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Courtyards on Oxford
Forest Town, Johannesburg, Gauteng

studioMAS: Architect

Client:G&C Shelf 63 (Pty) Ltd & Blue Horizon
Type:Offices and Residential
2007GIfA Award for Architecture
2008SAIA Award of Merit
2008SAIA Award for Excellence
Street:25 Oxford Road


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26°10'22.15" S 28°02'23.36" E

Award of Merit Citation

The project is one of spatial grandeur in the context of an urban densification on a tight urban block in a prime urban location. The project is conceptualised as fingers of built-form interspersed by a series of pure rectilinear courtyards meticulously proportioned in relation to the enclosing built forms which they complement. All this abuts a simply and directly conceived access-driveway flanked by private garages on one side and open visitors parking on the site-periphery. The design hinges on interlocking spaces both in plan and section which facilitates a hierarchy of spaces from public to private, all executed with an architectural deftness worthy of merit.

Award of Excellence Citation

Here the architect was also to be user of a part of the complex. The project is explored across a range of scales - from urban to that of material juncture and detail, and across a range of design disciplines - from that of urban designer through landscape design to interior design. At a certain level it is a very cerebral project but without becoming merely a game of abstraction - rather a following through of the possibilities of regular shape and form into a diverse number of architectural possibilities within a single tectonic solution. So each set space can be diversely occupied either as a single dwelling, or row housing, or as place of architectural production through to offices for a high-profile client.

Architect's Motivation

The Courtyards on Oxford project is best understood by being experienced. The boundary walls give little away as to what secrets lie behind them - the series of individually landscaped private courtyards that function as outdoor rooms, and the long houses, with their own uses such as studio apartments, boutique offices, and luxury family homes. Courtyards, is a work in progress - and a conscious attempt to improve housing delivery in South Africa by providing a quality environment packaged within quality architecture.

The concept addresses how cities function on a large scale, making it clear that we have to rethink housing design in cities that continuously expand with little regard for the consequences. In order to deliver a valuable product, this project uses densification and mixed use as a solution. A unit's privacy is not compromised by the activities taking place alongside, because distinctly private courtyards mediate them. These courtyards not only provide privacy, but also an increased level of security for each unit.

The design has been inspired by global, but particularly, Ndebele housing typologies of the eastern Highveld, which employ buildings and connecting walls to define spaces. The courtyards formed by the adjacent buildings become the main circulation spaces, making them function as outdoor rooms. The architects have integrated this spatial model in the project in a simple architectural concept of five slender buildings, with their facades and adjoining wails forming courtyard spaces.

The buildings have been designed as units of 5m by 30m of brickwork. Exposed steel bracing on the facades provide distinct edges to contrast with the rough Tyrolean finish used alongside. Plaster and painted facades are used sparingly to decrease the maintenance required. The interiors each have their own distinct character, but all employ contemporary finishes such as cantilevered countertops and discreet African mahogany cupboards as features within double volumes. The project re-examines the single-family house, by using interior spaces right up to the periphery so that every square meter of and is utilised.

Environmental issues are felt by the architects to be a priority in contemporary design. Earth-friendly strategies integrated in Courtyards include harvesting of rainwater through a series of roof spouts to irrigate each courtyard. The remainder of the rainwater is absorbed into the site by gravel and natural ground cover. Waste stone and off-cuts are used to pave exterior surfaces and are patterned so as to prevent construction waste. The landscaping on site further supports this philosophy with each unit being given its own distinct identity.

The Courtyards on Oxford project creates an alternative model for city living, consisting of a series of buildings and open spaces. We live in an age where quantity rather than quality has become the norm, where time has become a well-guarded commodity and where people prefer to retreat into the safety of a private domain. Courtyards attempts to tackle these issues by combining live and work units in one property, and responding to a juxtaposition of urban and suburban space in Johannesburg. It draws inspiration from historical and indigenous precedents while still maintaining its contemporary identity.

The individuality designed boundary wails respond to the pulse of Die city and function to deflect noise from the high-speed Ml highway along Oxford road. The Darnaway Road edge has a more suburban treatment facing the quiet suburb of Forest Town, where the facades open up into courtyard spaces.

Writings about this entry

South African Institute of Architects. 2008. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2005/2006 2007/2008. Cape Town: Picasso for SAIA. pg 26-29, 70-71