PHOTOS Jan Ras PRODUCTION Sumien Brink WORDS Ingrid Jones
The roofs are like the trees, the walls are like the rocks, and water runs underneath it. It is a house made up of interconnected spaces, inside and outside. It is so natural, it fools even the otters.
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it,” said Michelangelo. And every piece of precious land should inform the building that graces it. These were my thoughts after a rather philosophical discussion with Justin Cooke, the architect who sculpted this house in Pringle Bay.
It is a big house in a small community. And the questions that beg asking are, how does one design a building that fits into the landscape; and what creative journey shaped this house that blends into the landscape so well that even six resident otters are fooled into believing it is a part of nature?
Justin has the answer. “The ethos of my work is to bring nature and people closer together in some way,” he says. “I like to feel and understand a place to come up with a design strategy for a particular house, to find a unique fit between a building and the spaces that you make.”
When the current owners acquired the property, it consisted of an existing building in two parts, divided by a courtyard. Its location so close to the coastline meant that permission had to be obtained from the marine and coastal environmental authority for relaxation of the seaside building line so that a specially engineered seawall could be constructed.
“We came here on a day when the wind was howling,” says Justin. “We climbed onto the roof and were overwhelmed with amazement by the views across the bay. You can see the entire peninsula, from Cape Point to Table Mountain. That led us to think quite differently about the house and what the upper-level views would look like.”
The house is situated in a sensitive landscape. The milkwoods that shade part of the house are remnants of the coastal thicket that was mostly cut down when properties were developed here. “We didn’t want to affect them at all. The building was set in-between the milkwood thicket and the wet land on the southern side.”
The spatial strategy was that the home would be divided into two wings, bisected by a courtyard and eco-pool, flanked by the milkwood thicket. One of the wings is reserved for the parents; the other is the children’s domain. Two fresh-water pools are incorporated into the design: one as you enter the property and one that connects the two wings. Water is circulated from one pool to the other by way of pipes that run underneath the house, creating, essentially, one pool in two sections.
“I design slowly,” says Justin. “I spent a long time looking at the site from the sea. I took walks along the shore among the rock pools, searching for ideas. And I realised that the shape of the spaces needed to, in some way, mimic the patterns found in the rock pools.The rock faces are shaped by the movement of the sea and erosion. I wanted to incorporate the same kinds of patterns in the house. The building has layers that you have to read. The cracks in the ceilings echo the cracks in the rocks. The floor has a slightly damp look, making it seem a bit like a wave washed into the house.”
Architecture and nature should work together. The unobtrusive house on Beach Road may be big, but it is also intimate and modest. A metaphor for its owners. Even the otters agree. On many a summer night the homeowners are woken by splashes made by six otters in the eco-pool. That’s how in tune with nature this house is.