Bloemfontein Art House

WORDS Alma Viviers PHOTOS Dook PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes

When the notions of dream and house collide, the dangerous condition of “dream house” arises, says Anton Roodt, principal architect at Roodt Architects.

“Ten years ago Annemarie Meintjes pointed out to me that I had until my 58th birthday to build myself a house,” recalls Anton Roodt.

According to VISI’s imitable deputy editor the cut-off age for immigration is 58, which means if you haven’t left the country by then you have to build yourself a house and take root permanently. Well, it seems Anton took this advice to heart, as he recently celebrated his 60th birthday in his newly built house on Naval Hill in Bloemfontein.

One afternoon an estate agent took him up the slopes of the landmark hill to a clinker-brick house where the tenant described to him the wonderland of waking up above the fog that sometimes settles over the city. The house was not to his liking, but the resourceful agent pointed out an empty plot adjacent to the house, which was also for sale.

“Before I had time to consider all the possible obstacles of constructing a house on a site such as this, I signed a document and became the owner of a steep slab of earth on a north-eastern slope of Naval Hill.”

The site posed its own challenges, but the process of designing his dream house, says Anton, was both long and difficult. “French philosopher Gaston Bachelard says in his seminal The Poetics of Space that ‘the dream house… must satisfy both pride and reason, two irreconcilable terms’. One might even say two inescapable terms: the extent of the hubris and the rigour of reason, only tempered by imagination and the policies of financial institutions.”

So, over the course of almost two years, the design of House Roodt went through six permutations, and, in some cases, even fully documented blueprints before Anton struck the tenuous balance between various pragmatic concerns, preoccupations and fantasies.

“During the process you are wracked by insecurities – financial and otherwise – and beset by procrastination and indecisiveness, because your ego is determined to design along with you,” he says. “In addition to the ego, there is the matter of accommodating secret passions in a new home.”

One of the Roodts’ passions is art, and designing the house to accommodate their favourite works was one of the key factors. Rather than creating a separate gallery space or designing the house as a gallery, he opted to incorporate the artworks into spaces, allowing you to move through the house and enjoy the art from different viewpoints. He created a series of linear spaces, the simple geometry of which allows the artworks to compete for contemplation on their own terms.

“The living room is a double-volume area with ample wall space to accommodate some of our larger paintings and drawings, and a clerestory above the stairs provides filtered light,” Anton says. The focal walls at the termination of circulation routes afford the viewing distances required by big canvasses.

Does the house satisfy the architect’s urge to continue dreaming? “We are happy here,” says Anton. “In the words of Bachelard: ‘The house shelters daydreaming; the house protects the dreamer; the house allows one to dream in peace.”