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House Rorke-Scholes
Melville, Johannesburg, Gauteng

Michael SCHOLES: Design Architect


The house was designed on a stand, jointly owned by two couples in the suburb of Melville. As Mellville is one of the few remaining suburbs where a semi-detached dwelling on a small stand is permitted, it was felt that the design provided an opportunity to combine a sense of communal existence with a feeling of privacy. Despite the restrictions of the small stand, high environmental standards can be achieved and this is significant in that we are moving into a period of much denser living than has been previously experienced in this country.

The small stand and an existing Melville vernacular meant that the surrounding dwellings could not be ignored in the design of the house. Thus similar materials to the traditional Melville house were used, viz. red bricks, white plaster walling and corrugated iron roofing. The white plaster of the garages in particular was used to connect the house to the adjacent dwellings.

Melville, because of its hilly topography presents a dominant roofscape. As the stand was extremely small (450 sqm. per house) it was necessary to build a double storey. The roof of the house became an important element in the design in order to reduce the brick mass and to blend in with the roofscape of Melville.

Each couple had different accommodation requirements but it was felt that the traditional symmetry of the Melville semi-detached façade should be maintained. The Melville house tends to relate closely to the street and it was thus decided to have the front entrance off the street itself, privacy being however maintained by a walled garden. As the stand was very small it was decided to extend the indoor living outwards into a series of courtyards and small gardens to obtain a feeling of spaciousness. Careful landscaping and the utilization of the available views onto the Melville Koppies meant that both interior and exterior spaces would offer the maximum utilization of the stand. The spaces with their specific identities, offer a variety of uses, dependant on the weather and time of year. The use of partial open planning within the house ensures a flow of space that counteracts the constricted nature of the stand.

The above concerns affected the design of the house as a total unit, but apart from this the two sections for each couple had to be treated separately as each family had its own specific needs. The architect's wife asked for a combined kitchen / dining area. The Rorkes required a greater separation of living spaces and asked in particular that a section of the house be treated as a self-contained and separate bedroom wing.

As the budget was low, the architect decided to contract the building himself. The total contract price of the two units was R65,000-00.

It is felt that the project is significant in that it demonstrates the potential of living on small stands, yet achieving the qualities normally associated with the freestanding house on the larger property and is pertinent in today’s conditions of urban sprawl and its associated problems.

(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.