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Nairobi, Kenya

Kitengela

A glass wonderland in the middle of the Kenyan desert. 

When German art brut exponent Nani Croze settled in the desert across the road from Nairobi National Park in the 1970s, she had no reprieve from the scorching Kenyan sun. There were few trees, so the artist began making sculptures to create shade.

“[It] started as a pioneer homestead and grew into an oasis,” Croze has said. Now, the Kitengela settlement is a community/glassworks/hotel/sculpture garden that’s something like a cross between the splendorous architecture of Antoni Gaudí and a Hobbit village. 

The settlement is a wonderland with hidden works of art around every corner. The sculptures depict a fantastical world filled with dragons, butterflies and abstract, multicolored giants. In spite of the fact that every staircase and windowsill has been painted and molded to the artists’ satisfaction, Kitengela appears to have grown organically out of the earth.

Kitengela’s purpose is to improve the community. Its most obvious contribution is aesthetic beauty, but it also gives back in more tangible ways. Croze has partnered with hospitals and charities, giving away her own work and lessons. The materials used in Kitengela’s sculptures is all found and recycled, and they are as likely to be built by creative locals as by professional artists. Croze also hosts workshops and apprenticeships at Kitengela, some geared specifically for women to learn the art of glassmaking and mosaic. 

Kitengela has turned into a sort of commune—the studio on the property employs about 50 people, many of whom live there with their families as well. Visitors are also welcome to stay at Kitengela. Croze has several cottages available for short-term rentals, but be warned: None are free of animal life. Kitengela has its own pigs, ducks, and geese, but given that the community is adjacent to a national park, baboons, giraffes, and ostriches are just as commonly seen.