Damaraland, Namibia

Building the new Wilderness Desert Rhino Camp

Our Collective

Your Guide to Africa

Janine Avery


Designed for desert wanderers

A desert sanctuary. A refuge for rhinos. An escape for explorers. From humble beginnings 20 years ago as a field station dedicated to helping protect Namibia’s last remaining wild black rhino, a brand-new Wilderness Desert Rhino Camp is beginning to emerge. Six contemporary canvas and stone suites offer a sheltered oasis, a place where intrepid travellers find comfort in one of the last untouched places on Earth.

Welcoming our city-based project team and architects into the otherworldly landscape of the Damaraland region in Namibia requiring much ingenious planning, teamwork and thinking outside the box.


We recently spoke to Migs+Drew (M+D), the architects behind this newly reimagined camp, to find out what goes into the making of a safari camp in one of the world’s remotest desert destinations.

Q: What was the inspiration for the design of the new Desert Rhino Camp?

A (M+D): The safari camp’s original purpose focused on researching and tracking the desert-adapted black rhino, possibly the last population of its kind. This expeditionary aspect influenced the camp's ethos; however, the harsh desert environment heavily influenced the architecture. Given the extreme heat during the day and plummeting temperatures at night, providing shade and comfortable accommodations were top priorities.


The Namibian landscape itself, characterised by copper-coloured earth and red rocks, also served as a significant inspiration. These natural elements not only informed the design but we incorporated local stone into the construction. This decision not only rooted the buildings firmly in the landscape but also reduced the need for transporting materials over long distances, aligning with the concept of sustainability and minimising environmental impact.

Wilderness Desert Rhino Camp rebuild renders

Q: How has the "light footprint" approach influenced the design?

A (M+D): The new buildings for Wilderness Desert Rhino Camp primarily consist of timber frames, which are lightweight to minimise the impact on the environment. These structures are elevated, with only the necessary points touching the earth for structural support and foundation. Additionally, canvas, another lightweight and movable material, is used extensively, further reducing the camp's environmental impact. Stone walls ground the buildings, creating a balanced harmony between the fundamental natural elements and the lightweight timber and canvas structures. The large stretch-fabric roof provides essential shade, fulfilling the camp's requirements while maintaining its light footprint ethos.

Q: How does the camp blend in with its natural surroundings?

A (M+D): Careful attention was given to the colours and materials used. The canvas is a beige colour, mimicking the desert landscape, while the overall colour palette reflects the combination of red sand, rock, and beige tones typical of Namibia. Additionally, the buildings were strategically nestled within the existing trees on site to benefit from natural shade and privacy, enhancing their connection to the environment. 

Q: What unique challenges were faced when designing the new camp?

A (M+D): The extremely remote location in Namibia posed many unique challenges. Material choices were crucial, not only for their suitability but also for how they would be transported and assembled in the Namibian desert. Unlike urban projects where materials are readily available, in this remote location, there's no quick trip to a hardware store for supplies. Therefore, every aspect of the construction, from material selection to assembly, had to be meticulously planned.

Q:  What innovative features or materials have been used for this Namibian safari camp?

A (M+D): Rather than relying on complex architectural solutions, the focus is on utilising tried-and-tested methods to ensure comfort, maximised views, and an enhanced experience. For example, simple architectural techniques, such as deep overhangs, have been employed to manage overheating and regulate extreme temperatures. 

One innovative moment happened when we needed to move the old guest rooms and repurpose them into senior staff housing. But how? Hamish Hofmeyr, Wilderness Namibia Operations Manager explains. “Through the ingenuity of Head Guide Bons Roman, two trailer axles were removed from their trailers and connected to build a makeshift frame. The structures where then lifted on top of this and slowly pulled to their new destination”.

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Q: How does the design of the camp prioritise comfort and experience?

A (M+D): Drawing from the experiences at the previous camp, which had been in place for more than 20 years, we focused on insulating guests from the harsh elements while maximising views of the dramatic landscape. Unlike the previous camp's canvas walls, which could feel cold, the new buildings feature a combination of insulated timber frame and timber-clad walls, along with aluminium and glass sliders. Additionally, the solid timber floors and two-layer canvas roof, separated by an air gap for insulation, create a simple yet well-insulated environment. This design approach provide guests with a comfortable experience regardless of the extreme temperatures, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in these breathtaking Damaraland surroundings.

Wilderness Desert Rhino Camp rebuild renders

Q: What efforts were made to involve and benefit local communities in the construction of the camp?

A (M+D): The Palmwag Conservancy, in which Wilderness Desert Rhino Camp is located, is managed by Save the Rhino Trust (SRT) Namibia, which is the custodian of this population of these amazing desert-adapted animals. The SRT’s trackers come from local communities and possess a deep knowledge of rhinos and their surroundings. Wilderness Desert Rhino Camp, in the shade of two of the largest mopane trees in the area, is located at one of their original research camp sites, and Wilderness continues to work closely with the SRT trackers, who guide guests to experience the majesty of the desert-adapted black rhinos on foot. 


In terms of construction, local community labour has been used extensively, particularly in the construction of the stone walls, which were crafted by their skilled hands, one stone at a time. 

Meet the architects

Migs+Drew (M+D) is a collaboration between Miguel Ferreira da Silva and Andrew Payne. These two visionaries are the architects, creatives, designers and makers behind the new Wilderness Desert Rhino Camp. They are lovers of crisp modern, contemporary design, using warm natural materials like timber, marble and granite in a modern way. Their work is focused almost entirely, if not completely, on projects in the natural environment and on safari lodge work across Africa, showing  respect and reverence for nature and the natural environment, and highlighting its preservation while amplifying the experience and appreciation of nature for the guest. 

Let’s plan your next journey


When we say we’re there every step of the way, we mean it, literally. From planning the perfect circuit, to private inter-camp transfers on Wilderness Air, and easing you through Customs. We’re with you on the ground, at your side, 24-7, from start to finish. Ready to take the road less travelled? Contact our Travel Designers to plan an unforgettable journey.