Architects all over the world strive to establish a strong indoor-outdoor connection in their work. But a 12,863-square-foot lodge in South Africa by Los Angeles-based DRY Design takes the idea of living with nature even further than most. Known as Lengau Lodge, the project sits on a private wildlife preserve in the country's Limpopo province. The clients, a geologist and his wife, had fond memories of living in tented camps while working in the Kalahari Desert. So they hired their son, John Jennings, and Sasha Tarnopolsky, DRY's principals, to create a house that recaptured that sense of living lightly on the land. “They wanted to feel as if they were camping,” Jennings says.

He, Tarnopolsky, and their staff ultimately decided to place the lodge's long, narrow main house into the site's natural contours, preserving the original topography. They did the same with the eight outbuildings on the property, including four guesthouses, an outdoor kitchen and dining pavilion, a staff lodge, a ranger lodge, and a workshop/laundry room. “My parents have friends and family all over the world who come and stay for longer periods of time,” Jennings says of the project's scope. Locally popular thatched roofs helped dictate the buildings' tentlike shapes. “You can't have thatched roofs flatter than 30 degrees or steeper than 60 degrees,” he explains. The durable, natural thatch forms the finishing material on both the inside and outside of the house, serving as a sustainable and beautiful roofing solution. Like many of the home's other materials—among them brick walls and pine roof timbers—the thatch comes from nearby sources.

The region suffers from periodic droughts, making water conservation a crucial issue. All gray water and even blackwater produced at the lodge travels through a series of anaerobic and aerobic cleansing filters. The purified water is used for irrigation and for a watering hole that attracts lions, rhinos, giraffes, and other wildlife. Jennings and Tarnopolsky also designed man-made swales to collect rainwater and funnel it into landscaped areas, which contain native and drought-resistant plantings. They took advantage of the area's warm days and cool nights, too, by orienting the buildings to the north for solar gain; at night, concrete floors emit the heat they've stored during the day. “There is radiant heat, but you don't usually need it,” Jennings says.

His parents' respect for the South African environment clearly runs deeper than a simple admiration of wildlife. Indeed, their carefully planned house shows their commitment to preserving an extraordinary landscape for the next generation.

Lengau Lodge, Vaalwater, Limpopo, South Africa

DRY Design, Los Angeles

general contractor:
RO-AL Construction, Randjiesfontein, Gauteng, South Africa

project size:
12,863 square feet

site size:
7 acres

construction cost:

Undine Pröhl

NEXT ...