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House Turgel, 'Marakesh'
Lyndhurst, Johannesburg, Gauteng

Donald D TURGEL: Architect

Style:Critical Regionalism


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26°08'01.44" S 28°05'51.34" E Alt: 1614m

This 600 square meter home was designed by Turgel for himself and his family, beautifully built with commissioned pieces by sculptors Armando Baldinelli and Edoardo Villa and handcrafted doors and other various features commissioned from Cecil Skotnes.

Skotnes, commissioned to make his first mural, convinced at the time that he was a cutter and not a painter, devised an unusual, perhaps unprecedented, technique for the work which suited not only his temperament, but the unconventional area on which Turgel wanted the decoration. The brick surface in question is a divider between two rooms and does not reach the height of the ceiling. It is continued outside to separate two areas of a terrace open to the sky. Nearby was a bank of weeping willows which inspired Skotnes, the landscapist, to bring, so to say, the garden into the house by repeating the trees’ general shape and rhythm, but in a drastically simplified and invigorated idiom. Skotnes used a technique of coloured cement laid into lime plaster. The wall is covered with a layer of plaster, and, while it is still damp, the design is cut into it. The colour (in this case black) is trowelled into the cut-out spaces. The excess colour is scraped away leaving a crisp line drawing somewhat reminiscent, Skotnes says, of Japanese woodcuts on mulberry paper. (Harmse, Cecil Skotnes, accessed 2016 06 20).

Also installed was Skotnes's first 'Afrophile' engraved door, executed in the African hot-metal technique.

This is an exemplar of what were to epitomise Turgel's houses - following the dictates of South African climate and need of outdoor living, careful attention to costs - virtually the cheapest of their time. These were 'low-profile houses with privacy areas secreted from the street' having 'large wall surfaces of stock brickwork (then the cheapest surface-area available); low-level cut-out view windows screened with brick grilles; bagged surfaces from unsieved granular sand excavated on site; cost-effective local materials like slate or hard brick on floors; glazed inset tiles for wiped surfaces in wash areas set in wide mortar joints. The roofing is IBR galvanised sheeting at six degree slope, supported without purlins on ponderosa pole rafters stained carbolineum black, with split-pole ceiling and fibreglass insulation above' (Chipkin, 1993: 297-8).

This economy and choice of materials all leant an African idiom to his work. This was augmented through use of local artists to craft doors, panels, and suchlike. This created houses experienced as a progression of enclosed, brick-paved courtyards with sculptures and pottery ledges or niches, walled gardens with brick piers and pergolas, white-walled interiors enhanced by black-slate floors, black-stained window-surrounds, simple sliding doors, protected by chevron-patterened brickwork grilles that diffuse light, all exuding 'a robust African spirit without sentimentality. (Chipkin, 1993: 298-9)

The walls were hung with rough-knotted African Textiles.

Writings about this entry

Chipkin, Clive M. 1993. Johannesburg Style - Architecture & Society 1880s - 1960s. Cape Town: David Phillip. pg 298