Since 2006, Singita Lebombo has been a celebration of cutting-edge design in an African context. Comprising 13 suites and a private villa, guests are treated to a front-row seat of the Kruger National Park from contemporary open plan dwellings suspended above the N’Wanetsi River.
By 2016 however, the harshness of the environment took its toll on the structures and Cape Town based GAPP Architects were recruited to give the lodge an extreme makeover.
Says GAPP’s Sally Tsiliyiannis: ‘The project was a design collaboration between OMM Workshop and Cecile & Boyd. Embracing the principles of low impact architecture, all new components were designed to be a comfortable fit, alongside the existing. Faced with the dilemma of building on work of previous architects, the new work was respectfully reminiscent of the established language, while fresh details and layers, inspired by the extended bush experience, were introduced.’
Although simple in material palette and construction method, the organic forms and their arrangement generate dynamic spaces that feel natural to the place. Oxide-coloured walls, polished to a glowing sheen, catch the light and define their boulder-like forms.
Minimalist and contemporary by design, the buildings project a soft richness generated mainly through materials and the way light falls on them. Adopting a low technology mindset appropriate to the protected site, all new structures were developed using only materials that were locally available. Each material was ‘worked’ to extract its maximum potential. Using unexpected combinations of ‘ordinary’ materials as well as simple devices such as contrast, level-change, view framing and borrowed space, a venue of surprising sophistication has been developed.
Other highlights include a roof terrace and wine studio, an espresso bar and help-yourself deli, plus an additional 25-metre lap pool. All communal areas of the lodge have been pushed out to ensure that the outside integrates fully, offering elegant, calm and meditative spaces immersed in a dramatic landscape of giant euphorbia trees.
From 2018, guests will be treated to a new demonstration studio, an opportunity to recreate acclaimed Chef Liam Tomlin’s dishes with Singita’s cooking classes. This new facility will offer guests an introduction to the range of experimental, artisanal cooking techniques introduced by Chef Tomlin and Andrew Nicholson, Singita’s Group Executive Chef. This hands-on experience will allow guests to translate their observations into real skills. Recipes will draw on both traditional South African dishes and a bespoke selection from Chef Tomlin’s menu.
In addition, the Singita Community Culinary School (formerly known as the Singita School of Cooking) has been rebranded and overhauled with a curriculum compiled by the Hospitality Trainers and Associates (HTA) School of Culinary Art, which is an internationally recognised City & Guilds’ accredited curriculum.
As part of this, ten candidates selected from surrounding communities embark on a 12-month course and spend time learning the basics at the new cooking school, followed by stints working in the five lodge kitchens in South Africa. Equipped with culinary skills and hands-on experience in high-level kitchens, graduates leave with the know-how and confidence to apply for a commis chef position in any professional kitchen.
GAPP’s brief was to relocate the teaching facility from a remote back-of-house area and incorporate it into the heart of Singita Lebombo Lodge. ‘We selected a new position beside an ancient baobab, where the new building straddles between the interactive kitchen and the dining area and is fully integrated with the everyday workings of the lodge and its guests,’ says Ms Tsiliyiannis.
Drawing on the distinctive language of the existing buildings, the new cooking school is a wonderful fit within an established architectural aesthetic. Large areas of glazing, set between battered stone walls, create a joyful, light-filled space connected to a naturally landscaped courtyard. Timber panelling and plywood ceilings add a warmth and softness that complements the industrial quality of the stainless-steel kitchen elements.
In its new fully integrated location the cooking school appears to have been there forever and makes the link between guest, staff and student complete.