Bisate Lodge, Rwanda

Posted in Projects on 31 May, 2018

Nestled within the amphitheatre of an eroded volcanic cone next to the renowned Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, are six luxurious forest villas. Features Editor Tonje has a look at the villas, designed to reflect both the local Rwandan culture and the landscape that surrounds them…

Dotted on a lusciously green hillside in the Rwandan jungle, the thatched huts blend seamlessly into its surroundings, which is absolutely intentional. Architect Garreth Kriel from Nicholas Plewman and Associates tells me about the strong focus on sustainability and environmental conservation. “We provide design and project implementation that is uncompromisingly innovative and ecologically sustainable in any environment from inner city to the remotest wilderness,” he explains. “Our work at Bisate was an opportunity to tease out a contemporary architectural response to rather inchoate stimuli of a primordial volcanic landscape, the great primates that dwell there and an all but lost human heritage.”

Materials such as concrete, steel, timber, synthetic thatch, volcanic rock, bamboo, reed and papyrus have been used in the construction, to ensure a natural and organic environment. Rooted in Rwandan building tradition, the sophisticated villas are inspired by the Royal Palace in Nyanza. The spherical, thatched structures echo the thousands of hills that speckle the Rwandan landscape. The architecture is also inspired by Bisate’s amphitheatre setting, with the forms and outlines of the lodge, and accentuating the spectacular natural surroundings. In this way, the essence of the Virunga volcanoes that can be seen in the distance are captured. This volcanic mountainous terrain also resonates in the volcanic stone that is used in Bisate’s fireplaces and its surrounds, while natural ‘flamed’ granite is used for several surfaces.

The design process was a truly collaborative one, with Nicholas Plewman and Associates primarily getting help from interior designers Caline Williams-Wynn and Nilfah Adams from Artichoke. Other interior designers and architects also helped throughout the process as well as the National Ethnographic Museum, local textile experts, the full gamut of Wilderness Safaris and other local Rwandan partners.

Artichoke drew the inspiration for the interior design of Bisate from a variety of aspects of the Rwandan lifestyle, particularly the colourful textiles and use of texture. “The emerald green colour in the textiles and chandeliers is reminiscent of the verdant greens of the rainforest, as well as the vibrant markets that dot the villages throughout the country,” Caline Williams-Wynn tells me. “Following through with our commitment to the principle of recycling, the chandeliers are of recycled glass, and the ‘ibyansi’ milk jug motif reused across a number of elements.”

The overall design concept for Bisate Lodge is based on the principle that ‘purpose is the new luxury’. Grant Woodrow, COO of Wilderness Safaris, explains: “Our aim is the create a world-class venture that will make a dramatic and far-reaching positive impact. While minimising our environmental impact during the construction and running of Bisate, we have also begun an ambitious reforestation project, which will provide a haven for a wide array of life endemic to the Albertine Rift.”

Artichoke especially worked with Teta Isibo, a Rwandan fashion entrepreneur and founder of Inzuki Designs, to help source locally produced items. Bringing the flair of local Rwandan culture to the interiors, Teta aimed to bring a piece of the wider Rwandan cultural renaissance into Bisate. “As a designer who focuses on fusing traditional Rwandan craftsmanship with contemporary design, the Bisate project was super exciting for me,” she says. “I worked closely with Caline to bring their vision for the lodge to life and to add it from a Rwandan design perspective.” The result is a design with strong local flavour and an authentic Rwandan feel. The patterns and textures of fabrics, upholstery and décor are distinctly African and the colour palette is earthy and relaxing, with a scatter of vibrancy. Brown, beige and white design elements complement the natural materials used in the architecture. A homely, yet cultural atmosphere is created.

Many of the furnishings are decorated using ‘imigongo’, an art form unique to Rwanda that uses cow dung. It goes back hundreds of years – the dung is mixed with soils of different colours and then painted in geometric shapes. The use of black and white cowhide also reflects the rural way of life in the villages.

The villas are spacious and comprise of a generous, yet intimate combination of bedroom, reception area and bathroom, all warmed by a central fireplace. Breathtaking views from the private deck are guaranteed in each villa, as well as green and lush surroundings. The marriage between traditional and contemporary design makes for an interesting experience. The bathrooms have a luxurious free-standing tub in black ceramics, with a seductive chandelier hanging above it, and the circular mirrors suspended with rope, is modern and fun. Yet the materials used (brick, wood, and stone), are distinctly local. This style carries on into the bedroom where you have wooden furniture and traditional African basket-weaving materials in the ceiling and on walls, yet luxurious elements such as plush blankets, throws and pillows, which elevate the space.

Grant Woodrow says: “The real generosity of Bisate in the Rwandan context is the amount of private and exclusive space that surrounds the Lodge, sheltering it a rare natural landscape brimming with Albertine Rift biodiversity and beauty.”

Wilderness Safaris is Africa’s leading authentic and sustainable ecotourism operator, specialising in memorable wildlife experiences in some of the most remote and pristine areas in Africa. Bisate Lodge won the PURE Award for Mindful Design shortly after opening in September 2017. This reflects the efforts that have gone into creating a wholesome design journey. The whole Bisate experience is based around Wilderness Safaris’ 4Cs sustainability ethos of Commerce, Community, Culture and Conservation.

A relaxing and beautiful sanctuary, Bisate Lodge is a great way to explore the nature and culture of Rwanda while contributing to sustainability and environmental conservation. An experience both design-wise and nature-wise, this is a real treasure.

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