House Schutte

This project was for a family house for a couple and their son in a secure estate in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Typically, the estate imposed a number of restrictive guidelines, such as all building forms had to be rectangular and have symmetrical double pitched roofs of more than 18 degrees.

More significant however, were the limitations on the coverage and on cutting and filling the ground – the maximum allowable differential was 500mm. The ability to nestle the building in the veldt was therefore immediately constrained. However, we were fortunate that the client bought two stands on the edge of the river. This gave us the opportunity to break up the massing of a large house (approx. 750 sq.m) whilst retaining space and views across the landscape.

The landscape became a key design generator, the house conceived of as three ‘barns’ linked by planted gallery spaces and courtyards, all nestled within the site. The ‘garden’ was planted with indigenous grasses and plants, flowing into the river at the bottom of the property. The natural ecosystem is allowed to flourish unbroken - mongooses and guinea fowl move freely between the river and the garden.

Each barn has doors and windows on three sides, opening up the landscape. This allows views in and maximizes light and ventilation in all the spaces. Linking the barns is a continuous gallery, buttressed by a west facing rammed earth wall. A continuous skylight along the length of the wall washes light down, bringing an awareness of time and season, soil and earth.

This ethos carries through into materiality and servicing of the house. It is as ‘off-grid’ as is possible within the confines of the estate, and requirements of the clients. All electricity is supplied by a bank of solar panels, backed up with battery storage. Two large water collection tanks flank each side to the house, collecting all the available storm water run-off from the roofs, and reusing it for irrigation. There is also a borehole that feeds into the main system to reduce usage. Doors and windows are double glazed aluminium – the client’s desire was for steel, the estate guidelines dictated grey or white powder coated aluminium.

The interior is clean and quiet, a backdrop to the landscape that surrounds the house, creating a constant connection to nature for the family.