Contemporary Pierneef Home

PHOTOS Dook PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes WORDS Karen Eicker

Iaan Bekker’s home in Pierneef slowly opens up to reveal a treasure trove of carefully considered spaces, contrasting textures, intriguing artworks and breathtaking views.

Situated on a long, narrow, steep site in one of Pretoria’s historical residential neighbourhoods, the house came to be through a process of committed collaboration between owner Iaan Bekker, architect Ora Joubert, and contractors Sandra and Sieg de Beer.

Iaan first came across the property in 2004 after viewing 56 others. Having decided on the Pierneef area, he took to his bicycle and trawled the area for the perfect site that would eventually accommodate, on three levels, spaces for living and entertaining, and a separate studio for the ultimate work-from-home experience.

During the next seven years, while living in the house on the property (nicknamed Villa Poky), Iaan spent many hours filling a notebook with reflections, ideas and sketches.

In 2011 he approached Ora Joubert, whom he had met while lecturing at the University of Pretoria and whom he considers “a quiet revolutionary”.

“I gave her my book of sketches and ideas,” he says, “which she kept for a month and then referenced two pages from which to work.”

Says Ora, “Iaan is extremely well read and well informed about architecture, which contributed to invigorating conversations about the design. The journey through the different spaces, enhanced by Iaan’s collection of paintings, is ultimately what the house is about.”

Ora turned Iaan’s drawings into 11 boxes that interrelate in a stereotomic programme, elevating the construction of the building to an art form. The design intentions were carried through in every detail, thanks to the contractors, who were at the building site all the time. “Sandra and Sieg understood my enthusiasm and vision,” says Iaan. “There was a  complete congruence of intention.”

Anonymity was a key design intention. Located on a narrow cul-de-sac, the house has no street facade. The entrance is through a small alley, and the approach to the house is very vertical and urban.

Moving upward through the living areas towards the studio at the top of the site, the house plays with the notion of revealing and concealing, slowly opening up into a magnificent panorama of the Magaliesberg.

Inside, the stereotomic design approach of inter-related solids culminates in an “architectural promenade” where one experiences shifting perspectives and spatial relations as the route meanders around fixed elements: the concrete spiral staircase, retained from a 2004 renovation of the house; the elliptical “pods” that act as service ducts; load-bearing support and space definers; and the narrow book-lined corridor that forms the central element of the library.

Iaan felt that the existing terraces on the site had to be preserved, and these strong geometric elements define the relationship of internal and external spaces. “Sight lines through the house mean I am always in contact with what’s happening outside. I am constantly aware of trees and stone, which gives me a feeling of security.”

By working with the seasonal positions of the sun and the arrangement of volumes and openings, passive heating and cooling systems have been created to move cool or warm air through the building depending on which windows are opened or closed.

Finishes are highly tactile. There’s the exposed concrete roof structure, steel trowel plastering on the walls, red brick panels and recycled light oak parquet flooring.

“The idea is that the furnishings, fabrics and artworks provide the colour and extend the palette,” says Iaan. “As far as possible we worked with what we had, using materials indigenous to the site and harnessing natural forces such as temperature and air flow.”

Iaan’s collection of books, paintings and ceramics is inherent to the experience of this place. “There’s a back story to each piece,” he says. “What I have here is mostly other people’s work, together with some of my older works to remind me of process.

“This is a meditative space. Ultimately, it is a chapel devoted to the making of things.”