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EPA Studio
Westville, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal

People:

ELPHICK PROOME ARCHITECTS Inc: Architect


Date:2008
Client:Java Trench (Pty) Ltd
Type:Offices
Style:Contemporary
Status:Extant

Award of Merit Citation

While working in an established modernist vocabulary, this glass and steel Miesian box is carefully crafted and specific to its site. Due to the steepness of the topography the building is split over three levels. The whole is covered with a widely over-sailing roof, inclined in acknowledgement of the longitudinal cross-section. A strong design concept perfectly adjusts this project to its site creating comfortable fit with topography and nature. The large volumes the creation of poetic spaces and the sensitive detailing are all resolved with architectural finesse and high degree of merit.

Award of Excellence Citation

When architects become their own client - particularly when they are to occupy as practitioner and user of the place they have designed - it then becomes the signature to the client of the abilities of the designer. This is such a project; the client immediately engages, through experiential space, the practitioners with whom they will be dealing. At every level - from efficiency of planning, fluency of special integration, selection and use of structural systems and materials, through to finesse of detailing this project exudes a high degree of ability and prospective clients must be instilled with a sense of confidence.

Architect's Motivation

Prior to the formal subdivision of the larger site, the studio was conceived as one of four proposed freestanding office structures positioned parallel to the contours of the steep, south-facing slope. The building footprint at the lowest portion of the site, adjacent to a wooded reserve, generated the largest floor area, which would allow the studio to operate on a single level. This position also allowed for separate street access and maximum exposure within the office park.

Detailed survey of the site highlighted the severity of cross-fan slopes, which would have hindered both street access and general buildability. With this information, the design was re-evaluated, which resulted in the repositioning of the building footprint at the most level portion of the site, closest and parallel to the street. The location adjustment creates a landscaped buffer to any proposed development to the north. The design is now able to capitalise on distant southern views, as well as the immediate environment of natural bush and indigenous landscaping to the east and north. The Building form responds to this by becoming a rectangular glazed pavilion, elevated on tapering concrete columns that vary in height according to the slope of the site.

The west end of the longitudinal arrangement engages into the hillside, which allows entrance into the highest level of the building through a five-metre high front door. This floor accommodates reception, meeting rooms and directors' workspaces that overlook the double-volume general workspace below. The parking is located within the diminishing volume of the lowest level. Within the garage area careful attention to materials, structure and lighting create a different but equally powerful staff arrival area.

Structurally the off-shutter finish concrete columns and walls support and brace the steel structure above. Inspired by the close relationship to the adjacent tree canopy, the roof evolved into an oversailing inclined plane supported by a steel structure of branch-nut brackets. Having no vertical members they allow the glass envelope to run unobstructed around the corners of the building and reach up to the overselling roof above. The roof spans the longitudinal axis, pitching with the gradient of the adjacent street. This allows for generous internal volumes to the upper floor reception areas and creates an elevated space appropriate to the main entrance of the studio.

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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