Low-impact boutique hotel in Namibia pays homage to shipwrecks

A luxury boutique hotel draws inspiration from the shipwrecks that line Namibia’s treacherous Skeleton Coast to create a thrilling getaway.

Set amidst the windswept sand dunes of Namibia’s coastline, Shipwreck Lodge is a low-impact boutique hotel that pays homage to the landscape in more ways than one. Designed by Windhoek–based Nina Maritz Architects, the 20-bed property was constructed on a $2 million budget that relied heavily on prefabrication to minimise environmental impact, and to ensure comfort for guests in the remote and extremely harsh desert.

Critical to the design was the solar-powered lodge’s limited 25-year concession period, after which the prefab hotel will need to be fully removed from site.

“The Skeleton Coast is so-named for the many foundered vessels littering this treacherous shore,” explains architect Nina Maritz of the 13 000-square-foot Shipwreck Lodge. “Trying to capture the sense of harshness and desolation that shipwrecked passengers and sailors experienced in earlier times, the timber cabins were designed to evoke broken pieces of ships.”

Clad in pine and framed with spruce, the salt-and-moisture-resistant timber structures had been prefabricated in Windhoek, and then transported 12 hours to the site for final assembly.

“The siding was installed by using a revolutionary new ‘Lignoloc’ nailing system from Beck, whereby timber nails are driven into the wood to fix it to the support frames,” explains Maritz. “This is the first time it has been used under such conditions, and will be watched with interest for it performance. ”

The back-of-house components had been custom-made from shipping containers and fabricated in the small coastal town of Swakopmund, six hours from the site.

Built in the shape of a ship hull lying on its side, each of the 10 cabins features an outdoor deck and a spacious bedroom with two beds and a wood-burning stove. The bedroom connects to the bathroom housed in a pointed bow section that faces south into the wind. Melanie van der Merwe of Women Unleashed furnished the interiors with bespoke and off-the-shelf pieces. OSB board was mainly used for the interior walls of all the buildings.

“The remoteness of the site made logistics extremely difficult – no forgetting your pliers at home! – but the relentless wind, which removes the sand around the footings, is the most challenging feature of the site,” further notes Maritz.

“Maintenance is relentlessly ongoing, and constant vigilance is needed to ensure that the wind does not undermine the structures, which are fixed to poles bedded deeply in the sand,” says Maritz. “Despite the references to wooden boats, the forms are abstracted, with only a few broken spars adding a light-hearted touch to signal the shipwreck theme.”