A hotel in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, shows just what can be achieved in spite of location, planning and environmental restrictions. Sandibe Okavango is an eco-lodge built in a UNESCO World Heritage site designed to be sustainable. Despite this, it provides 24 beds of luxury accommodation.

The original Sandibe Okavango lodge was constructed 17 years ago, but it has now been rebuilt. The boutique lodge actually opened at the end of August last year, but subsequent awards have brought it into the spotlight.

Designed by Nicholas Plewman Architects, the new structure faced a raft of planning restrictions, with the area having being given World Heritage status after the original building was constructed. In addition, Nicholas Plewman says that it was designed to meet the highest standards of sustainability accreditation, despite not actually seeking accreditation.

As a result, the requirements for the building included it being built entirely out of biodegradable materials, its site having to be completely cleared of hundreds of tonnes of non-biodegradable material before construction could begin, and it having minimal impact on fauna and flora in the area. In addition, 70 percent of the lodge's energy requirements were to be met by sustainable means, and the complete treatment of sewerage and removal of waste had to be factored in.

To complicate matters further, Nicholas Plewman Architects explains that the lodge is separated from civilization by 100 mi (161 km) of swampland. As such, any solutions to the restrictions it faced would have to be suitable for an off-grid location as well. Despite all this, as a luxury development there could be no compromise on power, hot water supply, bathing facilities and food preparation.

With this in mind, a 100-kVA (80-kW) photovoltaic array is employed to generate electricity for the hotel. This is supplemented by generators that run 3-4 hours a day. Hot water, meanwhile, is delivered to each of the guest rooms via a solar array of evacuated tubes backed up by heat pumps. Water and solid waste is pumped through a biological treatment plant that makes it safe for discharge into the surrounding environment.

The lodge is built almost entirely of wood. It resembles an upturned boat, with laminated pine beams giving a curvilinear shape and the skin of the building formed of layers of pine scale planks, which are waterproofed with an acrylic membrane and covered in Canadian cedar shingles. Decks and floors use FSC-approved hardwoods and, in place of glass, fabric "glazing" provides both both weather resistance and thermal efficiency.

Sandibe Okavango has 12 rooms that can house up to 24 guests. The suites each have fireplaces, private plunge pools and private outdoor showers. The building isn't fenced off, so guests are not separated from the lions, cheetahs, leopards, hippos, elephants, buffalo and other animals that roam the surrounding area.

Rooms at the Sandibe Okavango lodge begin at US$1,140 per person per night. Both daytime and nighttime safaris are available.

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