Specialist in light-on-earth building concepts tapped as lead consultant, project manager, and architectural and interior designers of renowned bush lodge worn down by 15 years of environmental exposure
Luxury Frontiers, the San Francisco/Johannesburg-based international firm specializing in the design and development of upmarket, light-on-earth building concepts, was recently tapped by its new owners to reinvigorate Puku Ridge, one of the park’s best-known lodges, which had fallen into disrepair after 15 years of exposure to harsh environmental conditions.
The result? A full transformation employing innovative and eco-friendly solutions to maintain the intimate bush experience of the lodge and its eight tented suites, while providing lavish luxuries and sustainable features to appeal to new and returning guests seeking comfort and local flavor in the bush. The 14-month long project saw close collaboration between the teams at Luxury Frontiers, Chichele Safaris and Chiawa Safaris, owner and operator of Puku Ridge, respectively. The newly revitalized property will begin welcoming guests in April 2020.
Luxury Frontiers’ aim was to rebuild Puku Ridge with a lighter footprint, starting with the removal of 2,420 tons of old cement slabs and the repurposing of other materials. Architects drew inspiration from the pronounced geographical contours of the land, carefully stitching suites into steep hills along the perimeter of the floodplain.
While that proximity affords guests an intimate game experience, it does nothing to provide uninterrupted panoramic views of the bush in South Luangwa and beyond. Luxury Frontiers’ solution was the addition of two-story observation towers, one per guest suite. Each tower is topped with a mosquito-net enclosed bed, which sits under a shaded canopy and can slide out into the open air, creating a ‘star bed’ for sleeping under the glittering blanket of the night sky above.
Built of lightweight timber on Zambian timber columns with carbon-neutral composite bamboo flooring indoors and out, the towers are wrapped in waterproof woven fiber canvas, creating an almost mud-like look to mimic the appearance of a clay grain store found throughout the African bush. Specifically, the Goba and Chewa people of this region use such grain stores, which are locally known as Felumbus.
The Outdoors Indoors
Each tented suite is surrounded by generous, multi-level outdoor decks which follow the unique contours of the land. Partly covered to beat the Zambian heat, decks include space for outdoor furniture and connect a private outdoor shower to a plunge pool. The pool’s position creates the illusion of swimming in the floodplains. With balustrades required, Luxury Frontiers collaborated with local artisans to superimpose a thin steel-top rail that artfully follows the curve of each deck while affording unobstructed views.
The natural beauty outside inspired the décor of the guest suites. Blond timbers and neutral colors reflect the palette of the floodplain, resulting in interiors which are at once calm and tranquil. The feature wall of the bed is laser cut and displays a topographical map of the Puku Ridge property, while sand-blasted oak furniture, solid wood pendant lights, hand-forged brass door handles, and knitted blankets highlight the design preference for rich texture over color. Unique copper fixtures pay tribute to one of Zambia’s richest resources while calling to mind the striking plumage of the southern carmine bee-eater, which spends its breeding season in the region.
Luxury Frontiers further innovated with a custom-built system for interior cooling that houses an air-conditioner as well as a fan. Operating in silence and completely out of sight, the system is concealed in the decorative lightweight timber wall located directly behind the mosquito-netted bed.
A Celebration of Local Artisanship
At the main lodge, guests are welcomed by an impressive thatch and canvas building featuring intimate interiors dressed in darker shades of blue, with leafy patterns reminiscent of lush summer days. The décor is a celebration of local artisanship, with regionally woven basket lights throughout the dining room and a lounge dressed with patterns inspired by the carved lines on rowing sticks used during the traditional Zambian Kuomboka ceremony marking the end of rainy season. Similarly, a repurposed timber barn door was laser-cut with patterns derived from art, musical instruments and basketry from Zambian tribes.
Behind this door, a coffee bar serves specialty brews from locally sourced beans, with décor highlighted by black-and-white photographs and artifacts of Puku antelope displayed on an original workbench. Curved shelving units and seating of assorted styles within the lounge and dining room follow the well-pronounced curves of the lodge and encourage guests to interact with every aspect of the space.
Outdoors, the terraced viewing deck of the lodge was designed around an existing canopy of Tamarind trees, whose roots run underneath the elevated deck. The space beneath the deck was purposed as an ideal setting for the “Puku Hide” overlooking a waterhole that is regularly visited by wildlife – especially during dry season. Intended for photographers, the hide sports two horizontal slots ergonomically designed for low-level angles and comfortable seated and standing perspectives. The extended sill depth can accommodate photographers as well as large camera lenses, guidebooks, binoculars – even gin-and-tonics.
As re-envisioned by Luxury Frontiers, Puku Ridge epitomizes contextual design and artisanal inspiration by providing an architectural platform that enhances the guests’ experience of the natural fabric surrounding it. The concept has fully informed the architectural narrative of the property on a design and technical level.