Ah Vah

Wegdraai farm, Namibia

(“Ah Vah”: an untranslatable expression of ecstatic relief and joy inscribed on the walls of the now-ruined ‘vernacular’ Rhodakis House on the island of Aegina referenced in an essay by Kenneth Frampton in the book on Dimitris Pikionos, architect, AA London, 1989)

I was commissioned to design a Safari Camp / Campus on the farm / nature reserve ’Wegdraai’ in southern Namibia, for a French researcher who was interested in bringing the natural environment back to the way it once was prior to overgrazing in an inappropriate manner for decades, and to bring back some of the native wildlife, including big cats!  Our brief was to create a small ‘campus’ where visiting researchers could come and spend some time on the farm, and have private space, as well as communal space for shared meals and social activities.  We designed improvements to the existing house and a new personal space for the owner, we designed alterations and additions to the existing outhouses and stables to make accommodation for the farm reserve manager, and also proposed new, but modest, accommodation for the other staff and their families.  As water is scarce, we celebrated the bath house and the outdoor shower.  A laundry room was designed, and a ‘cold house’ which would rely on evaporative cooling for keeping foodstuff fresh with no electricity available – a vital structure for the community.  

The location of the various ‘houses’ on this little piece of protected space in the vastness of the seemingly endless natural landscape was decided by the existing approach to the old farm house and the existing fenced-in area.  The layout is based on lessons from Rex Martienssen’s analysis of Space in Greek architecture, where certain buildings and views are provided and glimpsed before they are reached, and there is a ‘procession’ of sorts – a route, to get to them, allowing you to locate both distant views and to orientate yourself in this place.  It was laid out to encourage a sense of being ‘present’.  

The building themselves went through a multitude of design iterations, at one stage having double roofs for insulation purposes.  The final resulting designs afford a real sense of a community, whilst still creating the opportunity for incredibly private and special moments.  

This was some of the most creative work I have done but sadly nothing was built.  The owner became increasingly concerned about the investment into Namibia at a time when not too distant Zimbabwean farms where being reclaimed for redistribution…  I built a small wood model of a part of this proposal.