Limalimo Lodge, Ethiopia

Limalimo lodge in Ethiopia's stunning Simien Mountains, built from the ground they stand on


Rammed earth for a lodge in Ethiopia's Simien Mountains started with the architect Mario Balducci coming on a three day workshop in the UK. Returning to Ethiopia to practice he was approached by a small group who had permission to build the first lodge inside the Simien Mountains National Park, Limalimo.

Simien Mountains are a long way from a factory making building products, everything had to be made at site or transported a long way. So making walls from earth was an obvious choice, and rammed earth has some advantages over the local wattle and daub tradition. So the design developed and we consulted with skype and email to ensure the design was 'do-able' and that the tooling would work. It was all made on site from locally produced ply and timber except the bolts which were made up in the nearest town.

Making the most of expensive foreign consultants relies on a good communication between the designer/client and the consultant, with regular discussions, updates including many pictures of everything from plywood samples to soil tests. This ensures when we arrive on that only the things which can't be done remotely, looking at the soil, training the team, assembling formwork, mixes, placing, ramming and de-forming, can be started straight away, reducing time and cost on site.

Even so there was still work to be done to complete the


  Lodges nestle into the mountains, their colour a perfect reflection of the ground they stand on  

formwork when we arrived on site, the final hurdle of confidence was still  something the builders on site needed help with. This was another job where some small tools we brought could speed up the transition from no knowledge to competence. This included a hand drill with magnetic screw tip and a couple of boxes of self tapping wood screws. This allowed work to go on even when the electric generator ran out of petrol!

To begin we started with sample walls, the first was 1.2m x 1.2m, as this was being built the formwork for wall two, 1.2m x 2.4m was being prepared. Thus in a day we had two walls, one of which was 2.4m in height which is always a big psychological step, turning a heap of soil into something substantial and tall. The builders know what they put in the mix, that it's only clay which binds the material, and yet they are able to create big structures without any re-enforcing. as time goes by this builds confidence in the material which in turn helps all the processes from soil preparation to formwork removal.

After a week on site the team had produced a series of full sized walls, the carpenters working first under supervision and then independently. The mixing, placing and ramming was quickly taken up by a team of men and women who had been working together across the site digging foundations, building foundations a range of jobs so they knew each other. Starting to build walls was made easier because the team was already a team, but also because they realised how quickly they were able to build substantial elements without help.

The work continued over the following weeks and months, once the walls were built for the first units other jobs began, roofs, floors, windows and doors. We continued to consult on the job through skype and email, continued to get picture updates through dropbox to advise on details, fixings etc. It's great to get on site as a consultant, but not when they are so far away and cost is a factor. So the internet becomes a great tool to reduce distances.

The lodge has two main building types, bedrooms and the main reception and eating area. The bedrooms are quite similar to each other but also slightly unique, each having its own view across the mountains and private areas to sit out in. The main building has a rammed earth fire place, with a stripy wall and a


    Building with simple tools in a very remote location  


terrace with the most incredible view.

In fact the whole job came from the owners starting a walking safari business taking people into the park with a donkey and tents. Now you can enjoy the mountains up close and still go trekking with their guides, but come home to a hot shower at night too.



    Remote in the Simien Mountains