On the 1st April 2019, a spaceship landed on a rocky outcrop in Gondwana Namib Park. But it was the 1st of April. So, no aliens nor spaceships were found… In fact, it was the near-finished construction site of the Desert WhisperGondwana’s remote retreat for two that opened in May 2019. This secluded slice of paradise is already a big hit amongst Gondwana fans, especially for honeymooners and stargazers. But why the peculiar architecture?

Also known as the Namib Pod, the Desert Whisper’s design, as alien as it might seem, was inspired by nature, and more precisely by the Namib’s endemic !nara plant. As Marcos Cruz puts it, “Nature is by far the richest source of inspiration and knowledge that we have.” Discover more about the design in this blog post.

A secluded slice of paradise ©Gondwana Collection Namibia

The !nara plant, an endemic species to the Namib ©Annelien Robberts

The architect of the Desert Whisper

As one of Gondwana’s core values is respect for Mother Nature and in an effort to tread as lightly as possible, we approached an architect whose values are in harmony with ours to design the Pod. It is in this light that we introduce the Desert Whisper’s architect to you: Sven Staby.

Staby’s research included the use of sustainable materials in a remote region that can withstand the elements of the desert such as wind and heat. He drew his inspiration from the !nara plant’s fruit with its tough outer skin that is leafless and can survive in the harsh climate. This is reflected in the hard metal exterior of the Desert Whisper protecting the soft interior. The fruit’s inner flesh is soft and contains kernels. The shape of the kernels inspired the punctured metal exterior. These openings are oval-shaped, differ in size and follow an organic pattern, allowing proper ventilation. Furthermore, the smooth design lacking sharp edges eliminates any possible whistling sounds that might have been created by the wind.

Desert Whisper ©Gondwana Collection Namibia

The fruit of the !nara is called melons ©Annelien Robberts

The kernels of the !Nara plants ©Annelien Robberts

Even in the desert, metal rusts over time, which means the exterior will become mottled and flecked, resembling the fruit’s exterior. This results in a sort of camouflage, making it blend in with the environment. Furthermore, the metal exterior is a protective layer of the interior. Between the metal skin and the “roof” is a gap to allow ventilation. Warm air rises and escapes through the top holes, while cooler air rises from the ground, ensuring partial cooling of the structure. This is made possible through the elevation of the structure on steel posts anchored in the rock.

The entire Pod is an oval cut in two and organic in its design, complex in make-up, yet simple in form. Its environmentally friendly design allows for the building to be moved, should it be necessary for whatever reason, leaving the surrounds exactly as beautiful and unspoiled as they were before. Like a whisper being carried away on the wind, it would disappear without a trace, as if no human being had ever set foot there.

Desert Whisper ©Gondwana Collection Namibia

Desert Whisper ©Gondwana Collection Namibia

More about the !nara plant

From afar, the greenery formed by a cluster of !nara bushes surely attracts attention. A good example is when standing atop a dune overlooking Sandwich Harbour: Bright greens and blues stand in contrast to the pale beige sand dunes. But it is safe to say that the uninformed shipwrecked survivor will not seek refuge in the embrace of these thorny shrubs if stranded in the desert. You might see abundant wildlife here and wonder how anything survives on the Skeleton Coast…

Sandwich Harbour ©Annelien Robberts

Sandwich Harbour ©Annelien Robberts

The !nara plant occurs in the Namib, and are indicators of fresh underground water, with its root system reaching up to 50 metres deep. Of course, the desert wildlife knows where to dig to quench their thirst. It provides shelter to a host of desert organisms. On top of that, the fruit of the !nara provides a nutritious treat for animals in an otherwise seemingly hostile environment.

A jackal looking for fresh water in Sandwich Harbour ©Annelien Robberts

The !nara can be found in the Namib ©Annelien Robberts

An animal dug for fresh water nearby the !nara plants ©Annelien Robberts

Furthermore, the !nara plant is inextricably linked with the Topnaar, a desert-dwelling people whose livelihoods depend on it. Aside from its nutritious value, several parts of the plant are also used for medicinal purposes. (If you want to know more about the Topnaar people, click here.)

The !nara plays an irreplaceable role within the ecosystem. It has now also found its way into an interesting architectural masterpiece. While the internet has become the lazy way to scroll one’s way to inspiration, nature never ceases to amaze, influence and inspire those who set foot outside.

Book your stay at the Desert Whisper here.

If you want to know more about the uses of the !nara plant, read our blogpost here.

If you want to find out more about !nara products, click here

Annelien Robberts is an avid wordsmith who turns her pen to all things travel, culture, and lifestyle. She was born in a small town called Otjiwarongo and grew up on a farm nearby. Creativity, nature and animals make her happy.