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Farmhouse at Berglust
Lephalale (Ellisras) district, Limpopo

People:

Mira FASSLER KAMSTRA: Architect

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Date:2005
Client:Dr & Mrs Frans Weber
Type:Homestead
Style:Contemporary
Status:Extant

Award Citation

The clients required for their imminent retirement a compact farmhouse which was both comfortable and secure, to be owner built by their son and farm labour. The game farm site is a narrow rocky platform amongst enormous wild figs, acacias and paper-barks, and constrained to the east by a rock sheet, located along a stretch of corrugated and rocky dirt roads deep in the Waterberg Bushveld.

The architect took inspiration from the traditional Transvaal Farmhouse as a shed building, but then interpreted as a plan libre, the facilities designed in the manner of traditional organic mud architecture. What was unusual in the execution of the project is that the only drawings available for construction were the set of sketch drawings and timber engineer’s plans.

What is achieved is a small building of high merit, with a sense of spaciousness and enclosure, exceptionally well crafted and detailed, that has fit with the landscape and fitness for its purpose, and allows for a lifestyle of comfort and repose.

Architect's notes

BRIEF

The clients required a compact new farmhouse designed for their imminent retirement to enable them to spend increasing amounts of time on the farm in an intimate, comfortable and secure environment. The existing house was to be upgraded for the use of visiting family and friends.

The house was to be owner built by the client's son Frans Weber using farm labour and a few specialist sub contractors. Frans with his degree/qualification in architecture was intimately involved in all aspects of the design development.

ACCOMMODATION

A house of two bedrooms, a study and some loft accommodation for grandchildren the house and layout was derived from the client’s life style in the original farmhouse where focus was the outdoor bome.

The advent of Escom, a private telephone and the introduction of TV changed things dramatically, to the extent that the centre of the client’s lives moved to the living room hearth.

SITE

A long narrow platform running in an east westerly direction on a rocky outcrop overlooking a waterhole to the south, bounded by a rock sheet and a group of Fig trees to the east, with “Japanese Style” rocks interspersed with Paper Bark trees rising to the north, and large Acacia trees to the west.

DESIGN INFLUENCES AND CONSIDERATIONS

An intimate knowledge of the clients' life style and requirements.

The atmosphere and texture of the Bushveld.

The traditional Verandah type, Corrugated Iron Roofed, Transvaal Farmhouse reinterpreted in the pitched roof architecture.

The organic mud and stone architecture of Africa finding expression in the curved walls of the bathrooms and master bedroom fireplace, the battered stone base and outside stair.

Environmental considerations dictated by the climate, the nature and orientation of the site, wild animals, snakes and insects.

The atypical construction process on a relatively inaccessible site.

Security.

DESIGN DEVELOPMENT

The arrangement of the long rectangular plan around a central spine allows exposure to the sun in the north and views of the waterhole to the south.

The rocks and trees were critical in determining the position and levels of the house.

The development of the timber trusses of the pitched roof with paired cantilevered scissors creates a hierarchy of roof volumes emulating the traditional verandah but without its usual depth which, in the Waterberg, can be too cold in winter.

The use of a long span steel frame facilitated accurate setting out and freed all walls, doors and windows from bearing any load.

The projection of the window line beyond the structural frame creates a bay window effect enabling special ventilation details with permanent mosquito netting on their returns.

The development of a regular module set up by the French doors.

The contrast between the sophistication of the timber construction, aluminium door and window frames, with the roughness of traditional finishes.

The construction of the pivoted front door from Boekenhout trees felled on the farm.

The integration of the rocks and pebbles of the Waterberg conglomerate in walls, gravel beds and garden stairs where the contribution of the farm labourers was critical.

CONSTRUCTION PROCESS

This project was extraordinary in that there were no drawings, apart from a very strong conceptual sketch and the timber engineers structural drawings for the roof. All details were resolved by the architect in conjunction with Frans Weber and his team of workers on site. This was made possible by Frans, who, as an Architectural graduate from the University of Cape Town, and a Master of Business Administration graduate from the University of the Witwatersrand had had extensive experience as a Project and “hands-on” Construction Manager. This combination enabled him to assist the architect in the spontaneous creative exploration and resolution of design opportunities as they arose a wholly unusual contractual situation.

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.

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