Prof. Arthur Barker, architect and academic in the Department of Architecture at the University of Pretoria, considers context to be the most important aspect in designing or awarding any piece of architecture.
“In my opinion, successful architecture is that which recognises, builds upon and improves its traditions through the influences of place, function or available technologies. Copying a tradition freezes it in time and results in limited aesthetic interpretations, such as the ubiquitous Tuscan enclaves that surround our cities,” he states.

In terms of upmarket housing, having visited over 30 houses as part of his role on the award panels for the 2015 Namibian and Pretoria Institute for Architecture (PIA), Barker was disappointed by the lack of spatial innovation.

“All too often, designers lapse into the aesthetic or formal flavour of the moment. The overused open-plan with uninterrupted ceiling is the dominant spatial solution. But it seems to have had a problematic knock-on effect – the open-plan bathroom. How horribly uncomfortable that must be, with condensation in the winter and absolutely nowhere to ‘escape’,” he points out.

Two houses, however, stood out for Barker and won PIA Awards of Excellence in 2015: Thomas Honiball’s House Canopus Street for its contribution to the definition of place and space and House De Villiers, the architecture of which was influenced by a range of personal memories.

Place and space: House Canopus Street
“Influenced by the client’s predilection for the architecture of the Inhambane province in Mozambique, House Canopus Street closely recalls the architecture of Mozambican architect Jose Forjaz (1936), particularly the heavy walls and brise soleil of his 1997 convent, the Instituto Missionário das Irmas do Precioso Sangue,” says Barker.

“Although in contrast with its surroundings, the crisp white stereotomic forms give the building a classical presence, while the terraces, balconies and Gawie Fagan- and Marcel Breuer-like pop-out windows mediate inside and outside.

“The steeply sloping site is economically levelled to provide a private entry courtyard and raised front garden with views over the city. This afforded the opportunity for Honiball to employ a series of level changes that subtly guide movement and provide different ceiling heights to define various functions.

“Honiball’s award-winning architecture is a concretisation of a principled way of working that challenges conventional ways of making space. Many of the ideas are not new, but they are aptly suited to the physical and inspirational needs of the client, the immediate physical environment and climate, and to the ethical design approaches of the architect,” Barker explains.

Memory and tradition: House De Villiers
“The architecture of this house, designed by Jacques de Villiers for his retired parents, is a development of the Pretoria ‘Mediterranean tradition’ through climatically responsive planning, simple yet bold wall-dominated forms and a rough white painted brickwork aesthetic. More importantly, the architecture is influenced by a range of personal memories,” says Barker.

“While De Villiers was a student working for an architect, Johan Jooste, he lived in an old white painted brickwork building on the same site where his parents’ house now stands. This, as well as fond memories of a lemon tree which now forms a focal point in the courtyard of the new house, acted as the genesis for the design of the new residence.

“Practical considerations have also impacted on the architectural aesthetic. The new house had to act as a background building so as to not compete with the farm-type aesthetic of a remaining outbuilding of the historic Brooks farm. Also, the colour white reflects light well in the compact dwelling and painted brickwork decreases its scale. Although a tree had to be removed to make way for the residence, its memory has been respected through its use as tongue-and-groove floorboards in the living room and library.

“The 2015 PIA awards panel noted that the house is an ‘environmentally sensitive and historically astute home having a small footprint and a modest budget’ (PIA Awards brochure). The value of this architectural approach lies in De Villiers’ wise observation that architecture needs to be authentic and from its own time,” Barker states.

Design thinking
“The vagaries and pressures of everyday practice do not make design easy. But if we act ethically towards our clients, each other and the environment, then our buildings will have a long-lasting and positive impact for future generations. Let us think more deeply and critically about architecture. The future can only benefit,” Barker concludes.

Full thanks and acknowledgment are given to Arthur Barker and www.futurespaces.co.za for the information used to write this article.

Caption Main Image:
House Canopus Street, designed by Thomas Honiball, illustrates the architect’s principled way of working, guided by mass, space, levels and light.
Courtesy of Thomas Honiball