Mindful, nature-conscious design has grown in global popularity over the past few years. From glamorous Safari tents to luxury treehouses, light-on-earth designs strive to bring people closer to nature without compromising the environment… In some instances, surpassing an effort to simply preserve, but extending to enrich and re-wild damaged eco-systems. At Luxury Frontiers, one way our architects and interior designers endeavor to achieve mindful design is to continuously seek out suitable, sustainable materials to incorporate into our projects. While the list remains endless, here are a few of our favorites used in sustainable hospitality design:
With a construction presence as old as time, bamboo remains at the top of our list as far as sustainable, lightweight materials go. According to Idalina Silva, Interior Designer with Luxury Frontiers, “bamboo is a wonderful, conscious alternative to timber.” Often mistaken as part of the timber family, bamboo is technically classified as grass. Thus, regenerates extremely quickly, requiring no fertilizer, and regenerates from its own roots without the need for replanting, like trees. A notable comparison between bamboo and timber is that bamboo can be harvested up to every 3 years, as opposed to trees which take up to 25-50 years to mature. Like wood, Bamboo is a natural material with a high strength-to-weight ratio, useful for structures, and looks fantastic.
To date, we have incorporated bamboo into many of our projects, particularly in the floors and decking. To name a few, Puku Ridge, Belmond’s Savute Elephant Lodge, and Babanango Traveller’s Camp all feature a bamboo composite decking. “We are looking forward to integrating bamboo into many of the front-of-house's innovative structures and cladding for a new project on the west coast of Mexico,” explains Idalina.
A more recent addition to the sustainable material stage, Hempcrete serves as a carbon-neutral replacement for clay bricks or concrete, with the insulation capabilities to reduce energy consumption by 80% in new buildings. Biodegradable and non-toxic, Hempcrete blocks are comprised of a composite of ground hemp fibers (called hurds), lime (a natural binding agent), and water. Jacques Wienekus, a Senior Architectural Technologist, explains. “Made from hemp, it has the same growth characteristics of Bamboo which reduces the risk of shortage on material and lastly it has carbon sequestration properties, which absorbs and helps remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, like other plant products”. Better than carbon neutral, using Hempcrete can even be considered carbon negative. During photosynthesis, the hemp plant absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, converting carbon to biomass and exhaling oxygen. Subsequently, the hemp used in construction locks the carbon within it away for the life of the building, potentially removing up to 108kg of carbon dioxide per 1m3 of Hempbuild Isohemp Hempcrete.
While Luxury Frontiers have not yet had the opportunity to work with Hempcrete, it is high on our wish list of materials to incorporate into our projects. According to Sarah Cloete, Interior Architect with Luxury Frontiers, “This building material is an innovation that has been used successfully in numerous residential and commercial projects around the world. Luxury Frontiers love to push the boundaries on new innovative building materials and would like to investigate this product for some of its upcoming projects.” Not to forget about looks, Hempcrete can even achieve a rammed earth look with a particular application mimicking a textural wall aesthetic that is much lighter and includes all the sustainability and insolation qualities outlined above.
While it may seem obvious, recycled or reclaimed timber is an excellent sustainable choice, particularly for refurbishments or renovations of existing properties. While clear-cutting or deforestation for building materials is clearly a threat to the environment and sensitive eco-systems, repurposing timber from old structures is about as sustainable as it gets. Despite the obvious advantages, reused timber has for natural disposal, it requires very little energy to work with timber as a construction material.
As Juan Cloete, Project Architect at Luxury Frontiers puts it, “most of Luxury Frontiers projects incorporate timber in some way, shape or form. A recent example is the architecture work we did for Wilderness Safari’s DumaTau, where we used the timber planks from the decking of the old lodge as wall cladding for the new lodge. The result was a beautiful architectural element that was sustainable, efficient, and cost-effective.” In addition to its sustainable perks, repurposed timber is a charming architectural element layered with stories of its past, low in maintenance, and versatile in its application.
Precious Plastics is another company paving the way for sustainability in design and construction. Founded in 2012 in the Netherlands, Precious Plastics champions the basic idea that plastic can be a precious resource if you have the tools to turn it into something beautiful. Precious Plastics does just this by promoting taking waste from communities and using it to make beautiful things. According to Blake May, Architect of Luxury Frontiers, “Precious plastics is more of a movement than a specific material the idea behind the company is to promote large-scale recycling by allowing open-source plans for full plastic recycling systems in small-scale areas”. We have explored using Precious Plastics systems for a number of projects, particularly during our waste management research for certain off-grid projects, including Babanango Travellers’ Camp.
While the choice is not always ours to make, we are fortunate to team up with clients who share our values for sustainable tourism and conservation through exploration.