge architecture, challenging the norm of game lodges. We interpreted typical game lodges to include the use of rustic materials, pitched thatched roofs, poles, tree stumps and organic shapes. The construction had to be sensitive to the site, and the design had to fit in with the surroundings.”
The contrast between the angular buildings and the natural environment makes the majestic trees on the site stand out. “Another important aspect is the dark colours we used, which make the buildings disappear into the shadows,” says Marcus. “Scale played an important role, too – and even though the floor level had to be raised to allow for the river flood line, the buildings were kept as low as possible. In time, the trees will hide the buildings even more.”
The brief from owners David Ryan and Charl Brink was to preserve the trees on the site. “Charl has a thorough knowledge of the trees in the area and we worked tirelessly with an environmental consultant to preserve as many of them as we could, even the saplings,” says Marcus. The team went to great lengths to mark out buildings, reposition them where necessary and redesign some of the deck areas to accommodate low branches, bushes and existing game paths.
“The magnificence of the surroundings is paramount,” says interiors guru Jacqui Hunter of Imagenius Interiors. “We wanted to accentuate that beauty, not compete with it.”
And accentuate it she did, creating a sense of harmony and understated elegance that extends throughout the private and public areas, starting off with the majestic wall of stone that has a small aperture of an entrance through which visitors are ushered onto the premises.
After all, in the contemplative words of Thoreau, “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”