Date: 2017-2021
Scale: 350m2
Type: House 
Location: Cape Town

Located on a 4000m2 site in a semi-rural location on the slopes of the Steenberg mountain range, this building is nestled in a manner to suggest it is neither elevated nor buried. It surrounds and straddles a chosen location on the site. It was built for a couple who share their time equally between Belgium and South Africa. An open brief provided freedom to explore a considered response to the landscape rather than a focus on the myriad constraints of accommodation.

The site bares the scars of the presence of an earlier dwelling which was demolished due to structural failure. Further manipulation of the site was limited so that this chapter in the site’s history is not erased. Some garden retaining structures remain too as a reminder. There are three parts which define the body of the new house. Each is distinct in its position and relationship to the other as well as to the topography of the site. They are loosely positioned in a U-shaped plan, in a sort of ‘embrace’ and relate to intended use and requirements of privacy and separation, but more specifically respond to prevailing winds, solar orientation and outward views.

The first – a modest structure housing guest accommodation and a work area - appears to emerge from a steep slope behind it, an extended garden wall disappearing into the landscape driving this point home. Another wall emerge forms the two sides of a pool and level plane - an unprogrammed open space for gathering and looking out.

Adjacent to this, and hovering askew above the former, is a heavy concrete canopy. It encloses and protects the 2nd part, a large outdoor room from which to escape the harsh sun and winds. From here you can see as far outward as False Bay on a clear day, but also through the house itself towards the summit of Table Mountain to the north. This massive structure continues to the interior as the roof of a glazed living space at the same level which celebrates the light and the landscape. A sudden step-down in the soffit at the threshold of living and kitchen spaces along a diagonal signals the connection to the third part. The spaces and light here are modulated - there are shadows lurking in corners; ones’ eyes adjust to the more subdued light and are drawn to the gleaming steel surfaces of the kitchen.

A smaller glazed aperture requires one to pause and look out en-route to the main bedroom. A lower level is reached by a modest staircase, which links the upper level to the main entrance of the house in response to the direction of the gentle slope of the landscape’s surface. The spaces at this level are altogether different in character, more introverted and cocoon-like.

In using limited materials with recognisable qualities of the earth - concrete, lime-bagged brickwork and stone - the challenge was to achieve an alchemy between the three where finish and structure are one and the same. It became apparent early on that this was possible if each material was allowed to be fully present with its inherent colour and texture, without any additional treatments. This results in the entire structure reading as a homogenous body against whose skin the sun and seasons render their effects strongly and will continue to do so as it ages.

The building resonates with its landscape; the vegetation which was disrupted during the construction has been restored and augmented using indigenous flora of the area, a water-wise solution to this recently drought-stricken part of South Africa. As it continues to grow and surround the house, structure and landscape fuse and become one.

SAIA Corporate Practice No. PF4090 | SAIA Membership No.7664 | © 2022 Chris van Niekerk | All Rights Reserved