NESTLED DEEP IN THE HONDE VALLEY IN THE EASTERN HIGHLANDS IS ONE OF ZIMBABWE’S BEST KEPT SECRETS –EASTERN HIGHLANDS TEA ESTATE AND ABERFOYLE LODGE. IT’S SURROUNDED BY EXOTIC, ROLLING TEA PLANTATIONS, LUSH, INDIGENOUS RIPARIAN FOREST WHICH IS LARGELY UNTOUCHED, AND THE RENOWNED 9-HOLE GOLF COURSE. APART FROM GOLFING THERE ARE A NUMBER OF OTHER ACTIVITIES AVAILABLE INCLUDING LONG GUIDED OR UNGUIDED WALKS THROUGH THE FORESTS, BIRDING TOURS, TEA FACTORY TOURS, MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAILS, WHITE WATER RAFTING (FOR THE MORE ADVENTUROUS) AND EVEN ZIMBABWE’S FIRST TREE CANOPY TOUR WITH A ZIP-LINE THROUGH THE FORESTS ADJACENT TO THE NYAMKOMBE RIVER. ABERFOYLE LODGE HAS LONG BEEN KNOWN FOR FANTASTIC ACCOMMODATION AND GREAT FOOD, BUT NOW THERE’S A NEW ATTRACTION FOR VISITORS.
The Arches was opened in November last year providing a superb, new, multi-functional venue. It’s the perfect setting for a romantic wedding, or for conferences, workshops or any type of large gathering or events. Musical recitals are on the cards for the future. It’s currently being used as an art gallery space for a uniquely Zimbabwean exhibition. The gallery is presently showing the Cyrene collection entitled “The Stars are Bright”. It’s a rediscovered collection of extraordinary paintings and drawings by over forty young Zimbabwean artists that have not been exhibited together for almost 70 years. The artists attended Cyrene Mission School which was founded in the 1940s. This remarkable exhibition, featuring works from 1940 to 1947, has been lovingly curated by Lisa Masterson.
The Arches was designed by Geoff Fox from the leading local architectural firm Architectural and Planning Studio. His team included Graham Cochrane and Caspar Kumire. Geoff describes The Arches as a “gallery of its place” with a symbiotic relationship to the surrounding setting. As such the landscaping around The Arches is almost as important as the building itself. Great care was taken during construction to disturb the forest as little as possible and minimize cutting down of the trees around the structure. In fact, it was so important to preserve the existing ecology that the pond in front of the structure had to be drained so that cranes could come in with minimal disturbance to the surroundings. The gardens around The Arches were designed and installed by landscape architect Kerry-Ann Goddard to mimic the natural landscape as far as possible. There’s a large reflecting pond in front of The Arches lined with papyrus, reeds, and grasses. There are a few concessions to more formal gardens with agapanthus, amaryllis, and other flowering plants, or plantings with interesting coloured foliage to boost the natural look.
The structure is basically on two levels with the lower level housing facilities like the air-conditioning equipment, the IT and electrical services, and a storeroom. The lower basement level has been partially clad with local stone to help it blend into the site. Talented artisans from the surrounding area were employed for the cladding, and a large portion of the rest of the building work, providing much-needed employment, experience, and skills training.
The upper level includes the reception area, the open plan multi-functional gallery space, a generous conference or meeting room, ablutions, a catering kitchen and an outdoor seating area on the balcony. The gallery has air conditioning to ensure a stable temperature (22 degrees) and constant relative humidity for the preservation of the artwork. There are also three storerooms for high-value artifacts. The interior of the gallery is highly adaptable with movable screens for hanging artwork or displaying sculptures, and it can be reconfigured to a single open plan space for functions or divided into smaller demarcated spaces. It’s been oriented to face northwesterly to maximise the views of the gardens and the forest and allow natural light to fill the vast open room from the high clerestory windows formed by the different layers of the arched roof. The ceiling follows the high arched roof creating an almost cathedral-like ambiance.
Work on the project began in 2019 with the demolition of an existing, underutilized squash court and civil works to prepare the site for the development of the dormitory block and the adjacent pool. The main contractor for the build was Hydro Power Contractors, a company that usually deals with hydro-power projects in the area. However as they are linked to Aberfoyle Lodge (through Eastern Highlands Plantations Limited) they took on the task of managing the project as they have extensive experience in all aspects of the construction business.
Work on The Arches started with the groundbreaking in July of 2019 with construction of The Arches starting in earnest in October. The completed gallery officially opened in November last year. Obviously, Covid restrictions made progress on the project a little slower. Architectural Planning Studio has kept the palette of materials fairly restrained. The open plan gallery space has parquet wood block flooring in a traditional herringbone pattern while other – less public sections – have a simple polished concrete floor. The outside verandah overlooking the pond has Eva-last decking which is a composite product that’s very durable and environmentally friendly. Internal walls have been skimmed and plastered and painted white in the gallery space to provide an unobtrusive background for exhibitions, while other internal walls are either whitewashed brickwork or off-shutter concrete. The ceiling in the gallery follows the arch of the roof and has been clad in slatted timber with hessian behind. The timber and hessian provide both acoustic and temperature insulation.
Brown Engineering supplied and helped install the steel skeleton as well as the cranked and curved Chromadek roof which was manufactured off site and then craned in and fitted together. Sela Aluminium provided the aluminium and glass clerestory windows as well as the folding doors which open the gallery out to the balcony. Revolta’s Roots provided the custom made teak interior doors while Nigel Joscelyne supplied most of the furniture including the chairs and tables on the balcony.
To find out more about The Arches at Aberfoyle:
Call: +263 780 935 345
text by Michael Nott
photos by Chris Scott
additional photos by Structure and Design