Salt Rock Estate

PHOTOS Dook PRODUCTION Annemarie Meintjes WORDS Nadine Botha

The simple materials and ingenious details of the inside-out Dunkirk Estate on the North Coast is why the awards rained down on Designworkshop:SA’s architecture studio.

Designworkshop:SA is one of those architecture firms that writes its own briefs. Having the Constitutional Court in your portfolio, after all, would earn you that privilege. Now what would partners Andrew Makin, Janina Masojada and Mark Horner do with something as domestic as, say, a gated community? What is their antidote to the Tuscan doldrums and cookie-cutter Pleasantvilles that suffocate suburbia?

“The developer initially asked us to design a code – for instance, red roofs, white walls – that residents have to follow, which is how most gated estates control their style,” explains Mark about their Dunkirk Estate project in Salt Rock, winner of a 2013 KZN Institute for Architects Merit Award.

Not everyone wants uniformity, however, agreed the team, who collectively give input into the firm’s projects. So, instead of doing a code, they built iconic public buildings – the gate house, residents’ office, clubhouse and Dash hotel/apartments – to stimulate property owners as to the possibilities of the site and climate.

“Our climate is perfectly suited to an open, outdoor, naturally ventilated living environment,” says Mark, as he gestures at the public clubhouse, where the floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors can be opened to turn the building inside out. “The building is a veranda.”

Similarly, the central living areas of the apartments can also be turned into deep-berthed stoeps, thanks to the sliding-door tracks running on the outside of the building, so that there is no fixed pane. The positioning is also just right – when the wind blows from the northeast, close the front doors, and when the wind blows from the southwest, close the back doors.

Another universal feature is the slatted balau wood facade, which allows apartment residents and clubhouse gym goers to see out, while giving some privacy from the prying eyes of passers-by. “We’ve used the cheapest form of balau timber,” says Mark. “It’s about using simple, traditional materials – glass, steel, aluminium – in a different context in a direct way.”

Some 7km down the road, right on the main beach, the developer Glen Hesse of Cenprop has also built a beach clubhouse for the exclusive use of the estate’s residents. Two boxes and a roof in form, it gives 360-degree views of the beach and lagoon valley, yet it can’t be seen from the beach – who would want to blight such a panorama, after all?

“A building is not an object to us, it is a place in a landscape,” agrees Mark that it is this unobtrusive, understated beauty, which works with, not against, the landscape and climate, that makes for contemporary vernacular architecture.