When designing stylish residences in upmarket estates, architects have to balance the prescriptive style of the estate, the client’s ideas for a perfect home, as well as their own professional vision for good architectural design. WALLS & ROOFS in Africa magazine talked to two architects about their approaches.

House Gouws – Southdowns Estate
ARCA Unlimited

The Southdowns Residential Estate is situated in Irene, Pretoria, and covered by 46 hectares of conservation corridors and agricultural areas, which creates a farm-living feel. The more than 700 stands have an average size of 1 200m² and lots of indigenous planting designed to maximise biodiversity.

ARCA Unlimited’s design of the Gouws family home had to take advantage of the beautiful surrounds, whilst providing privacy from public spaces.

Solid southern and western street boundaries with perforated aluminium screens provide privacy, while allowing filtered natural light into the house. A visual axis extends through the front door and entrance gallery, penetrating this privacy barrier and linking to a formal landscaped courtyard and the views beyond. A deck and seamless floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors dissipates the threshold between inside and out.

The concept of seamless transition is further carried through to detailing: The simplest possible transition between different building materials is utilised. Living and bedroom spaces are orientated inward around the internal courtyard, while rhythmic progression of proportions with honest expression of structure and materials help to orientate the user and make the architecture more intelligible.


What is your approach to estate design?
“Naturally it helps when the estate is beautiful and the guidelines are sound architectural principles to begin with. However, I believe that any project – no matter what the brief, constraints or context – will be successful if the designer remains true to the process of design and applies honest architecture.

“Using pure architectural concepts and honest materials, coupled with a close relationship developed with the client and an understanding of their needs and lifestyle, more than a pretty picture, is what makes for a successful project. It is our job to interpret the guidelines, investigate the pretty Pinterest picture to understand the client’s intent and balance it out with realistic, honest design.”

– Gerrit Wassenaar, Director at ARCA Unlimited

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Contemporary farm house – Waterfall Country Estate
Gottsmann Architects

Stand 4072, Waterfall Country Estate Courtesy of Gottsmann Architects

Waterfall Country Estate is part of one of the largest mixed-use property developments, midway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. Starting from a clean slate, unaffected by the constraints of old infrastructure, the development is aimed at becoming a new green city.

Designing the residence on Stand 4072, Donovan Gottsmann focused the design around the family of four’s specific living habits. The client’s brief called for a moderately large house with emphasis on outdoor living, grass terraces for the children, open-plan living and good flow within and without the house.

The couple specifically wanted a contemporary interpretation of a farm house, with industrial elements inspired by the vernacular farm sheds, and with priority placed on the link between the interior and the exterior living components of the home.

The southward slope of the site, however, meant that the house, which is orientated mostly north, would be living out upward toward the hill. This was a challenge as the estate has a prescribed limit on the cut and fill of the site. It also presented a storm-water concern and an impractical relationship between the outdoor and interior living areas on the northern side of the property.

These challenges were addressed by subtle terracing of the stand in order to achieve a practical and useable garden platform for the northern garden, allowing the entertainment and living areas to live out, and not up, for a practical, optimal living experience.

What is your approach to estate design?
“On one hand, the prescriptive styles of estates help to direct the design and the aesthetic of the project. Yet on the other hand, some rules and guidelines, although set out with good intention, ultimately limit the design, especially when looking to go beyond the norm or bringing in alternative design ideas.

“These prescriptive styles are important as it ultimately helps to uphold the value of the development within such estates and when applying creativity within the confines of the guidelines, it often manifests surprising outcomes.

“However, design should be balanced, but not compromising. When a design idea arises which is not necessarily in line with the prescriptive style and rules of the estate, we seek to motivate and substantiate why we have done what we have, why the design should be considered, the inherent value in our design and how we have addressed their rules in an alternative way.

“In addition, meeting the estate guidelines, the client’s visual diary and the architect’s vision is truly a balancing act. On one of our current residential projects within an estate with just such confines, we have aptly labelled the process as ‘striking equilibrium’ between all the variables. Once everything feels right, from the flow and aesthetics of the house, to the orientation and consideration of views, all applied within a creative application of the estate guidelines, equilibrium has been struck.”

–    Donovan Gottsmann, professional architect at Gottsmann Architects

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to ARCA Unlimited and Gottsmann Architects for their comments, as well as project information and images provided.

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