Pitching a Tent in DumaTau

Where Tensile Engineering and Architecture Meet

To understand what we achieved with the DumaTau Camp in Botswana, you must first picture the scenery around the Linyanti Swamp system with elephant corridors, abundant predators and prey among the intricate waterways. Then, imagine the challenges of the brief; to create the new benchmark for classic, ultra-luxury bush camps in southern Africa.

DumaTau was one of our first projects that called for a marriage of tensile engineering and architecture. Our integrated design approach ensured the safety and quality of the tent units while looking every bit the part of an ultra-luxury bush camp – it is architectural understanding of the bush.

The lay of the land

DumaTau was a complete rebuild. Safari operator, Wilderness Safaris, shifted the original camp 500 metres downstream due to problems with the wildlife that made their home in the trees above the camp. This new camp was to be built using viable alternatives to the existing thatch, brick and mortar structures, which weren’t considered environmentally sensitive.

We were handed a 2D-rendering of a footprint concept, which we reworked and nurtured into what today is the peaked design of the camp. By creating varying heights in the structures we were able to overcome a static aesthetic and blend the tents in with the landscape. The natural curved state of a tensile fabric membrane also lends itself perfectly to a natural setting.

The new DumaTau camp was an incredibly detailed development that set the foundation for our design scrutiny processes. This included building to-scale test models, conducting fabric performance tests, working through complex interface detailing and creating specialised fittings that function as well as they look.

Custom-designed roof and wall membrane system.

The pitch

Construction projects (specifically the materials used in development) are strictly regulated in this sensitive part of Botswana and all structures must be demountable to limit the impact on the environment. This is where the kit-form assembly from Tenthouse Structures shines. The entire construction kit is pre-designed to fit with precision, allowing for rapid erection and disassembling if required. The tents also offer guests the ultimate in comfort, luxury and are designed to withstand the African elements over an extended life period.

We used the highest-quality,  prestressed tensile fabric for the membrane, supplied by French company Serge Ferrari. This technical textile is fabricated in such a way that it retains dimensional stability throughout its life and so maintains its shape after fitment. These membranes are matt finished and textured to further accentuate the natural feel of the tents. The fabric performs a structural function while providing cover, which negates the use of heavy timber and other support beams, with only a lightweight support structure needed. The support structures and membranes are compact, therefore easy to transport, which reduces logistical challenges and building costs, especially when setting up camp in remote locations. The rapid assembly of the tent units also reduces labour requirements significantly.

The incredible natural surroundings at DumaTau were always going to deliver but the new camp needed that wow-factor, something “fresh”. We were approached to compliment the design team as the tent-design experts. The lead project designer had a great vision for the site, with the en-suite tents, included floating decks that today are major attractions at the camp. One of these floating decks, the “fire deck”, is one of the few places from where guests can watch the sunset at DumaTau.

The floating deck provides a unique vantage point for viewing the African sunset.

All hands on deck

The fire deck structure was a unique challenge, a first of its kind for the team. We approached this with inventive design and engineering solutions, but it also involved physical toil: our team working knee-deep in the crocodile- and hippo-infested waters of the Linyanti River. In retrospect, it is an element of the project we are extremely proud of and remains one of the great features at DumaTau.

The DumaTau project formed the foundation for future work and evolved our approach and ability to deliver a reliable, quality service that was on time and within budget. Since DumaTau, we have taken on more scope with the projects we are involved in. Today, we offer flexible layered solutions from high tech fabric roof systems through to full turnkey camp design and supply.

DumaTau remains one of our greatest achievements and we’d like to think the success of the camp is in part due to our design and unique approach. We delivered a custom-made product with industry-leading design elements and cutting-edge performance materials.

Following DumaTau and many other successful projects, Tenthouse Structures is positioned to deliver state-of-the-art, signature tented structures. Our award-winning remote luxury developments are a fitting testament to this.