LAPALALA WILDERNESS SCHOOL Wins Architectural Merit Award from the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA) in the Limpopo Region


(Posted 17th November 2023)

Designed by Local Studio Architects, the new Lapalala Wilderness School Campus opened in November 2022 and is a true off-the-grid, eco-build with Net Zero Carbon status, merging seamlessly into the natural beauty of the surroundings.


The school is an environmental education centre in the Waterberg, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, within Limpopo, South Africa. It conducts environmental and conservation centered programmes for approximately 3000 students annually, most of them from local communities within the Waterberg region.

Background to the Lapalala Wilderness School

More than 30 years after the original Lapalala Wilderness School was founded by Clive Walker and Dale Parker, the five year building project of the new campus was made possible by funding from the Mapula Trust, under the guidance and direction of Duncan Parker, son of Dale Parker, with the assistance of Gianni Ravazzotti and the Italtile Foundation.

Today, the campus is run by its Director, Mashudu Makhokha, and a dedicated team of educators.  “Lapalala Wilderness School is an educational institution like no other. It uses the environment as its classroom to deliver learning that has the potential to create lasting change in both learners and the world in which they live,” he says with enthusiasm.


Unique Features of the Award Winning Eco Campus (photographs courtesy Sean Gibson Photography)

  • Starting with the layout, the campus was intentionally designed to make creative, efficient use of space with both shared and private areas blending with the natural landscape of rehabilitated bushveld along the Palala River.


  • Soil from foundation excavations was used to create rammed earth walls, which are aesthetically pleasing and provide natural insulation and effective noise reduction.


  • The physical classrooms, library, dining hall and learner’s dormitories are light and airy, with clean, uncluttered décor in white, natural wood and earth tones.


  • An amphitheatre serves as an outdoor auditorium, and shaded courtyards provide for more informal learning spaces.


  • The Boma, with a fire pit as the focal point, provides a space for stargazing and interactive learning through storytelling.


  • Indigenous grasses, succulents, medicinal plants, and a vegetable garden have been planted to beautify, educate, treat, and feed the learners at the school.


  • Whilst a reservoir cum swimming pool offers relief from the heat and a place to unwind and have some fun.


  • When it comes to Net Zero Certification focusing on carbon, water, waste, and ecology, the Lapalala Wilderness School campus met all the requirements for the certification. All power is generated on-site via a hybrid integrated solar power system with batteries. Water is sourced from two boreholes, rainwater is harvested into tanks, and wastewater is collected, treated, and reused.


But it does not end here, as plans are already afoot for a magnificent interactive museum, also designed by Local Studio Architects. “ We will be breaking ground in the not too distant future to begin work on an exciting new addition to our campus. We have a dynamic school and are continuously looking for ways to enhance the learners’ environmental education experience,” says Makhokha.

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