PHOTOS Micky Hoyle PRODUCTION Sumien Brink WORDS Alma Viviers
You have the strange sensation of stepping outside rather than inside when you cross the threshold of this award-winning house by Metropolis.
A subtly angled wall, high volume and expansive glass facade propels the eye to the woodland and garden beyond. It is the kind of sight that makes you take a deep breath: trees gently swaying in a summer breeze and butterflies flitting among agapanthuses and watsonias.
“One of the key aspects of the design was to create a relationship between nature and architecture,” says Jon Jacobson, founder and principal architect of Metropolis. “We wanted to create an immersive experience within this green curtain that surrounds the house.”
The notion of immersive architecture, says Jon, is different from architecture that concentrates on a view: “You have to look for ways to create a sense of continuity. Here, the trees become the walls of the house.”
In this case minimalism has been enlisted to create a strong relationship with the natural surroundings. The lack of stimulation inside allows you to become immersed.
Other devices that Jon employed to create this sense of seamlessness is the extension of the ground floor plane beyond the house with oak floors becoming decking and then breaking up into walkways that lead into the garden. Interior walls also extend beyond the house into the landscape.
The main architectural element is a concrete roof that mimics the contour of the landscape. To express it as a plane, the roof has been disassociated from most of the vertical elements, using light to create a feeling of weightlessness, the line sweeping across the space.
The house is a simple linear volume that gently kinks to accommodate a large oak tree. Spaces are arranged along two main axes, and several courtyards cut into this linear volume to create pockets of intimacy.
“The architecture is quite abstract and minimal, but the abstractness is counteracted by the very tactile nature of the materials we chose,” says Jon. They have employed a muted material palette of wide-plank oak floors, off-shutter concrete, glass, Malmesbury slate, bagged brick and black flamed timber to achieve this tactility.
Providing insight into the owners’ way of living was Mandi Pretorius, a candidate architect who worked in Jon’s office and was closely involved in the design process. “The owners’ desire for a pared- down space reflects their lifestyle,” says Mandi. “They live in London part of the time, where they have a similar large open-plan work-from-home apartment. For them it is as much about fluidity of thought as it is about fluidity of space and movement – a sense of being unencumbered and close to nature.
Living in this house has a profound influence on you, say the owners. “The openness at once creates a sense of connectedness and vulnerability; it can be both unsettling and meditative.”
SAIA AWARD WINNER
This home received the country’s highest honour in architecture: the Corobrik South African Institute of Architecture (SAIA) Award of Excellence 2015/2016.
“This light, tranquil building emphasises man’s restorative relationship with nature… Much has been done to support the idea of weightlessness. For example, the roof is always lit from below; internal and external walls hardly ever touch.
it; ‘heavy’ elements like a stone-faced replace are hung from it and do not touch the floor plane; the floor level (base) hardly ever touches the ground; and the sky dome is invited in by means of skylights and gaps between vertical and horizontal elements.”
– Prof Paul Kotze of the School of Architecture and Planning at WITS