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Little Red House
The 1920’s suburb of Parktown North, Johannesburg, was laid out by developers to house an emergent middle class, representing an idealized contemporary European vision. The Little Red House is typical of these properties – a 1931 red brick Arts and Crafts family house and outbuildings on a 1000sq.m plot. However, the house now finds itself located in a densifying suburb – on the corner of a busy feeder road lined with shops and restaurants. The challenge was to adapt this house to ‘house’ a new commercial purpose without losing its heritage charm, domestic scale and character, and to re-invent the aspirational vision it had once represented.Taking the nostalgic idealism of the Arts and Crafts movement as an inspiration, we decided to explore our own idealized vision of a workplace – the desire to make the office ‘a home away from home.’ We focused on two ideal typologies – the ‘house’ and the ‘barn’, familiar to every child with a crayon and often interchangeable. Through a careful process of part restoration, part adaptation, the original red brick house was transformed through two key interventions. Firstly, the original kitchen/scullery/passage was combined to form a large central kitchen and social area, the heart of the home/office, complete with a hearth and wood burning fireplace. Surrounding it are the original rooms, converted to singular office spaces. Secondly, a faceted, pitched ‘red box’ was added in the south-east corner of the original house, completing the fourth corner of the plan and making a large boardroom space. This ‘box’ is clad in red corrugated iron sheeting, taking its cues from the existing roof forms and materials but ‘crafted’ as a contemporary version of itself. Throughout, the Arts and Crafts emphasis on materials and workmanship is retained with the original details such as the lead windows and pressed steel ceilings being carefully preserved and restored. The result is a picture perfect home-office. A barn is ostensibly an agricultural structure that contains or houses farming equipment, animals, and the like. Similarly, this barn is a container but of the existing outbuildings in place of hay and animals. It is a simple timber portal frame structure that encapsulates the old garage and storeroom, turning a motley collection of structures into a beautiful double volume containing boardroom, kitchenette and dining below with a large studio volume above. The space between the existing structures and the new barn mediates, containing access stairs, passages or links and the toilets. The framed structure is clad with pine plywood and translucent sheeting on the outside and insulation and plasterboard on the inside. Thus the barn becomes a container of spaces – a place for the production of work. Finally, the House and the Barn are set in a garden tendered with the same care as the buildings. The colours and plant massing reference Arts and Crafts gardeners such as Gertrude Jeckyll. The whole impression is of carefree charm and domestic intimacy – ideal and aspirational, a retreat from the more common industrialized workplace.