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Award for Excellence citation
Nature in its purest form is in short supply in the Gauteng province, due to it being the smallest, most densely populated and significantly urbanised province in the country. What is left of nature is constantly under threat; it is often being urbanised in very inefficient ways. This increases exponentially the value of what is left of nature.
Blair Athol Estate is situated towards the north-west sector of Gauteng. The Cradle of Mankind is not too far from it. The mere proximity of this world heritage site, the open quality of the landscape and the pressures of development on the outer fringes of the conurbation all increase the conceptual challenge of building in the area.This undulating and seemingly uninteresting landscape with its low hills, shallow valleys, watercourses and unexpected fissures and caves has been the context that played an important role in the evolution of man. The most distinguishing feature of the site of House Snyders, situated within a privileged and low-density gated community, is its close proximity to the Crocodile River.
The site has a gentle slope towards the river that forms part of its eastern boundary. Much of the image of the primeval grassed landscape still remains in the area. The gentle slope towards the east, the grassed landscape and the precious water in the river formed the basis of the conceptual departure point for the design of this house. All of these elements, in combination, were used and celebrated to form a place of dwelling for the Snyders Family. The utmost care has since been taken to ensure the primacy of the relationship to nature and that the building mass will always remain subservient to this relationship. The building itself has, consistently, despite its apparent bulk, been dematerialised with manipulated indirect light and views onto the landscape. Water, with its reflective and life-giving qualities, as well as in reference to the presence of the Crocodile River, has been used generously and with great effect to underscore this dematerialisation even further. The building has an open yet private quality, while the burden of security has been dealt with in an unobtrusive manner.
The house is functionally and geometrically arranged around this relationship to the grassed landscape and river. The house, like the site, also steps down to the river. The bulk of the house cannot be seen from the street entrance; the focus upon entry is on the relationship with the river and the watery landscape created by the architects. The grassed roofs extend the natural landscape onto the building. The house itself is mostly used as a device to frame and form this relationship. The lower part of the house seems to be part of, as well as being protected by, the landscape. The building on the level of plan, section and form is direct and strong in its making, giving evidence of the long and contemplative process the architects must have followed in its development and design.The detailing is careful, and the execution of the building reflects the highest technical standards.
The respect for nature as a device for inspired architectural form-making, the way in which the building has been placed on the site, the manner in which nature has been re-created in the open and closed courtyards, and the subservience of the building to nature, has created an inspired and peaceful place of dwelling in this landscape and for this family.
(Paul Kotze - 2014)
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