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A place of rest

Online since 5.02.2018 • Filed under Project • From Volume 6 - 2018
A place of rest

When a client approached Johannesburg-based Architects Of Justice (AOJ) and commissioned an avant-garde retreat he could disappear to, a journey began which would culminate in a commendation for the project in the Mpumalanga Institute for Architecture (MPIA) Awards for Architecture 2017.

The site for the project, situated within the Mjejane Private Game Reserve – a private Big 5 game reserve incorporated into the Kruger National Park – opens onto a view of the Crocodile River on the north boundary with a green belt on its eastern edge. The retreat was designed to maximise the connection to nature and wild game, while ensuring privacy between the five en-suite bedrooms as well as from neighbouring lodges. The rigorous estate guidelines motivated the architects to design around the existing flora on the site, which led to a freeform design that required only three trees to be replanted. It was one of Architects Of Justice’s early projects, the SEED Library, a shipping container structure for the MC Weiler Primary School in Alexandra, Johannesburg, completed in 2010, which led to the practice being approached by the client for the Mjejane project. The library had caught the attention of the architectural fraternity, winning several awards, including an SAIA


Award of Merit, the Afrisam SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture and an international award for architects under the age of 35, the YAA (Young Architects in Africa) Competition. While visiting his daughter in Hong Kong, the client was paging through an architectural magazine featuring the library when his son-in-law commented that he went to university with the architects.


After meeting with Architects Of Justice, where the client requested an unconventional and innovative retreat, project architect Granicki worked on a concept model for the client who immediately approved it. ‘It was a meeting of minds,’ says Granicki, explaining that the original model is satisfyingly close to how the completed project turned out. The home, which is beautiful from every angle, is incredibly site and context driven, fitting the client’s requirements to be able to connect with nature. Nature, however, did provide its own unique challenges; there could be no openings or entries into the roof void as it would provide the ideal habitat for a myriad of animals to take up residence within this space, and measures had to be taken to prevent warthogs residing underneath the suspended wooden deck on the north of the site.


Standout feature

The crowning jewel of the house is a floating steel roof that overhangs the house on every side with a minimum overhang of 1,6m. At its maximum, the roof overhang extends to an impressive 13m butterfly cantilever, creating a seemingly unsupported roof over a boma. The total roof area for the 450m² residence totalled at an impressive 900m² allowing inside spaces to blend effortlessly with the outside. ‘Initially the roof was to be concrete and planted,’ notes Granicki. ‘After the client eventually decided against the use of a green roof due to concerns about maintenance for what was to be primarily a low-maintenance holiday home, the concept was redeveloped with a steel roof that would be lighter and quicker to erect on site. With this construction methodology we still managed to obtain cantilevers all round on the roof and an open span lounge/ dining room of more than 100m2, with no columns to obscure the view over the pool and surrounding bushveld.’


The steel roof overhangs helped design a passively cooled home which mitigates heat gain by shading the exteriors throughout the day in an area of the country that often reaches 30°C in winter and well over 40°C in summer. Off-site fabrication allowed for a very clean assembly process on site and bolted connections meant that very little welding took place on site. The steel roof arrived in four parts, which was logistically possible as the manufacturer, Quality Steel, was located just over an hour away from the site. A fourphase Lego-set type erection also meant that there was no need to clear and disturb the natural bushveld for storage of building materials. Ingwe Construction was chosen to carry out the building work due to their proven track record of constructing large scale private bush lodges sensibly and sensitively in this part of South Africa


The interiors

In the interior the idea was to not obstruct the user from the surrounding nature, and as such, huge glass windows, doors and fin walls constantly connect and direct the user to the outside bush. The placement of the windows facilitates a constant flood of light on the hand polished concrete floors and simple plaster walls, while angled ceilings facilitate natural airflows and complement other sustainable features of the project, such as rainwater harvesting from the extensive roof structure.

‘As the client comes from a mining background, aesthetically the home reflects a “from the earth” narrative and an almost industrial approach and using crushed rock, gabion walls and steel I-beams was embraced,’ explains Granicki. He notes that while the home is a modern take on architecture, there is still an earthen quality to its finishes because of some of the techniques used by the local contractor.

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