Well-known for their luxurious turnkey hotel designs, LIFE Interiors Architecture took home two UK-based International Property Awards for their redevelopment of Segera Retreat in Kenya.
The Maasai Mara, Mount Kenya, Lamu Island – these are all familiar names and places when Kenya is talked and dreamed about. Lesser known but no less beautiful is the Laikipia Plateau, lying between Mount Kenya to the east and the Great Rift Valley to the west.
This is where LIFE Interiors Architecture recently undertook an award-winning refurbishing of Segera, an existing lodge for Wilderness Safaris and philanthropist Jochen Zeitz’s Zeitz Foundation.
Segera had previously been a European-style ranch with various stilted and stone houses situated within a hedged off area. The LIFE team’s challenge was to build a link between the lodge and the surrounding African landscape, as well as a luxurious and sustainable African experience that would attract international guests prepared to pay top dollar.
The result has not only been a commercial success but recently won LIFE Interiors + Architecture two UK-based International Property Awards.
Critical in the new design of Segera was the housing of the Zeitz art collection – widely regarded as one of the leading collections of African contemporary art. Regularly exhibited in museums worldwide, much of the collection is spread across all 50 000 acres of Segera Retreat, in the private villas as well as in the restored stable/gallery that was created specifically to display art. There is also a site-specific land art installation by Strydom van der Merwe that tells the story of African migrations, to greet visitors upon their arrival.
“The first thing we had to do in designing a new masterplan for Segera, was to create a natural approach in the form of the entrance pavilion. This is where visitors who’ve arrived by land or air can view the land art and pause before heading off to their respective villas,” explains Maira Koutsoudakis, CEO of LIFE.
Segera consists of six timber and thatch villas, as well as the stone Segera House, the renovated stables, a hamam and a wine tower. While Mount Kenya looms in the distance, the Segera landscape is flat. The LIFE team felt it was important to design a ‘grand gesture’ in the form of these two dramatic mud-clad totems, with the wine tower designed complete with glass oculus.
“We had to create an architectural landscape,” says Koutsoudakis. And with so many different structures in one wide open and flat space, a thread had to develop that linked them all together. “Kenya takes eccentrics,” says Koutsoudakis. “There’s always something wonky in Kenya.”
The result is an eclectic ambience created by the co-existence of new and old buildings, thatch and stone houses, modern mud towers and a South American ranch-style art gallery cum bar. The interiors took the same cue: A fascinating collection of found natural history objects, expedition finds as well as high design and locally sourced craft produced an award-winning style that looks as if it’s been there for 100 years.
Most of the materials used in the redesign and new buildings were locally sourced: All the glass features are local Kitingela glass, for example. The totems are constructed using reinforced concrete with elephant dung to lend it a natural patina. The light stone comes from the area.
“We wanted there to be little difference between the interior and exterior at
Segera and while we wanted the feel of a natural history museum, we also needed to give it a contemporary feel and ‘blonde it up’ with light stone and other finishes.
“The conversion of the stables into the Segera art gallery was the most dramatic,” she says. “The inspiration for this was very much the concept of a Uruguayan estancia or ranch. The space is an informal dining room, gallery and bar.”
The roof is local makuthi thatch and the walls are vertical shingled timbers.
“But this part of the world can be very cold, so we had to make use of marine ply canvas to create a tent effect for insulation.”
The greater Segera ranch is very much a conservation success story and it was therefore important that the design of the new lodge was in keeping with the owners’ commitment to sustainable tourism. Renewable energy in the form of solar panels and rainwater harvesting tanks are very much part of the design.
The Zeitz Foundation philosophy is about doing business “well”, says Maira. Founder Jochen Zeitz is described as the “father of the four C’s”: Conservation, community, culture and commerce and it was these four elements that drove much of the design of Segera. “In everything they do, this is an example for industry to follow, People, planet and profit.”