Explore Namibia’s Haunting Coast With These Luxe Prefab Cabins

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By Lucy Wang
A luxury boutique hotel draws inspiration from the shipwrecks that line Namibia’s treacherous Skeleton Coast to create a thrilling getaway.

Set amidst the windswept sand dunes of Namibia’s coastline, Shipwreck Lodge is a low-impact boutique hotel that pays homage to the landscape in more ways than one.

Designed by Windhoek–based Nina Maritz Architects, the 20-bed property was constructed on a $2,000,000 (USD) budget that relied heavily on prefabrication to minimize environmental impact, and to ensure comfort for guests in the remote and extremely harsh desert.

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Shipwreck Lodge is located near the dry mouth of the Hoarusib River amidst a landscape of windswept sand dunes and salt-tolerant plants.

Shipwreck Lodge is located near the dry mouth of the Hoarusib River amidst a landscape of windswept sand dunes and salt-tolerant plants.

The sea lies to the west and high rocky hills are to the north.

The sea lies to the west and high rocky hills are to the north.

Critical to the design was the solar-powered lodge’s limited 25-year concession period, after which the prefab hotel will need to be fully removed from site.

The temporary lodge was born from a joint venture between Piet du Plooy, the late owner of Namibia-based travel agency Trip Travel, Journeys Namibia, and Natural Selections.

The temporary lodge was born from a joint venture between Piet du Plooy, the late owner of Namibia-based travel agency Trip Travel, Journeys Namibia, and Natural Selections.

"The Skeleton Coast is so-named for the many foundered vessels littering this treacherous shore," explains architect Nina Maritz of the 13,000-square-foot Shipwreck Lodge. 

The scenic desert habitat is home to a rich ecosystem and desert-adapted animals, including hyenas, lions, elephants, oryx, and giraffes.

The scenic desert habitat is home to a rich ecosystem and desert-adapted animals, including hyenas, lions, elephants, oryx, and giraffes.

"Trying to capture the sense of harshness and desolation that shipwrecked passengers and sailors experienced in earlier times, the timber cabins were designed to evoke broken pieces of ships."

"The siding was installed by using a revolutionary new 'Lignoloc' nailing system from Beck, whereby timber nails are driven into the wood to fix it to the support frames," explains Maritz. "This is the first time it has been used under such conditions, and will be watched with interest for it performance. "

"The siding was installed by using a revolutionary new 'Lignoloc' nailing system from Beck, whereby timber nails are driven into the wood to fix it to the support frames," explains Maritz. "This is the first time it has been used under such conditions, and will be watched with interest for it performance. "

The beds face a large horizontal window that overlook views of the sea and the sunset.

The beds face a large horizontal window that overlook views of the sea and the sunset.

Clad in pine and framed with spruce, the salt-and-moisture-resistant timber structures had been prefabricated in Windhoek, and then transported 12 hours to the site for final assembly.

In addition to the guest cabins, main lounge, and dining spaces, the luxury lodge includes full on-site staff accommodation, as well as back-of-house services—including kitchen, storage, workshop, laundry, water supply, energy systems, and a sewer treatment.

In addition to the guest cabins, main lounge, and dining spaces, the luxury lodge includes full on-site staff accommodation, as well as back-of-house services—including kitchen, storage, workshop, laundry, water supply, energy systems, and a sewer treatment.

The back-of-house components had been custom-made from shipping containers and fabricated in the small coastal town of Swakopmund, six hours from the site.

A look at the repurposed shipping containers for the back-of-house operations before final assembly.

A look at the repurposed shipping containers for the back-of-house operations before final assembly.

Built in the shape of a ship hull lying on its side, each of the 10 cabins features an outdoor deck and a spacious bedroom with two beds and a wood-burning stove. The bedroom connects to the bathroom housed in a pointed bow section that faces south into the wind.

The asymmetrical shape and tilted lines reinforce the impression that the cabins are capsized ships.

The asymmetrical shape and tilted lines reinforce the impression that the cabins are capsized ships.

Saligna timber has also been used for the floors, while OSB lines the walls of the toilet.

Saligna timber has also been used for the floors, while OSB lines the walls of the toilet.

"The remoteness of the site made logistics extremely difficult—no forgetting your pliers at home!—but the relentless wind, which removes the sand around the footings, is the most challenging feature of the site," further notes Maritz.

"Maintenance is relentlessly ongoing, and constant vigilance is needed to ensure that the wind does not undermine the structures, which are fixed to poles bedded deeply in the sand," says Maritz.

"Maintenance is relentlessly ongoing, and constant vigilance is needed to ensure that the wind does not undermine the structures, which are fixed to poles bedded deeply in the sand," says Maritz.

The spruce timber structures are clad in South African pine and fitted with Brits Isotherm recycled plastic insulation and Coverland Undertile membrane vapour barrier.

The spruce timber structures are clad in South African pine and fitted with Brits Isotherm recycled plastic insulation and Coverland Undertile membrane vapour barrier.

The cozy lounge with a wood-burning stove overlooks views of the northern rocky hills.

The cozy lounge with a wood-burning stove overlooks views of the northern rocky hills.

Melanie van der Merwe of Women Unleashed furnished the interiors with bespoke and off-the-shelf pieces.

Melanie van der Merwe of Women Unleashed furnished the interiors with bespoke and off-the-shelf pieces.

OSB board was mainly used for the interior walls of all the buildings.

OSB board was mainly used for the interior walls of all the buildings.

An artwork of a shipwreck hangs next to the dining room.

An artwork of a shipwreck hangs next to the dining room.

A fish-eye view of the guest cabin looking toward the bathroom. The floors are built of OSB board on South African pine substructure on treated gum-pole supports with Brits Isotherm insulation.

A fish-eye view of the guest cabin looking toward the bathroom. The floors are built of OSB board on South African pine substructure on treated gum-pole supports with Brits Isotherm insulation.

Saligna timber has been used for built-in counters in the double-sink vanity.

Saligna timber has been used for built-in counters in the double-sink vanity.

The shower room is lined with high-gloss Saligna timber.

The shower room is lined with high-gloss Saligna timber.

"Despite the references to wooden boats, the forms are abstracted, with only a few broken spars adding a light-hearted touch to signal the shipwreck theme," says Maritz.

"Despite the references to wooden boats, the forms are abstracted, with only a few broken spars adding a light-hearted touch to signal the shipwreck theme," says Maritz.

Here's the cabin floor plan and cross section.

Here's the cabin floor plan and cross section.

A look at the floor plan of the main building.

A look at the floor plan of the main building.

To book your own stay at the Shipwreck Lodge, click here for more details.