WORDS Amelia Brown IMAGES Dook
“Back to the start” was the conceptual phrase used by award-winning architectural studio W design to approach the renovation of this mid-’70s home designed by architect and author Allan Konya.
The five-bedroom house is located within a large garden in Waterkloof, a hilltop suburb to the east of Pretoria with views over the city and the Magaliesberg mountains. Although the property is not listed as a heritage resource by City of Tshwane, and is younger than 60 years so is yet to be protected by the National Heritage Council, it has been recognised for its strong architectural significance.
W design worked with heritage consultant Nicholas Clarke to illustrate and justify all aspects of the renovation and allay concerns by local architects and the Pretoria Institute for Architecture who regard the property as being a strong representation of Pretoria Architecture.
“‘Back to the start’ refers to the idea that we were not changing anything, but rather taking everything back to the core ideas and spaces created in the original home,” explains architect Johan Wentzel. “Many aspects required maintenance, but more specifically the project as a whole needed a ‘system update’ that would allow the home to be liveable in the current 2020 context – respecting the existing but updating the design detailing and refinement in line with a contemporary lifestyle.”
Johan and fellow architect Grete van As looked to Allan himself for answers. In 1969, he wrote, “Good design means going back to fundamentals: Keep buildings ‘honest’ in all respects – I have never been interested in gimmickry and don’t believe in trying to create new forms for the sake of being different. A form is honest when it is developed as a result of the principles one follows and as a solution to a particular problem. Understand and use the various building materials at our disposal correctly – both natural and man made. I have used natural materials as much as possible – wood, stone and brick. Technology may develop hundreds of new products but these age-old materials will always have a place in architecture. As long as human beings remain sentient creatures, responding to nature, just so long will natural materials arouse in them a special response.”
Grete explains, “The home illustrates a good example of honest, single-trade and unfinished materials – the extensive use of clay face brick in combination with natural unfinished concrete and secondary detailing in wood and copper ‘simply’ required a measure of refinement in order to update the structure to a contemporary lifestyle; a home with its roots in the modernist era of the previous century, but firmly placed in the here and now.”
While respecting and retaining the home’s original core structure, the renovation aimed to open up the living spaces both in terms of internal circulation and natural light. Where spaces were dark or deep, certain internal clinker face brick walls were plastered. Shadow lines were used on the skirting and cornice joins to ensure the new rendered walls read as independent panels complementing the existing character.
Floating unfinished concrete lean-to roofs and re-interpreted support columns replaced the old wooden pergola structures to frame the home. “From our perspective, a triumph is that the completed project ‘feels’ like it has always been this way,” says Johan. “The complete structure reminds of the fantastic philosophical idea of ‘the familiarity of the new’ – we propose that our work merely exposed the original ideas and refined the assembly into a contemporary 21st century context,” adds Grete.