Honouring the tribe: &Beyond Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge celebrated for Extraordinary Design - We Are Africa

Honouring the tribe: &Beyond Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge celebrated for Extraordinary Design

The We Are Africa Awards returned in honour of the tribe that made achievements across four unique categories in African travel over the last 3 years. The Awards Ceremony was celebrated on the opening night of We Are Africa 2023.

One of the four categories was Extraordinary Design; Whether it’s a show-stopping art installation, interior overhaul, or pace-setting new build, this is for the design elevating how Africa is perceived internationally and changing the look of modern Africa.

We received incredible entries from the tribe making it difficult to narrow down to just 6 shortlisted nominations per category. Once our shortlist was established we asked our esteemed media to vote for their winner and runner-up in each category.

&Beyond’s Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge walked away with the We Are Africa 2023 Extraordinary Design award!

Here is your We Are Africa Awards 2023 Shortlist for Extraordinary Design: 

&Beyond Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge wins Extraordinary Design at the We Are Africa 2023 Awards

ORC Discovery Centre Ongava Game Reserve

Cape Cadogan & Upper Union Restaurant MORE Family Collection

The Art Rug Project Molori Safari

Chisa Busanga Camp Chisa Busanga

Lolebezi African Bush Camps

Read each shortlisted nomination by clicking here

Situated on an offshoot of the Grumeti River, in the remote western reaches of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the original &Beyond Grumeti Serengeti River Camp was built by Arches Safaris in the early 1990s, comprising ten safari tents, and two small thatch-roofed buildings, all sited on heavy concrete bases. After two cosmetic refurbishments over the course of its lifetime, plus the flooding of the lodge when the Grumeti River burst its banks, it was time for something new. Seeking to redefine the traditional ‘safari’ concept in a luxurious and contemporary manner with a far lighter and more refined touch, while remaining mindful of the authentic rustic and tactile nature of the previous camp, the lodge underwent an extensive redesign resulting in the creation of &Beyond Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge.

Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge on the Oxbow River

Utilising the existing footprint of the old lodge structures, enhanced by its exceptional location, which is quite unusual in the Serengeti where there are very few lodges with a riverside setting, the redesign reflects both the surrounding natural landscape and the Serengeti’s cultural context and history. The architectural design philosophy of the new lodge draws inspiration from the nomadic pastoral Maasai ‘Manyattas’ that proliferate across the plains of the Serengeti’s Western Corridor, the circular ‘swoop’ of the iconic Maasai beaded necklace as well as the Great Lakes of the broader region, whilst simultaneously paying tribute to the lodge’s distinctive position along the natural arc of the river bend.

Working in remote, sensitive locations like the Serengeti, &Beyond believe they have a responsibility to work with natural, locally sourced and environmentally sustainable materials. This not only means that the lodges they create are inherently responsive to their environment, but that they almost appear to subtly emerge from the landscape itself. This is especially true of &Beyond Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge, where not only the colour palette and the building’s materials but the very concept behind the lodge has been drawn directly from its surroundings.

The buildings are constructed from a light gauge steel frame, clad in natural canvas and sustainably sourced local hardwood. This design approach stages a dialogue between the authenticity of traditional, vernacular buildings and the longevity and robustness of contemporary construction materials and techniques, allowing for the buildings to float over the landscape without the need for heavy concrete foundations and concrete slabs.

The interior design and the loose furnishings draw on the circular swoop of the iconic Maasai beaded necklace as a reference.

It is simultaneously reaffirming the intention to respect the natural landscape and touch the earth lightly, whilst also dealing with the practical concern surrounding any future flooding. With the shores of Lake Victoria less than 50 km (30 mi) away, the lodge’s vibrant, sophisticated interior design serves to celebrate and capture the spirit of the Great Lakes region of central Africa and its local craftsmanship, providing an innovative approach to responsible travel.

Bright, boldly patterned ‘kanga’ and ‘kitenge’ fabrics worn by the women in the villages, locally hand-blown glass light installations, existing stone walls and the vibrant colours of the fishing communities surrounding Lake Victoria are featured throughout. The purple-grey tones of hippo hide have also influenced some of the textile choices, creating a calm yet detailed interior while the circular simplicity of the Bunda pot has also played a role in the styling and composition of original, nature-inspired furniture pieces for the lodge. The redesign also incorporates brand-new technology for power generation and water saving, while still providing magnificent riverside views.

With luxury sustainability at its core, &Beyond’s design objective was to use the existing lodge footprint of Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge, re-imagining the traditional safari ‘tented lodge’ concept in an exciting and contemporary way that expanded the entire guest offering, whilst still using traditional canvas, lightweight structural elements and local craftsmanship to create a more refined and environmentally responsible design.

The redesign of &Beyond Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge, shaped around the existing footprint of the original lodge structures, presented the ideal opportunity to integrate a sustainability focus from the outset, without compromising the guest experience. The result was the creation of &Beyond Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge; a lodge reborn sensitive to its setting, inherently sustainable and deeply luxurious with an authentic sense of place, whilst providing an &Beyond experience that is unrivalled.

Guests suites are built on the original foundation clad in natural canvas and sustainably sourced local hardwood.

Through this unique design, &Beyond brought originality to the artistry, craftsmanship and attention to detail of &Beyond Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge, inherently working with the natural landscape in a meaningful and innovative way using the steel frame and locally sourced construction materials. The buildings harness a variety of environmentally sustainable measures such as solar power production and low-energy fittings.

However, the most innovative aspect of this lodge is truly its relationship with the Serengeti itself. A sense of luxury can be found in the details of the interiors. Beautiful textures are creatively worked into deeply comfortable furnishings and bespoke, often hand-made, fittings. The guest experience is centred on the views over the oxbow loop of the river. All spaces are light, airy and generously proportioned.

The internal skeleton provided by the lightweight steel frames allowed the structure to achieve greater spans and therefore a bigger internal volume, with taller doors and openings providing more natural light throughout. The canvas, banana fibre and hardwood cladding adds a layer of richness and texture to this otherwise utilitarian steel frame. This all serves to create a series of lodge buildings that are practical, sensitive to their setting, inherently spacious and deeply luxurious.

Wherever possible, pieces from the original lodge were upcycled or repurposed and the use of locally produced recycled glass features as a strong design element alongside artefacts made by the talented Tanzanian craftspeople. The flow of movement through the guest areas has also been improved by creating a series of unified spaces under a single roof, including larger yet understated dining and sitting rooms.

The guest area pavilion at Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge

The dramatic, sweeping arc of the guest area pavilion, with the circular bar a prominent and iconic feature, set amongst the indigenous trees and against the banks of this bow in the Grumeti River is unique to the Serengeti region. All these spaces are well protected and shielded against inclement weather, while still providing magnificent riverside views.

The previous camp’s traditional canvas safari tents have also been reinterpreted in a way that has allowed them to evolve into a more luxurious, sustainable offering. By changing the layout, increasing the footprint and creating new, contemporary canvas suites, more light has been created along with space and a sense of luxury, connecting guests directly to the bow in the river and surrounding landscapes.

More than doubled in size, the lodge’s refurbished guest suites are now flat-roofed light-gauge steel frame structures, with canvas walls and banana fibre ceilings featuring colourful ‘kanga’ and ‘kitenge’ fabrics and slatted ‘mukwa’ detailing throughout. All suites now incorporate a bath as well as a shower and a plunge pool, two elements that its predecessor did not have. The indoor shower has been constructed in such a way that it too offers riverside views, creating the illusion of showering in nature when all the screens are open.

Humbled to be operating in remote and sensitive locations like the Serengeti, ensuring to fulfil their innate responsibility to work with natural, locally sourced and environmentally sustainable materials and designing a lodge where sustainability and luxury go hand-in-hand; &Beyond also invested approximately USD 700 000 in specific energy-saving elements, which include:

  • Solar Power: The lodge has a 130-kWh solar power system, designed in collaboration with renewable-energy partner New South Energy (NSE), which enables the lodge to run on 80% renewable energy. All back-of-house roof space (such as staff accommodation) is used for solar panels.
  • Energy Saving: All the previous hot water systems have been replaced with new, energy-efficient water heating systems, and LED low-energy fittings have been used throughout.
  • Water Management and Measurement: Wastewater from the laundry is recycled and used for activities such as washing the safari vehicles. This is enabled by an underground water-treatment system. 10,000 litre capacity rainwater collection tanks have been installed at every suite to harvest water from the roofs, which is treated and recycled to re-fill the private plunge pools, wash the various wooden deck areas and irrigate the natural landscape surrounding each structure. The lodge’s borehole has a special meter installed to monitor the underground water level and ensure that borehole capacity is not exceeded. This innovative measure is also used by the park authorities to create a water conservation reference point which will inform and guide future lodge development. Day-to-day water conservation is reinforced by the use of low-flow shower heads in all staff showers, regular checks on all systems for water leaks, and the rigorous monitoring of water usage. Plumbing provides for the later implementation of a per-suite Hydraloop grey-water treatment system which will enable further water savings.
  • Plastic Elimination: Zero plastic, illustrated in successful initiatives like the removal of plastic straws at all our lodges, remains a consistent focus across our lodge operation. In addition, on-site water bottling plants have eliminated tens of thousands of plastic bottles, and translated into significant water savings. Based on 2019 measured data, the lodge’s onsite water bottling plant will not only eliminate 11 385 plastic bottles, but will also save 34 155 litres of water (3 litres of water are used in the making of a 1 litre plastic bottle). This clear intention extends to the use of refillable stainless-steel pods in the Nespresso machines on the game-drive vehicles.

What’s more, a discipline of measurement through annual lodge sustainability audits not only underpins all of the above elements, but also supports the bold vision of &Beyond’s powerfully scaled Vision 2030. Take a look at this video of Grumeti Serengeti River Lodge.


Melisa Harvey

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