WORDS Amelia Brown IMAGES Adam Letch
Designed by Daffonchio Architects, this modern home located on Monaghan Farm in Lanseria, north of Johannesburg, not only blends into the landscape, but has actually become part of it.
“The site, sun and climate were integral to the design process and we drew inspiration from these elements,” says Enrico Daffonchio, who together with Leigh Maurtin designed the home with extensive input from the owners Lukas and Wendy van Niekerk.
The team were very familiar with the ecological guidelines of the estate as Daffonchio Architects had helped draft them. All of the properties are single storey, cut into the ground to minimise the impact on the horizon: The house is sunk to account for the natural ground level and slope of the estate, so each property has a view over the one in front of them.
This home, which is designed as a set of pavilions with deep overhangs, separated by a series of courtyards and green fingers that act as sheltered outdoor living spaces, is further camouflaged from its neighbours thanks to its roof gardens. The entire footprint is covered in native vegetation so that the boundary between the house and surrounding grasslands is almost indiscernible from above.
In addition to the ecological benefit of replacing the site’s grasses, the roof garden provides insulation, which complements the home’s passive solar design: solar energy, solar water heating, heat pumps and lots of insulation in the roof, as well as double glazing of windows. The 15 m swimming pool, accessed via a timber boardwalk through the veld, is a reed-filtration eco-pool.
In both its raw, weathered and smooth, polished forms, concrete is the language of this home. “Lukas, an engineer, wanted the entire house constructed in off-shutter concrete, steel and glass – only these three materials,” explains Enrico of the brief, which resolved to maximise the plot’s position overlooking a double bend of the Jukskei River.
The collaborators looked to Italian architect and designer Carlo Scarpa for inspiration. “He worked with a lot of off-shutter concrete and metal creating exceptional architectural features,” says Enrico. “Some of the windows of the house are exactly like the windows Scarpa used in the Canova Museum in Possagno – the top corners of the room are ‘bitten out’ and replaced entirely with glass.” Here this detail is evident in the shower, which features a glass cube corner window.
Constructing a 1 100 m 2 four-bedroom home out of off-shutter concrete was not without its challenges, in particular inlaying the pipes and conduits in the correct position for the concrete pour. “The technical difficulty of creating a concrete wall with all of the services inside was really only overcome because Lukas is an engineer and was personally involved in the project,” Enrico says crediting Lukas for being a driving force.
“He was literally labouring, designing and engineering with the contractors on every part of the house, resolving countless technical problems every day. Lukas and his wife were fantastic to work with – it was a great collaboration.”
Inside, Wendy has managed to combine statement artworks and furnishings that, like the concrete, show the marks of how they were made and don’t compete with the surrounding scenery.