Mellet & Human Architects, based in Pretoria, received awards of Excellence and Merit from the South African Institute of Architects, as well as a 5star International Property Award for the design of this new house. The project is situated in Groenkloof, an established suburb of Pretoria sought after to live in for its central location, mild climate, big properties, richness in trees and views of the capital city. Today the area is characterized by younger couples moving and renovating the older properties.
The owners of this property, one which grew up in the area and is a landscape architect, wanted to move from their existing big house into a newly designed, smaller house on a subdivided portion of the property. This subdivision is situated below the existing house and borders the street to the north, and the Groenkloof Nature Reserve to the west. The brief called for a compact, easy living house which had to accommodate an extensive art collection accumulated over the years, consisting mainly of pictures and sculptures by South African artists. Accommodation had to provide open plan living areas, two en-suite bedrooms, a study and sufficient storage space.
It was a challenging brief: the small site was steep and narrow, existing trees and views from the house at the back had to be retained. In favor of the stand were the beautiful views over the capital city, the ideal north orientation and the bordering reserve which is like an extension of the property. The resulting house is like a high level penthouse absorbing the unobstructed views. The property was terraced in order to provide living areas on one level with basement parking and utilities below. This makes the house barely visible from the street. The house is unpretentious and unobtrusive in its setting against the hill, blending with the existing vegetation. It becomes part of the hill and responds sensitively to its environment.
A visitor’s ramp from the parking area makes a turn and reveals as surprise the expansive view through the glass front door. Moving through the house one is constantly aware of this view, since all rooms feature a glass skin to the north. Sliding doors open onto wooden decks, linking the house with the indigenous garden. The garden becomes an extension of the house.
The linear floor plan running east west provides all living areas and bedrooms north of a gallery. This gallery doubles as circulation space linking the public and private spaces, and is also exhibition space for the collection of paintings.
The building has a low profile with strong horizontal lines merging with the land and trees, and allows the building at the back to retain its uninterrupted views. The design incorporates clerestory windows that ensure the interior being extensively flooded with natural light, resulting in pleasant living spaces. Warmth and an intimate atmosphere are created by the choice of materials for the interior and exterior. Natural stone, wood and textured finishes create a down-to-earth ambiance. The building essentially becomes part of the hill, and responds well in its logic layout and detailing to the climate, slope and views. The house relies on solar energy and gas for cooking making it environmentally sustainable.
The integration of the building to its environment is further enhanced by the well-planned garden designed by the landscape architect owner. The art collection is extended into the garden where powerful sculptures create focal points anchoring the view. The awards bestowed by the South African Institute of Architects recognizes, promotes and creates public awareness of excellence in architecture, and is run every two years.
An excerpt of the citation by the judges of the awards on the design included the following: “This house conceptually infuses an art and sculpture gallery into a residential dwelling. By taking advantage of the spectacular views surrounding the site, whilst humbly confining itself to an untamed slope of the property, the house becomes a showpiece of unlimited visually captivating site lines. It is often the case that homes of art collectors are austere with disproportionate interior volumes; a notion turned onto its head by this residential building as it evokes a down-to-earth ambiance within well-proportioned indoor spaces”
ARCHITECT: MELLET & HUMAN ARCHITECTS (André Mellet & Willem Human)
YEAR OF CONSTRUCTION: Completed end 2011
FLOOR AREA: 380sqm