Takaungu Robinson House is an example of sustainable architecture that helps to preserve a pristine coral environment and indigenous coastal rainforest of Kenya for future generations.

Article written by Kostja Reim

A farm peninsula, 5 kilometres south of Kilifi town in Kenya, Takaungu creek covers an area of approximately 20 hectares. The peninsula is dominated by sisal plantations, grass lands, and coral rag forest, with trees growing out of naked fossilized coral. Takaungu creek opens shore to a coral reef of exceptional biodiversity and beauty including turtles, is home to a rich bird population and houses several species of mammals such as monkeys, duikers, bush rats, bush babies and genet cats.

Rationale and Intent

The idea came as a result of many trips throughout Africa and the far East to design and build the ‘perfect’ eco-system while not compromising on quality of building materials, beauty of finishing and a feeling of privilege and luxury while staying at the property. Many design ideas and technical realisations were collected and analysed before the initial architectural and structural designs could be drafted. It was also our intention to demonstrate that eco-friendly and sustainable architecture could be beautiful and blend perfectly within the African environment while not compromising on comfort and tranquility.

Two eco-bandas (huts) and a recreational centre have been carefully placed on the two-acre plot. The buildings respond to Takaungu’s unique natural environment through sensitive use of local building materials and innovative environment-friendly technology, which ensures sustainability of the ecosystem. Each building functions as a self-sufficient unit, generating its own water and energy through rainwater harvesting and filtration, solar water-heating and photovoltaic electricity. Sewage is treated by using composting systems, and plant beds purify the grey water. There is no problem with waste water, as the treatment systems used produce fertilizer and irrigation for gardening. The design – a free-spanning lattice-shell structure using locally available resources (coconut wood, coral stones, casuarina poles, makuti roofing, etc.) – was developed and built by local builders to achieve the best possible climatic and structural performance.

The buildings

The site consists of guest accommodation, a recreational centre and staff accommodation. The guest accommodation comprises two double-storey bandas with, on their own floor, a sitting area and three-outlet bathroom with basin, compost toilet and hot-water shower, and on the upper floor, a spacious sleeping space and luggage compartment. The recreational centre, using a four-openings domed roof, accommodates a kitchen, veranda, barasas (traditional Swahili style stone benches) and a swimming pool on the lower floor and a spacious multi-use area on the upper floor. A staff house with bathroom and toilet facilities is located approximately one hundred metres from the recreational centre to accommodate workers. A dehumidified store is located next to the parking area, allowing safe and dry storage of items such as mattresses, cushions, etc.

The need for eco friendly housing

As there was no ground water source in the rocky substrate of the peninsula, each banda collects its own freshwater supply from rainwater (captured from the specially designed expanse of roof) during the rainy season. This rainwater passes through a complex filtration system and is stored in spacious underground cisterns (under each living room). The water is then pumped through a solar-powered heating system into hot & cold-water containers for the shower and hand basin in the bathroom.

The used water from showers and basins is filtered through particulate filters, ending in specially sealed plant beds so that no polluted water will seep into the Coral Reef. These beds are planted with species that are demanding in water and nutrients, and therefore easily absorb any remaining nitrates and phosphates.

To deal with sewage we have also installed composting toilets. The composting toilet system for the property is based on the Swedish ‘Clivus Multrum Compost Toilet System’, which provides sixty years of successful operation. These eco-toilets prevent sewage (from septic tanks) seeping through the porous ground into the Reef, (as this would lead to pollution of the fragile reef ecosystem, encourage algae growth and finally kill coral communities and organisms depending on them). Instead, human waste is quickly decomposed to natural fertilizer when mixed with compost (aerobic composting) in the compost chamber. To ensure the experience for the client is the same as with any regular toilet, specialized designs have been implemented with wind powered vent pipes and gradient storage so that it feels no different to using a regular toilet; except that composting toilets need no flush water at all, thus they also effectively economize on water.

Lights are powered by photovoltaic panels on the roof that provide ample environmentally friendly 12V energy for normal usage and the use of LED lights throughout the buildings which provides a beautiful effect during evening hours. The open design of the bandas, with minimal barriers to the open air, allows for maximum through-draft for cooling of the bungalows; a form of natural air-conditioning. To enhance this louvres are in place that can be lowered or closed depending on the desired temperature.

The realization

The buildings were realized by local builders and using local building materials without exception. The use of wood in structures provides a feeling of comfort and warmth, however all this comes at a cost and need for regular maintenance and care. We compiled a 250-page maintenance manual and our staff have been trained extensively for the maintenance of the house and follow the maintenance manual at all times.

For more information visit the Takaungu Robinson House listing on Rightmove Overseas.