Live, sleep, play

PHOTOS: Greg Cox | PRODUCTION: Etienne Hanekom | WORDS: Alma Viviers

Architect Pietro Russo has developed a modular system called Ecomo that’s easier to build than a conventional house and far better for the environment.

With these views of a Scandi-inspired wood-clad cube fringed with dark pines and set against dramatic mountain peaks, you could be forgiven for thinking that VISI jetted off to Switzerland to bring you this feature.

But this is a story firmly rooted in South Africa.

Located on a prominent wine farm on the fringes of Franschhoek, the Ecomo home is the first of its kind.

Since his student days, Italian-born architect Pietro Russo has explored the idea of modular homes, especially in the context of social housing. This led him to spending the past few months developing a high-end prefabricated design based on the principles of sustainability.

“The building block is a basic 5 x 5m module,” he explains. “There are three components: a Sleep module with en-suite bathroom, a Live module that houses the kitchen area and living space, and lastly the Play module, which can be used as an outdoor deck.”

Each structure is raised above ground level supported by pile foundations. Walls are prefabricated in a workshop and trucked to the site.

This system is set apart from conventional building methods because it allows for greater control over quality and cost predictions, as well as saving on design and construction time.

The possibilities are endless

The whole process, depending on the specifications, takes approximately five weeks. However, Pietro makes it clear that predesigned should not be equated with the impersonal duplication of stock-standard boxes.

“The system gives clients freedom,” he says. “Possible configurations are endless. So are options for facade treatments, fittings and finishes.”

The benefits of prefabrication combined with the integration of rainwater harvesting, grey-water recycling and using a solar geyser, as well as LED light fittings and carefully selected finishes, all add up to an impressive green bottom line.

Asked whether the system is only suited to rural settings, Pietro admits that it was initially designed with natural environments in mind but that the Ecomo home would work just as well as a penthouse perched on a skyscraper or as an addition to a suburban home.

• Pietro Russo: 072 445 9373,