Conservation Project – grassland preservation/ educational project, Laikipia – Kenya
The Place – The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, is a large savannah grassland and acacia forest ecosystem, located in the Laikipia district in Northern Kenya. As an entity, the Conservancy works as a model and catalyst for the conservation of wildlife and its habitat. In 2013 Lewa was awarded recognition as an UNESCO Heritage Site.
The Brief – The key element of the brief provided by Lewa House was to provide a simple intervention into the extensive protected grasslands at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy that would allow people to closely examine and observe the local and unique fauna found within the savannah. The core intention was to educate about the ecosystem. Any intervention needed to be sensitive to the wider landscape and ecosystem. Both adults and children need to use the space for educational purposes.
The Design – It is always fascinating to work in such an immense landscape. The conservancy itself is 80,000 acres. Our intervention, which is for human use, needed to be simple enough so as not to compete with the wider landscape, and to be at a human scale. The circle itself is a nine metre diameter. Which allows for a small group of people to haven enough space to lie and observe the grasslands at ground level in a safe way.
Our design intent always looked at how we can keep our human hand on the wider landscape as humble as possible. We wanted to provide just enough to meet the brief but not include materials with negative environmental concerns, locally or in the wider environment. The project is built using locally hand quarried stone, so the environmental impact is kept as small as possible. No concrete was used in the construction, hand cut stone bricks were placed into a compacted hardcore base and laterite hand compacted around the stone to ensure stability. Top soil collected from the stormwater runoff from road drains around the conservancy ensured we did not destroy any environment in brining in the soil to increase the small height of the grass circle. This soil was brought carefully by hand into the site to reduce damage to the surrounding grasslands. All materials, construction methods and labour were as local as possible to reduce the carbon footprint impact of the project. Drought resistant local grasses were planted within the circle. These grass is maintained short but no irrigation is used on the project so the circle grass also browns and greens according to the rainy and dry seasons, adding to the sense of seasonality.
Our key collaborators here were directly with the Conservancy understanding the delicate nature of the ecosystem and trying to meet their concerns in providing a sensitive solution to their brief. Secondly, the local people from which we sourced the stone and worked with to build the project. Supporting the local community was an important element during construction.