Monaghan Farm House Designed by C76 Architecture

WORDS Graham Wood PRODUCTION Annamarie Meintjes PHOTOS Paris Brummer

A home in the grasslands near Lanseria has a large internal courtyard that creates an immersive experience of its setting.

Courtyard houses are on those “typologies”, as architects call them, that have popped up at various places around the world over thousands of years, finding a multitude of uses and solving countless problems. From the atriums of ancient Rome to Islamic and Chinese architecture and European Modernism, internal courtyards materialise, seemingly regardless of climate or culture. This home in Monaghan Farm, an eco-estate near Lanseria, reprises this age-old idea to make the most of its incredible location right at the edge of the estate, in wide-open grassland overlooking an adjacent game farm, with views out towards the Magaliesberg.

Carl Jacobsz of C76 Architecture designed the home and, in this instance, the internal courtyard had to accomplish two things simultaneously: create a powerful, immersive experience of nature; and ensure privacy. That’s quite a difficult balance to strike, but Carl found that a large, planted courtyard would invite nature into the very heart of the home, so that even when the perimeter doors and windows are closed, internal windows and doors could still be opened up, letting in views of the sky, fresh air, light and even birdlife. At the same time, the house is completely private and secure.

The courtyard is big enough to be planted with trees (which will eventually push out above the roof) and open enough for birds to come right inside, build nests and animate the interior with life and the sounds of nature. “You can be in your own little world,” says Carl, yet open to the sky, with cooling breezes in hot weather even when the house is ostensibly closed up. And every single room has a view outwards, too. “You’re constantly aware of your surroundings from every vantage point,” says Carl.

His impulse is to hide his buildings as much as possible, tucking them away and minimising their impact. Here, the roof follows the slope of the site. From the driveway entrance, you descend through a tunnel that opens quite dramatically to the courtyard below. It’s a split-level building – “almost double-storey”, says Carl. Yet from the street, it appears long and low-slung, hugging the ground. You’d never guess that such a lofty space lay beyond the threshold.

Stairs on either side lead down from the garages and back rooms. Internally, the layout is almost symmetrical, with the staircases mirroring each other and a path bisecting the courtyard. “The idea is that you walk through this courtyard and, immediately in front of you, you can see the beautiful view of the mountains,” says Carl.

Entering the home is not, however, like walking out onto a viewing platform – it’s more like descending into the landscape. The surrounding veld has been invited right up to the very edges of the building, and little courtyards around the perimeter invite planting into “outdoor rooms” that almost become part of the interiors. Bathrooms open onto planted courtyards; the upstairs guest rooms look down on them. The main en suite bathroom has windows and screens that retract so that, soaking in the bathtub, you feel as though you’re floating above the veld.

As much as the home draws nature in, it pulls you out into the landscape, too. There’s an outdoor shower that looks a lot like a water tank or reservoir, and would be quite at home on a farm. To the front, a natural swimming pool not only makes for another wonderful level of immersion in the landscape, but also invites birds, frogs and other wildlife into the wetland filtration system.

And it’s not a finished object. It’s the kind of house that, says Carl, will “grow with you” and “get better with time”. As much as you feel the cycle of the seasons from the inside out, the trees will grow as time passes, and the building will become more and more integrated with its surroundings: a humble and respectful homage to nature. |

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