On the slopes of the Steenberg Mountains, on a 4 000m² site, the Mountain House is nestled in a manner to suggest it is neither elevated nor buried, straddling a central location on the site.  

 Chris van Niekerk explains that an open brief provided the freedom to explore a considered response to the landscape, rather than a focus solely on the constraints of accommodation.  

 Design overview 

 There are three parts which define the body of the new house – each distinct in its position and relationship to the other as well as to the topography of the site. The parts are positioned in a U-shaped “embrace”, relating to the use and requirements of privacy and separation, while responding to prevailing winds, solar orientation and outward views. 

 The site bears 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 its history was not erased. 

 Site inspiration 

 The house is a combination of in-situ concrete and loadbearing brickwork. The decision for concrete was to create spaces that were unadorned and almost primal in nature. Sandblasting the surfaces exposed a special quartzite aggregate from Port Elizabeth. 

 I wanted to focus the attention on the relationship between the building and site and in a way, concrete reminds one of the large boulders on the site. The cues for the design were taken from the site,” explains Van Niekerk. 

 Creating spaces and structure 

 The first structure, a modest guest bedroom and work area, appears to emerge from a slope because of an extended garden wall gently disappearing into the landscape. Another wall forms the sides of a pool and level plane, an unprogrammed space for looking out. 

 Hovering above and askew to this structure is a heavy concrete canopy. It encloses and protects the second part, a large outdoor refuge from the sun and winds. From here one can see as far outward as False Bay, but also through the house towards Table Mountain to the north. This massive structure continues to the interior as the roof of a glazed living space which celebrates the light and the landscape. 

 A sudden stepdown in the soffit at the threshold of living and kitchen spaces signals the connection to the third part. The spaces and light here are modulated. To the left, a smaller aperture requires one to pause and look out on route to the main bedroom. 

The lower level is reached by a modest staircase, which is linking the upper level to the main entrance of the house in response to the direction of the gentle slope of the landscape. The spaces here are different in character, more introverted and enclosed. By using limited materials with recognisable qualities of the earth, the challenge was to achieve a result where finish and structure are the same. This was possible only if each material was allowed to be fully present with its inherent colour and texture, without any additional treatments. 

 Material selection 

 The walls utilise a light beige face-brick aesthetic (FBA) brick from Corobrik, which was bagged using lime plaster. This is a technique that is often used in the restoration of old buildings due to the ability of lime to breathe, and it allows trapped moisture to escape. “The colour of the lime and brick combination matched the colour of the sandblasted concrete almost exactly, so I was very pleased with this decision,” says Van Niekerk. 

All soffits are sandblasted off-shutter concrete and the flooring is the same light beige granite flagstones throughout. 

Embracing the landscape 

 The materials used allow the entire structure to read as a homogenous body, against which the sun and seasons will render their effects strongly as the structure ages. The vegetation has been restored and augmented using indigenous flora of the area, a water-wise solution to this recently drought-stricken region of South Africa. As it continues to grow and surround the house, structure and landscape become one, allowing the house to resonate with its landscape. 

 

Project details: 

Type: House. 

Location: Steenberg, Cape Town. 

Erf size: 4 000m². 

Dwelling: 350m². 

Architect: Chris van Nierkerk. 

Photography: Frank Nash and Chris Cox. 

 

For more information, contact Chris van Niekerk: 

Email: chris@cvn.co.za 

Website: www.cvn.co.za 

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