Tanzeem RAZAK: Architect
LEMON PEBBLE ARCHITECTS: Architect
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Conversion of a single-storey bungalow.
House Nicholas is situated in the mixed-use suburb of Richmond, in Johannesburg. This suburb is just north of the well-known area of Auckland Park, and is south of Melville. Originally, the area might have started off in the 1930s as a low-to-middle-income residential area. It is, however, not this anymore. Due to developmental pressures, the purely residential nature of the area has changed considerably. Large employers, shopping centres, the University of Johannesburg, the SABC, small-scale manufacturing, medical services, and many more have moved into the area.
All this came with large-scale, coarse-grain, inward-looking developments, which have changed the nature of the area completely. The reality and fear of crime accelerated the process of defensiveness and individual isolation from any social interaction within the public space. Whatever happens in terms of urban and architectural space-making occurs within an 'aggressive' urban realm; this is also constantly subjected to rapid urban change and threatens whatever is left of the residential space.
Topographically, the site is located on the lower reaches of the southeastern edge of the low hill on which Melville is situated. It is somewhat 'hidden' in the valley, where most of Richmond is situated. At this location, a second storey to any building would enable a magnificent view towards the east in the direction of Braamfontein and Hillbrow. Capitalising on this view is one of the main design acts that these architects performed.
The architects have stated that the original four-roomed house was built for a mine worker. Its layout is not dissimilar to the much-maligned mass-built township house, albeit built to a better standard of construction, services and finishes. The original ground floor of the house was retained by the architects, up to a level of approximately 3m. The new addition, above, has been constructed on top of the existing house, retaining the original footprint. Much has been done to retain the bulk of the structure and memory of the original house, while the upper level has been designed with great sympathy to the older section.
The older (and lower) level is largely introverted and inward-looking, while the higher level is quite the opposite being extroverted and outward-looking.The house is entered through the original front door. The entry space is now the kitchen, not unlike many domestic spaces of workers' houses, where the kitchen is often the focus of domestic life. Bedroom and bathroom spaces open out from here again, in similar fashion to the life the house one must have witnessed.The kitchen space is vertically connected to a new workspace on a mezzanine level. These lower levels form a three-dimensional interconnected space, which constitutes the introverted core for personal and private living.
The upper floor the piano nobele is all about a more public life, lived on s grander scale. This is the space to showcase an extensive collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia, to share social interaction with friends, to look at a framed view and to be seen from afar. The counterpoint to the near-limitless view is the implied intimacy and immediacy of the fireplace, which is also expressed on the west facade. The east and west facades are, in many ways, the symbolic expressions of the house on the horizon line, while the intimate and more private part of the house is hidden behind the perimeter walling.
The house is beautifully detailed, and equally carefully built. It distinguishes itself in this regard. Despite the house not enabling a more interactive and nuanced relationship, with public space on ground level where social life could be affected and supported, it has created this stupendous framed view towards the larger environment - theatre at its best! It is also a view that is largely for private pleasure, in that it is an unreachable but impressive symbol for passers-by.
The client met the architect by chance in a Cape Town restaurant. A bond of equal vision was formed at that moment and reinforced by the subsequent realisation of the house. Together, they could realise a home that fits the client like the proverbial glove. However, it can be foreseen that this very specific and personality-driven vision would be able to outlive a singular expression, becoming a more generalised example of how to tackle the generic problems that the specific house typology presents, with foresight and inspiration to others.
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