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.
Can you give us a short background on yourself and your practice?
We are two young architects Amélie Chauvin from France and Alexandra Papadaki from Greece that formulated AforA architects back in 2014 as a result of working on this project together.
Amélie received the Diploma of Architecture from the Brittany School of Architecture in Rennes, France (2014) and Alexandra graduated from the department of Architecture and Engineering at Democritus University of Thrace in Xanthi, Greece (BSc./MSc. 2011) and then both continued their studies in Design for Sustainable Development at Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden (MSc. 2014), where they met.
A design studio in Zanzibar’s Stone Town back in 2013 led to a combined master thesis for an Architectural Insight for the Urban Metamorphosis of N’gambo in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Along with the thesis we submitted a design proposal for a new form of social housing in N’gambo, which drew the attention of the local authorities and initiated a three-year collaboration with the Department of Urban and Rural Planning (DoURP) of Zanzibar, together with Aamatters, on various projects.
Now back in our homelands, Amélie is working as architect at ‘NGA Atelier’ in Corsica, France since April 2017, being responsible for the implementation of numerous architectural projects.
Alexandra is running her own architecture office Openscape Design Workshop in Heraklion Crete, Greece, collaborates with FBW architecten (NL), IRIX architects (NL), Dayandas & associates (GR) and Nikiforiades-Skaraki architects (GR); with projects going on between the Netherlands, Tanzania and Greece. Both of them are now the two of five main associates of AAmatters, since November 2017 and part of the core management team.
What was the brief for the Sunset Bungalows project?
This was a project for the recreation of the beach front facilities of the “Sunset Bungalows” holiday resort in Kendwa Beach, north of Zanzibar, Ugunja island. The program regarded the design of a bar in combination with its sitting area, DJ spot and dance floor and a restaurant with its kitchen, storage and also dining, buffet and lounge areas. Furthermore, in the initial brief a swimming pool and an area dedicated to individual commercial boutiques were included in the design of the beach front, but those were not included in the realization of the project.
It was a project to enhance the indubitable natural beauty of a Zanzibari beach, respect its sensitive location 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, dining and sunbathing areas together. This place, being one of the first in the area, had an established reputation of daily touristic activities along with vivid nightlife.
What was special about it and the main motive for us to accept taking the challenge of its renovation, was the open character and identity of the existing situation. 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 this identity but in a different, more contemporary setting, as the competition from the surrounding emerging holiday resort was growing fast.
Were there any issues/problems on site?
Not really, it was an amazing experience, because we didn’t only design the project, but we actually built it together with the contractor teams. We literally did. We were staying at the beach and working with them every day, so, we could say that our only issue in the beginning was to gain the trust of the local builders, who suddenly had to listen and follow two young girls… The language was also a big barrier in the beginning. However, very quickly we became respected and trusted and also learnt to speak ‘construction-related’ Swahili very fluently! Another great outcome of the whole procedure, was that close to the construction teams we learnt a lot about local ways of building and construction. It was the most valuable lesson of all.
What is the total size of the development?
The master plan indicates a total of 910sqm of intervention, from which:
– the bar/lounge/dance area takes up 320sqm, delivered December 2014.
– the ‘Minazi’ beach bar takes up 150sqm, delivered May 2015, and
– the restaurant area which takes up about 440sqm, delivered 2017.
What would you say is the most noticeable feature of the building?
We believe this would be the ‘parapata’, which is the Swahili name for a brilliant architectural feature, existing in most of the residencies around the island. It is a, most often, concrete slab which receives the rain water from the roof and functions like a big gutter, leading the water out of the building and to the ground. The ‘parapata’ is normally located above the entrance hall of the house, serving as a threshold.
In our building, we incorporated this idea as an element that would both give a clean finish for the ‘makuti’ (thatched) roof and also function as a gutter for the huge amount of storm water, collected from the roof, during rainy seasons.
How did the environment influence your design?
Given our background studies and personal sensitivity, in combination with a year’s research, observing buildings and life in the island before taking up this project, we were definitely influenced and brought all this into our design.
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, brought 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 try to combine all this with a result that visitors would appreciate, and… have fun!
What was your inspiration?
The inspiration was a combination of things. Definitely the location and landscape, which we loved since the first moment and wanted to create something sensitive and beautiful. But it was mostly the skills of each one of the builders, carpenters, furniture makers, iron welders and so on. The inspiration was an ongoing procedure, influencing our ideas every day by understanding what we had at our disposal and how we could guide it and use it.
What sustainable initiatives were implemented in the design?
Local materials, local workforce and respect to their culture and way of working.
Passive design strategies, which are absolutely essential when designing something in tropical areas; everything is open and offers a cool and safe experience, only by exploiting sun position, wind direction and vegetation in strategic locations, without the use of any mechanical means. Last but not least, the storm water that is collected from the ‘parapata’ (concrete gutter) is guided in specific outlets and ends up watering the plants.
What challenges were encountered during the project?
The main challenge was to combine what we believe good architecture practice is, 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 practices will eventually be profitable for everyone.
Finally, looking back at the completed project, what are your thoughts?
We are proud of course! And nostalgic. It was an incredible experienced which we were very lucky to have.