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House Wolff
Observatory, Cape Town, Western Cape

Ilze WOLFF: Architect

Client:Heinrich Wolff

Award Citation

This modest Victorian row house was originally built with an elaborate front façade using decorative plaster and cast-iron work. The front rooms had generous proportions with large windows facing Table Mountain. The back rooms, however, were badly lit and the kitchen was a squat space that cast a shadow over the courtyard. The owners of the house – husband and wife architects – decided to redevelop it by retaining the front half as is, but demolishing and completely reconstructing the back portion in a simple modernist manner. The roof behind the front gable was accordingly extended to the back of the property to gain additional space and the interior was adjusted to a contemporary way of life. The design sought to establish a dialectic between the room-based architecture of the original building and the new interconnected spaces of the rear portion of the house. An upper storey to provide for sleeping and bathing accommodation was added.

The strongest feature of the house now is a kitchen and living courtyard section at the back, which deftly allows light in on the periphery so as to give a sense of expanded space. The conversion has been accomplished with minimal expense and maximum improvement. A number of key architectural problems have been creatively resolved. A unifying flow between the front portion and the back is achieved by the use of washed walls, timber flooring and illumination provided by natural light. This has enabled the house to retain its façade and front rooms as an expressive and faithful member of the row, while at the same time contemporary convenience and spatial delight are provided in the back portion. Its location at the end of the row made the house particularly vulnerable to burglary. Windows on the pedestrian passageway at the side were carefully placed so as to give the building an elegant and homely appearance while providing for maximum security to the inhabitants, permitting passive surveillance over the adjacent public subway entrance. Every aspect of space, detail and finish appears to have been carefully thought through. The panel regarded this as a model example of imaginative, respectful, inexpensive, compact and commodious conversion, fully deserving of national recognition and a merit award.

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.

Writings about this entry

South African Institute of Architects. 2010. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2009/2010. Cape Town: Picasso for SAIA. pg 28-29, 65