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Benguerra Island in Mozambique harbours many rare gems: Virgin shorelines, freshwater lakes, savannah and forest, tropical flora and fauna, and spectacular dive sites, to name a few. So when you find them all in one place, as in the case of the Kisawa Sanctuary, you know you’ve hit scenic jackpot.

The 300-hectare beachfront resort, designed and owned by Nina Flohr of NJF Designs, is scalloped into the island’s coastal forest, with 22 bungalows spread across 12 cove-side and oceanside residences. The sanctuary is the ultimate tropical hideaway for both holiday-makers and researchers (it supports marine research and conservation, via its sister property Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies, Africa’s first permanent ocean observatory).

What is magical about Kisawa is that the line between land and life, people and place, keeps moving. Nina carefully built around the island’s topography, pulling the trees, sand and ocean into the resort’s very skin–to the extent that it’s hard to tell where, or whether, the landscape really ends. Scratch the surface though, and you’ll discover that the little love affair between nature and built form is rooted in something far deeper—an ethos of sustainable construction and native craftsmanship that Nina holds dear.

 

Related: The Nest: Hand-made, Off-grid, Organic Lodge in Namibia by Porky Hefer.

 

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“Kisawa treads lightly on the land through conscious construction methodologies that reduce environmental impact. For example, our estimated cement usage has declined by up to 60%, thanks to concrete-free foundations,” says the designer, who employed Sudpave technology–which uses recycled and non-toxic paving materials–to construct the entire road system.

Incredibly, 80% of Nina’s workforce is artisans, half of them women, from Benguerra and neighbouring islands–making Kiwasa, quite literally, a local ‘labour’ of love. There are native emblems everywhere: In the vernacular finishes and thatched roofs, in the traditional handwoven baskets. You can see them in the sliding door panels where grasses are entwined by master weavers, and in the artisan-made chairs and tables made of local jambir and sambiri wood.

“All statues and carved forms were created by Kisawa’s in-house craftsman, Andre Antonio Zivane. He used offcuts left over from the sanctuary’s construction,” says Nina, gesturing to the plucky army of sculptures–ranging from miniature to oversized–that guard the property.

 

Related: Barefoot Luxury Villas in Cabo Verde by Polo Architects & Going East.

 

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While the exterior stirs up visions of barefoot bonfires by the sea, the interior matches up quite nicely. The handcrafted sculptures, art, antiques, and bespoke furniture are sourced from across Africa, “ensuring their preservation within the continent”.

The representation is evident: from clay water pots made by the Nupe tribe in Nigeria to chairs hand-carved by the Makonde people of Tanzania, antiques and artworks from Senegal and Ghana, to brass bedside lamps and marble tables galore, it’s as if artisans from across the continent decided to hop in with their best handiworks, all at the same time. The artisanal flair also means that no two rooms are exactly alike–each its own little jewel box of colour, furniture, artworks (both local and international) and antiques.

 

Related: Artists Residency & Cultural Centre in Senegal by Toshiko Mori Architects.

 

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