The completely rebuilt and revamped Jao Camp will retain the same high stilted main area built into the tree canopy, with more private areas in amongst the trees. The camp will comprise two villas and five twins with private plunge pools, lounge and dining areas, kitchen facilities plus en-suite bathrooms, including indoor and outdoor showers. The new Jao Villas, accommodating four people each in the two identical guest rooms, which share the main area, will feature a private vehicle, guide, chef and butler.

Why Steel was chosen

 “Over the years traditionally camps have been built using local hardwood and tinkers. This was not good as the forestation is a real issue. Certified plantation tinkers treated were the next step in the evolution of the Bush camp….. However, The CCX treated tinkers request a lot of maintenance and stress on the roads, service people, low of income dining maintenance and general frustration.

For this reason, we have worked to use pre-manufactured steel structures by SE Steel. This gives us a maintenance free structure that is manufactured off-site and assembled on our pristine site.”

“Having to replace our old substructures provided us with the opportunity to enhance the special features that we always loved about Jao, to make improvements and incorporate extra touches. We are making the most of our camp environment, with buildings set to blend into the tree canopy whilst offering stunning views and honouring our commitment to be as eco-sensitive as possible”, says co-owner of the Jao Reserve, Cathy Kays.

Lead architects, Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens, who designed the original Jao in 1999, shared their approach to the rebuild: “We have taken a fresh and contemporary approach to the sense of adventure Jao always had – creating a feeling of not knowing what to expect around the next corner, and the element of surprise and delight in this ever evolving sculptural architectural language. The architecture is a collection of different spaces that take the visitor on a spatial adventure as one enjoys being in the Delta The everchanging architectural structures take their clues from forms found in nature but in a fresh innovative way. Conventional materiality is replaced with a more eco- sensitive palette as the bouquet of spaces and sculptures evolves.

The way one is couched, protected from the environment, is blended into a series of highly sculptural emotive spaces that amplify the blur between the concept of shelter & art/ sculpture & architecture.

The visitor’s poetic mental space is taken to a higher level. The choreography of 24 hours in the Delta has been crystallised into structures that artistically house and heighten each event and ritual experienced when visiting Jao. A family of concepts have been evolved by the architects specifically for the Jao concept”.

The main area will feature both indoor and outdoor lounges, dining areas, a satellite kitchen and several private dining areas, along with a fire deck. The spa at Jao will be tucked in amongst the palms for privacy and is surrounded by water to provide a calming and tranquil atmosphere. The gym will be built on the edge of the island, presenting stunning views over the lush waterways, while the main pool, with its unique canopy pavilion providing shade, will project out into the floodplain with 270-degree views of the Delta.

A colour palette of creams, greens, soft purple and splashes of yellow will be used, incorporating a unique botanical theme with special emphasis placed on the water lily. A range of beautiful new furnishings will be crafted to reflect the theme. A mix of wood and light-coloured Eva-tech decking will contrast with the red balau wooden walkways and lighter floors in the internal areas. The walkways reflect the old camp and provide a striking difference to the room interiors, which will be more refined in appearance. Comfort is provided through cooling and heating systems, complementing the camp design. Using Climate Wizard, an Australian cooling system, the suites and villas will be cooled with an indirect evaporative cooler that delivers a large amount of cold air with no added moisture, for a fraction of the energy used by conventional air conditioning systems. Self-igniting Calore stoves will provide heating during the colder months.

Design choices amplify the eco-sensitivity of the structure. The steep angling back wall and roof are made with fibre roofing material, with the interior clad in fibre reed and the exterior clad in fibre palm tiles. The rest of the walls are constructed from a combination of canvas and gauze, with minimal glass in front of the bed and bath. Using aluminum frames, large parts of the front of the room will open up. The main structures are all made out of steel that is painted a gum pole colour. The roofs will also feature gum poles and latte poles to support the fibre roofing on the inside, with wooden plyboard to which the reed is attached. For maximum eco-efficiency, built walls will feature Cavitybatt insulation and an added board of plywood, with waterproofing and fibre palm attached to the top layer. We have made great use of natural lighting – parts of the roof feature sky lights covered with latte poles to provide shaded, dappled lighting. All buildings will have a latte verandah roof to provide extra shade.

A key feature is the museum and gallery, described by Rech and Carstens as follows:

“Imagine a building that houses all our thoughts pertaining to visiting the Okavango Delta This is how the concept of the Gallery and Museum was borne. This creates a centre where visiting scientists and researchers can present their research, and where items can be displayed for educational purposes. There are also always a large number of found objects that are interesting from a guest perspective as they give a greater understanding of the area such as local plants and animal bones, as well as geographical maps and artworks of the region. We are building a double volume structure that has the Gallery on the upper level- where these items can be displayed to greater effect, rather than just render them décor items and the Shop on the lower level. Among the Gallery items will be a series of prints from the National herbarium in Pretoria of Botanical pressing made by Cathy Kays great grandfather- E.E Galpin- who was one of the pre-eminent botanists of his time and has been called the ‘Prince of Collectors”. He left 16000 sheets to the herbarium and a number of plant species have been named after him. We are selecting plants of the region that he identified. Other items on display will be a series of animal skeletons, mounted and displayed like a museum, for educational purpose. The current plan is for a giraffe skeleton. Obviously, these are skeletons of animals that have died from natural attrition, so they take some time to source.” From waterways and lagoons to dry Kalahari grasslands, Jao’s location on a remote island in one of the most picturesque concessions in the Delta provides both land and water Okavango experiences, with day and night game drives all year round.

“We are delighted with the progress of the rebuild to date, and look forward to welcoming our guests back to our new and enhanced Jao Camp in 2019”, Cathy concludes.

Completion date of steelwork March 2019
Completion date of full project June 2019
Tons of structural steel used 330 Tons
Structural profiles used Tubes and I-Beams all cold rolled
Project Team Role Company
Nominator SE Steel Fabrication (PTY) Ltd
Client/ Developer Ngamiland Adventure Safaris (Pty) Ltd
Architect silvioRECH + lesleyCARSTENS Architecture and Interior Architecture
Structural Engineer PLB Engineers
Engineer PLB Engineers
Quantity Surveyor Q24U
Project Manager SE Steel Fabrication SE Steel Fabrication SE Steel Fabrication


Main Contractor Lodge Builders Botswana
Steelwork Contractor SE Steel Fabrication

(PTY) Ltd

Steel Erector SE Steel Fabrication (PTY) Ltd
Cladding Manufacturer Fibre Roofing
Cladding Supplier Fibre Roofing
Cladding Contractor Fibre Roofing
Nomination Document Submission KRU Detailing CC
Structural Steel Detailer KRU Detailing CC


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