Africanism chatted to Amélie Chauvin and Alexandra Papadaki from AforA Architects, an association of two young architects, led by a common vision about architecture. Their collaboration was brought about for a project in Zanzibar, Tanzania, the renovation of the Sunset Bungalows Beach Front on Kendwa Beach as well as the adjacent ‘Minazi’ Beach Bar.
What was the brief?
It was to design and build an attractive beach bar as a part of the newly renovated beach front of the ‘Sunset Bungalows’ holiday resort on Kendwa Beach, north of Zanzibar, Ugunja Island.
What was the full scope of work?
A beach ‘furniture’ that will respect the natural beauty of a Zanzibari beach and at the same time provide all the expected luxury and comfort and allow the visitor to enjoy one of the most beautiful sunsets on this world.
What was the site formerly?
When we first visited the ‘Sunset Bungalows’ as visitors, there was a decade’s old structure combining bar, lounge, dinning and sunbathing areas together. This place, being one of the first of the area, had an established reputation of daily touristic activities along with vivid nightlife. Welcoming and facilitating equally the touristic ‘elite’ and the local community. From the first meetings with the owner, we understood that he had a vision to embrace the existing character of his place but in a different, more contemporary setting, as the competition from the surrounding emerging holiday resort was growing fast.
A beach bar was needed and the specific site where the beach bar emerged was selected to be a sandy spot between coconut trees (‘minazi’ in Swahili).
Were there any issues/problems on site?
Not any. It was an amazing experience, because we didn’t only design the project, but we actually built it together with the carpenter team. Our team of friends now.
What is the total size of the project?
The total area of the beach bar, including a sitting deck, is 150m2.
What would you say is the most noticeable feature of the building?
We believe this would be the flat roof. This element was alien around the area, because nobody dared to make a flat roof in this very rainy place. The flat roof is in reality a cleverly hidden gable roof from simple corrugated iron sheets. The beach bar’s special timber structure allowed us to give a funky/playful appearance in combination with great use of space.
How did the environment influence your design?
It was all about the environment and the specific location of the beach bar that gave us the design idea. We wanted the infinite view from all around the bar towards the sea, and we wanted to incorporate the existing coconut trees and steal their shade!
How would you describe the style of the project?
The combination of modern, clear and somehow minimal design with the traditional building and handcraft techniques, brings an amazing result that we cannot really fit into a specific architectural style. The concept was to understand the existing, respect it, embrace it and enhance it, make a plan but be open to alterations and suggestions coming from the experienced local practices, and to try to combine all of this with a result that visitors would appreciate.
What sustainable initiatives were implemented in the design?
Local materials, a local workforce and respect for their culture and way of working. Passive design strategies, which are absolutely essential when designing something in tropical areas. More specifically, the roof has an opening in the middle of it all along the longer side, leading the hot air created under the short ceiling, outwards, creating a space were no mechanical ways for cooling are needed. We also incorporated the existing coconut trees, instead of taking them down, for better cooling results.
What challenges were encountered during the project?
We had several challenges. First, the design idea we had for the structure was very complicated for our carpenter team to understand easily. Then we struggled a lot in finding the right tools and ways to do what we had imagined. A challenge was also to convince our team to give attention to finishes and details! But, all went fine in the end and everyone was amazingly proud of the result. Many of this team got good contracts for future work amongst the hotel owners of the area, because of that result. This was a great feeling for us, to facilitate and promote our team’s skills.
The main challenge though, was to combine what we believe to be good architecture practice, with succeeding in creating a project that presents the expected ‘aesthetics’, luxury and comfort for every visitor. Also, a big challenge is always to find a visionary client, convince them and prove to them that following sustainable design and practices will eventually be profitable for everyone.
Finally the biggest challenge of all was to not take down the coconut trees and convince everyone that they would be an advantage if they stayed intact. We are very happy that we eventually won this fight!
Looking back at the completed project, what are your thoughts?
Proud of course! And nostalgic. It was an incredible experienced and we were very lucky to have had it.