WORDS Adele de Lange PHOTOS Dook PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes
The owners of Fifty Seven Waterberg in the heart of the Waterberg biosphere had a specific vision in mind for the expansion of their private game lodge.
Once you’ve had the elephants come over to sip from your private splash pool, going out on safari will never be quite the same. “We wanted to give our visitors something they hadn’t experienced before,” says Quintin Wiehahn of the property he co-owns in the greater Welgevonden Game Reserve. “We wanted to bring untamed Africa to them; to let them become a part of nature rather than being spectators from a distance.”
Having worked with several award-winning architects in the past, the Wiehahns knew that Johan Wentzel and Greté van As of W Design Architecture Studio would be the right team to realise their vision. “Greté and Johan’s signature ‘Love living in Africa’ style was the perfect match for the immersive experience we had in mind,” says Quintin.
Following this concept through to the design of the guest suites, the architectural style breaks away from traditional stone-and-thatch game lodge architecture with sleek structures of steel, glass and concrete that blend into the indigenous landscape.
“When surrounded by so much natural beauty, the design is not about the building, but about what you can see from inside the building,” says Johan. “We wanted visitors to make a personal and emotional connection with nature, with the building being simply a ‘sheltered viewing platform’ from which to experience the ever-changing elements and the surrounding wildlife.”
The sensory immersion starts the minute you leave the main lodge, with a guided nature walk to your suite along a meandering concrete path that floats lightly over indigenous shrubbery. It leads towards an unassuming stone structure in the distance, a refined version of the rock-strewn outcroppings scattered along the way. “We spent days scouting the most scenic routes to find the perfect spot for each suite,” Johan recalls. As you enter the suite, the seemingly solid mass turns into a lightweight floating structure of steel, glass and wood, allowing nature to take centre stage and fill the space from floor to ceiling, with breathtaking views all around.
“Apart from the remoteness of the location, our biggest challenge was the short construction period we had to deliver by,” Johan says. Inspired by the layered composition of the Waterberg Mountains in the distance, the architects designed the suites to be constructed in a similar layered fashion. “This way, the bulk of the manufacturing could happen off-site to enable speedy assembly on site to save us time.” Simplifying the process even further, materials were left in their natural, “unfinished” state. “We wanted to celebrate the variety of textures, and the subtle monochrome hues created by their raw tones,” says Greté.
Renowned for their attention to detail, trademark precision planning and a very hands-on approach, the architects steered the entire project team unerringly towards their common goal. “Even when an elephant herd blocked the access road for half a day, our incredible contractors took things in their stride,” Johan says, recalling fondly the experience of working with the father-and-son team at Frans Smith Building Services.
W Design Architecture Studio has won a 2019-2020 International Property Award for Fifty Seven Waterberg.
For more information, visit 57waterberg.com.
One lucky VISI reader will win a two-night stay for two adults in a Luxury Unit at Fifty Seven Waterberg, worth R22 000. This competition closes at midnight on 15 October 2020. Enter here.