Run by Nani Croze, the Kitengela Glass Studio in Kenya tells an inspiring story of creative reuse. This locale of Gaudi-inspired hobbit cottages is a showcase for recycled glass art and features pottery studios, ubiquitous metal sculptures, and even an animal menagerie. But if the charming aesthetic isn't enough to enchant you, Kitengela is also powered by solar energy, wind power, and bio-gas. Since its construction this sustainable, off-the-grid fantasy land has provided much-needed job opportunities while serving as a haven for visitors from all over the world.
At Kitengela, nature always comes first. Just half an hour’s drive south from the dirty din of the country’s capital, Nairobi, the village is overgrown with lush plants, trees, and vines of every variety. Where she can, Nani builds around the flora instead of chopping it down, and nothing goes to waste.
Every single building, wall or pathway throughout the property – even a bridge that crosses the nearby gorge – has been built with local materials. Decorations come in the form of bottle caps, broken tile, pieces of glass, feathers, scrap iron, and anything else that someone might throw away as garbage. Kitengela’s founders aren’t joking when they say everything is recycled.
Once a tented homestead on the Masaai plains far from any urban center, the facility has expanded into a sprawling village that employs roughly 60 people at any time. Not only does Nani teach local Kenyans a valuable skill that allows them to lift themselves out of abject poverty, but hundreds of their family members benefit by extension. Their glass art is listed for sale alongside her own internationally acclaimed pieces.
Nani’s son Anselm runs an efficient shop, turning out commercially styled glass at breakneck pace. In a country that has precious few recycling facilities, his beautiful glasses, chandeliers, and vases are more than just a pretty luxury. They also provide an invaluable ecological service that celebrates the indigenous Kenyan identity.
Kitengela’s eco-credentials are further boosted by a small wind turbine, solar panels, and bio-gas, which combined provides all of the fuel necessary for cooling, heating, lighting and cooking. Waste from the various camels, pigs, ostriches, ducks, chickens and other animals is collected in a large vat. The methane gas is then extracted and piped to a cooking area, while the remaining concoction is used to fertilize a thriving vegetable garden.
Given its complete devotion to keeping nature beautiful, Kitengela is architecturally and ecologically exciting, a genuine learning experience for anyone who visits. But it is also an inspiring eco-tourism destination for those who desperately need some soul-reviving R&R.