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Sustainable tourism and conservation are the building blocks for a new visitor center in the Masai Mara, thanks to a collaboration between Abercrombie & Kent and the Mara Triangle Conservancy.


When the doors open to the Masai Mara Conservation Center, visitors will be able to climb up to an observation deck for wide-angle views over the savanna, spotting zebras among the acacia trees. Using interactive displays, they’ll learn about the incredible landscape and wildlife that surround them, the importance of conservation, and the customs and culture of the semi-nomadic Maasai people. The first of its kind in Kenya, it will form a striking architectural element for the reserve and give visitors a valuable orientation point — as well as promote sustainable tourism and provide an educational space for schools and the local community.

The center's design will be decided by an international architecture competition launched in April 2024 by leading travel brand Abercrombie & Kent (AKTG), in collaboration with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The idea came from the Mara Triangle Conservancy Management, which wanted a state-of-the-art center that would put the Mara’s incredible ecosystems into context and explain the Maasai’s custodianship of the land.

The competition, which is being run by RIBA — an organization with a track record of design competitions — is an open-design one, meaning that any registered architect worldwide can enter. The deadline for Phase 1 Designs is Tuesday 18 June, 2024, after which a shortlist of five designs will be presented to the judging panel, which includes members of A&K Travel Group, the Mara Triangle Conservancy and the president of Architectural Association of Kenya, Florence Nyole. The winning design will be announced in October 2024.

Entrants are asked to create an imaginative, eye-catching structure that will be a talking point across the continent and leave visitors with a sense of wonder. Its focus will be to educate visitors about the importance of conservation and biodiversity, while being sustainably minded and incorporating elements of Maasai culture and heritage, as well as natural local materials such as wood, stone and thatch. It should utilise energy-efficient technologies, renewable energy sources and passive design strategies such as natural ventilation and daylight, in order to reduce energy consumption. The centre should be no higher than two storeys, be inclusive and accessible for all, with a viewing platform on the second floor, and include a café, gift shop and a classroom.

The centre will be located next to Oloololo Gate, one of six gates to the Maasai Mara National Reserve, set in the north-east of the reserve near the Mara River and a short distance from the rift valley known as the Oloololo escarpment. The Masai Mara is a destination very close to the heart of Abercrombie & Kent and its founder Geoffrey Kent – the travel brand’s story began in the Mara back in the 1960s, and Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy (the company’s non-profit wing) has been raising funds and awareness for conservation and community efforts in the Masai Mara since 1982. Projects include building classrooms and ensuring 37,700 students have access to safe drinking water, a school-feeding programme providing lunch for 1,100 students and micro-enterprise initiatives for women’s groups.

“A&K’s heritage is rooted in Kenya's heritage, passionately committed to conservation and honouring the Maasai culture,” says Cristina Levis, CEO of Abercrombie & Kent Travel Group. “The new Conservation Centre at Oloololo Gate is more than a building; it's a symbol of sustainable tourism and environmental stewardship, aiming to protect the Masai Mara's natural beauty and cultural legacy. It reflects our vision of a sustainable future through eco-friendly design and education.”

The competition is open from Monday 15 April 2024, with the deadline for Phase 1 designs on Tuesday 18 June 2024. It is open to any registered architect, who must be officially registered through RIBA Competitions and have a Unique Registration Number (URN). Entries are subject to a registration fee of £50+VAT. Please visit here and click on the ‘register to enter’ button. Full details of the design brief can be found here. The winning design will be announced in October 2024. For more information visit www.architecture.com or email [email protected].
AKP Coordinator Zambia Sebastian Notarmarco Pope
Sebastian Notarmarco Pope
Africa Regional Coordinator
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