Leon KlugeMama nature’s merge with architecture

Having to be on the filming location at 4.00am in the morning is not what I call fun, especially because I am not the most bubbly morning person, not at all! But arriving on site with my (also half asleep and driving!) co-presenter I quickly woke up, as if I had a infusion of Red Bull to my heart. Entering the Cradle of Humankind was special not only to all South Africans but all of humanity…

Entrance to Maropeng, the ‘Cradle of Humankind’

Mrs Ples

The Cradle or Maropeng, as it is known in Africa, is a 47,000 hectare UNESCO world heritage site, just outside buzzing Johannesburg. This is where the oldest hominid fossils known to man was found by Dr Broom and Mr Robinson with some fossils dating back as far as 3.5 million years ago, and most of them found in the limestone of the Sterkfontein Caves, such as the very famous ‘bony’ Mrs Ples!

Maropeng building from the side

The entrance to the Cradle of Humankind, or Maropeng, is a wide open savanna with a few scattered rocky outcrops, but alive with animals and plants. The Maropeng building and museum is the entrance to the cradle and UNESCO site and is a vertical green building that looks like a huge grassy termite mound with the entrance door to the museum going right through the middle of it.

Maropeng rock wall feature – climbing my way up!

The museum is hidden beneath the grass mound, and one of my favourite activities for the morning was scaling a huge and very impressive wall made out of broken stone from the excavation site. It protrudes in different lengths out of the building wall, showing off its rough texture, with just a still reflecting pool at the base of this very imposing rock facade.

The Cradle of Humankind has a lot of hotels and resorts scattered around the area, and Forum Homini was the one we were going to…(to get that all important first coffee).

View over the Forum Homini hotel

Driving on the dirt road with the sun just…just hinting to make its appearance over Gauteng, we started looking for the hotel we were supposed to be doing the shoot at, but all we could see is the never ending flow of the golden green savanna…..and then suddenly there’s a sign next to the road that reads ‘parking to Forum Homini’. OK?? I wasn’t told to bring my hiking boots….

Reception at Forum Homini

The pathway from the parking lot started to sink into the earth, leading down a steep stone pathway and then the hotel slowly appears alongside you… OH MY!! Now I know why we came…

Forum Homini is a 5-star Hotel in the beating heart of the cradle. What makes it so unique is that it is completely covered by the golden wavy savanna, perfectly camouflaged, and in complete harmony with Mama nature.

Forum Homini hotel landscape

While the hotel was under construction all the plants on site were rescued and placed in a holding nursery awaiting their return to site, exactly where they were before, only now it would be on top of a rooftop.

Lots of details in the buildings

The building consists mainly of concrete, local rock that was excavated during the build on site, wood and glass. The style is slick and modern, just how I like it. After having one of the best coffees in ages we started exploring this fascinating concrete savanna.

Forum Homini restaurant next to the wetland – home to red bishop birds

Red bishop weaver

Water always give you a sense of calm and a big dam on the edge of the restaurant give you the stress relieve that all city slickers need. The plants in and around the dam mainly consist of Nymphea, Juncus effuses and Juncus krausii, also a variety of Kniphofia species, and the all-important Typha to give nesting material to the glamorous red bishop weavers.

Roofs connect to give the illusion of flow

The roof of the hotel-rooms start just above ground level and slope slightly skywards to one side, linking the building to the surrounding landscape without any break in grassland to the eye. The grass, although beautiful and colourful by itself, were also interplanted with some flowering grassland plants, such as Aloe cooperii, Gladiolus sp, Kniphofia sp, Albuca and Dierama.

Stone art in the landscape

Metal sculpture by Marco Cianfanelli

The use of garden art is also very prominent in the landscape and one of the main features that I would have loved to put in the back of my car was the skeleton of Mrs Ples, by artist Marco Cianfanelli, made out of a collection of cut steel plates, separate from each other, but giving you the 3D image of the ‘bony’ old lady.

Clever African stone walls dividing rooms

Stone walls at the Forum Homini

I feel that the architects from ACTIVATE Architects and the landscape team from GreenInc listened to and involved the natural landscape and surroundings, working with the plant and animal life, and the end result being an award winning architectural dance with nature.

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Leon Kluge

About Leon Kluge

Leon Kluge is an award-winning landscape designer who was part of the successful South African team at Chelsea in both 2010 and 2012, and the Gardening World Cup in Japan in 2011, and then won a Gold medal at the 2013 Cup. Leon is known for his modern, contemporary landscapes, sustainable community projects and his specialisation in vertical gardens. His company Leon Kluge Landscape Design is based in north-eastern South Africa.

4 thoughts on “Mama nature’s merge with architecture

  1. anne latreille on said:

    what an awesome place Leon. Your photographs are great. Love the stone wall that ?you? are climbing. And the lake, the red bird, the architecture of the hotel and the way it sinks into the earth!

  2. I can’t believe you’re not a bubbly morning person Leon! But this is indeed an amazing landscape and architecture project. It must be hard as a designer to take such a back seat and to only allow a few subtle and deft touches to separate the artificial from the real surrounding landscape. What a magic place.

  3. Janet Spruce Bennett on said:

    Hi Leon, love all the articles but mostly love that you undertook our garden design. We feel very privileged that we met you and that you understood exactly what we wanted. I know that our wishes wouldn’t have been perhaps your typical design but you delivered and we are so very appreciative.

    Keep up those fantastic articles….always something new to explore or learn about. Well done!

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