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House Butler
Westcliff, Johannesburg, Gauteng

Michael SCHOLES: Design Architect

Street:Pallinghurst Road
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Straddling the Westcliff Ridge with 270 degree views, House Butler acknowledges the tradition of Edwardian houses which dominate this conservation area of Johannesburg.

The outwardly classical and symmetrical form is transcended by a dynamic plan which deconstructs the envelope of the building, opening the inside to the views from the ridge. Copper and slate roofs with face brick walls complete the composition.


The house was designed for Robert Butler, a bachelor who plays the organ and piano and whose furniture and taste is Victorian.

Brief: The site was purchased specifically because of the view and the owner requested that his house be placed on the elevated part of the site so as to take full advantage of the vistas. He wished to have two bedrooms, a study, a particularly large entrance hall, a lounge-dining area and kitchen, garage and servants room.

Budget: The building costs about R240 000.

Site: The site is deep, narrow and well-treed, with a rocky 'koppie' at the end falling steeply to the east. It is situated on one of the prime ridges in Johannesburg with panoramic vistas to the north-east and south, and shrouded westerly views, in an old fully-developed suburb known particularly for its gracious late Victorian and Edwardian houses.

Concept: The design was intended to evoke memories of the past, so that the house would become a good neighbour to the large Victorian and Edwardian residences surrounding it, and hopefully be as timeless as these gracious buildings. It is a smallish building which tries to achieve the qualities of dignity and monumentality and its pronounced roof and chimney shape is reminiscent of early Parktown architecture.

The plan has been designed to take maximum advantage of the many vistas and to be orientated towards relaxed, functional living and yet to accommodate furniture and tastes which imply a degree of formality.

Outside, a swimming pool nestles against the rocky hill-side, with the main outdoor living on the west. There will be a link to the lower garden wall where a future gazebo will be built. Inside, the lounge and dining room flow into deep terraces to the east and west, the lounge having two zones, one side is for seating, the other side accommodates a piano and is used as a space to display various objects.

A grand entrance hall designed to display furniture and paintings separates the living area from the bedroom wing. Like the living area, the main bedroom is designed to take advantage of the views to the east and west.

Citation from the Award of Merit Panel of Judges

This was another case where architect and client worked closely together to the satisfaction of both. Although the client who had laid down very specific requirements had something else in mind he was included in the design process by the architect and he is happy, proud and satisfied with the result.

It dominates a hillock on a large stand and fully utilises the breath-taking view just about all round. The dramatic entrance nevertheless does not change the terrain but rather focuses the attention on its unaffectedness, and the bricks harmonise with and become part of the ridge.

The Butler house is small but large. The concept is clear, bold and well-developed. Reference to the Edwardian houses in the older areas is direct, sometimes too obvious, but this reservation disappears upon entering the house. An entrance gallery separates the house into two distinct private and public parts. The arched gallery continues through the house, offering a first glimpse of the well-planned views. Beautiful, simple spaces seem unexpectedly large and spacious. Living areas are cleverly, easily and effectively separated from the kitchen, and here the client can live his life and leave his mark.

The placing of openings to the outside is particularly successful - the rooms are at once intimate and snug, and yet the vistas are brought inside. The exploitation of the view goes through to the kitchen and bathroom where a glance through tiny windows continues the theme. The verandas, without rails or walls, help to make the building part, and an extension, of the terrain. The garden has not as yet been fully developed

The committee expressed reservation in respect of the number of forms and materials used outside which in some respects unnecessarily detracted from the pure concept of a bold statement.

Click here to view a brochure. (9.69 MB)

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.