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House Smith-Verster
Melville, Johannesburg, Gauteng

Michael SCHOLES: Design Architect

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Because of a need to live close to the city centre the clients had bought a stand measuring only 400 sq. m (smaller than a tennis court) in Melville. In addition, the entry on the north was narrow and there were restrictive building lines at front, back and sides.

The dwelling was to be part of the suburban fabric of Melville therefore the more usual solutions for high density housing - cluster housing or duplex flats - were not possible. The house is thus a true "town house", i.e. one dwelling occupying one stand.

The simple requirements of the brief (two bedrooms, one bathroom and separate toilet, one lounge/study area and a dining/kitchen area) were in keeping with the type of building that seemed to be suitable for a small stand. It was felt that complexity of form and structure would be both visually confusing and claustrophobic on such a reduced scale.

The problem was to provide variety, using simple forms. The house was built on an east-west orientation. The movement of light from east to west during the day is reflected in the two courtyards, one on the east and one on the west side of the house. These are used in a way that bears a direct relationship to both the time of the day and time of the year. The west wall of the lounge/dining space, the largest area in the house, is pierced by two narrow, longitudinal windows which provide a vertical accent on the broad expanse of brickwork, and allows light to penetrate above the west garden wall - needed for privacy. Broad windows are positioned where a minimum of light is welcome or where an opening gives a pleasant view.

The change in quality of light falling through the various apertures throughout the day provides a series of nuances in the static brick face. Artificial lighting is also designed to allow alteration of the light quality as required for a particular occasion or mood. This is achieved by using a number of different lighting methods in one area, viz. recess, spot's, wall brackets.

The design uses physically large spaces to give a sensation of spaciousness, while a dropped ceiling defines specific areas and suggests intimacy. Most of the spaces are interconnected giving a feeling of airiness and spatial flow. The privacy of the bedroom wing is maintained as it shifts sideways from the central axis preventing a continuous view from the entrance to this part of the house. (The clients had requested that the kitchen / dining / lounge areas be intimately related as they do all their own housework and cooking).

The flow of space is continued into the garden so that the whole stand can be fully utilised. Pergolas provide a visual extension of the interior outwards without actually enclosing space. The consistent use of one material (brick) helps blur the distinction between inside and outside by visually linking the two.

It was felt that the house demonstrated that in a fairly traditional planning format, i.e. suburban blocks with one house to a stand, it is possible to achieve privacy and a high environmental quality even in a high density complex.

(Michael Scholes)

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.