House Van der Watt
Wolff Architects - South Africa
Drawings, plans, elevations
The site The site for this house is on a farm deep in the Cederberg mountains, a landscape dense with the rare biodiversity of the Cape Floristic Region. The setting for the house was determined by three factors, firstly a ‘bald’ spot in the vegetation was selected (in consultation with botanists) to minimise the impact of the house on the flora. Secondly, since the clients prefer to live outdoors as far as possible, “rooms” were found in the natural landscape which could accommodate outdoor cooking and eating, living and sleeping. The built part of the house facilitates living in the unbuilt part of the house. Thirdly, the setting was determined by its ability to compose a view from that specific location; the architects believe that a distant view is not rich enough a view and should be supplemented by articulate landscape features in the foreground and the middleground. For instance, the selected site has rocky ridges right in front of the primary view to the north that creates a defined edge to the space of the house without needing any built means to achieve such a boundary. The house should be fireproof and baboonproof, but the greatest challenge of the project is to see the site back in our office, 250km away. With no marks of human life on site, (fences, electricity poles, building, etc.) it became very difficult to judge the scale of landscape features. The solution was to have the landscape scanned with a 3D scanner, producing a Point Cloud. Instead of following the conventional route of using these scans to produce solid surfaces, we developed ways of using the Point Cloud in its raw state to have the scale and character of the entire natural world present, while we design. Climate and environment The house has no connection to any outside services; electricity is generated by solar power, water is supplied from a borehole and sewerage is contained on site to protect the fynbos from nutrient rich effluent. To minimise the visual impact of the house, the program was split into three separate blocks, containing bedrooms, bathrooms and the kitchen. The living and dining room is conceived of as an enclosed ‘courtyard’ between the blocks. The fragmentation of the building mass mimics the broken up rock cliffs around it. Formal strategy In a landscape where there are no marks of human intervention, it is hard to judge the scale of anything. Scalelessness was therefore used as a primary characteristic of the architecture; all conventional external building elements (roofs, downpipes, windows, etc.) were concealed to deprive the observer of anything to judge the scale by. This was achieved by making a double wall on each of the short sides of the blocks which allows openings to be cut into the exterior in the massive brick alone. All openings in the exterior envelope were exaggerated in size to diminish the apparent scale of the building from a distance.