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House La Lucia
La Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal



Award for Excellence Citation

When viewing this house, it was difficult to find the right descriptors to give form to the sensory experience that it had on the observer. The first reaction was one of wonder and intrigue at the inherent logic and 'rightness' of the apparently simple form on the edge of the Indian Ocean.

The house is situated on the first rise of land after the beach. It is built on the footprint of a previous building on the site.This resulted in a long and narrow verandah-type form only one-room deep. This rectangular shape is orientated towards the southeast, directly towards the ocean, and northwest, directly towards a somewhat sunken garden full of the lush green KwaZulu-Natal coastal vegetation.

It comprises two levels. The ground floor faces the garden and the level above faces the ocean. The relationship that each level has with the outside opposes each other, creating their own unique characters. Due to the rise of the land, the ground floor has a limited view to the outside. On the upper floor, the view is one of the ocean's horizon and can be glimpsed through a carefully created and manicured opening in the vegetation. Both views are limited by natural elements and yet are in complete contrast to each other.

The words of the architects explain the building as follows: The project explores its potential in the caves carved out of the coastal rock by the persistent erosion of the sea, to be hollowed-out solid rattier than a lightweight form, a piece of nature rather than a building.'

The two longitudinal elevations express this idea further. From the land-side, the massive concrete form of the first floor hovers above the ground level as if held up by some unexplained force. From the sea-side, the elevation is open; this openness is only moderated by a series of glass and metal screens that can all be arranged independently of each other. However, for all intents and purposes, the relationship to the sea is uninterrupted. In order to create this direct and unobtrusive relationship between the inside and the outside in the subtropical climate of KwaZulu-Natal's coastal area, a most ingenuous but totally invisible climate-control system was devised.

The upper floor is filled with light. It streams in from the sea-side, the roof has a large skylight at a strategic position, while there is a longitudinal skylight between the roof and the concrete wall on the land-side.This wall also has three small windows, creating a carefully curated and edited relationship with the garden. The light from the skylight, between the roof and the wall, again creates a sense of disbelief at precisely how the heavy roof is supported.

From the land-side, entry to the top floor is by means of a glass-enclosed elevator. In this device, all the structural and moving parts are delicately thin metal sections, while all the other parts are in glass. Again, an element of pure delight is created in the ingenuity of the design and in the craftsmanship.The user can only wonder at how this gravity-defying 'machine' came about.

When the viewer starts to understand the complexities that were overcome, as well as built into this 'less is more' building, the notion that the 'house is a machine for living in' also comes to mind. The level of technical and tectonic perfection achieved by the architects and builders is truly astounding. It compares to the best that have been achieved anywhere in the world.

Despite all this, the building is relaxed,', authentic and at one with itself - as it is the proverbial beach umbrella creating a joyful point of reference for a family relaxing on the beach for the day.The building is understated in all its aspects. It reveals the care and brilliance with which it was designed and constructed slowly to anyone who wishes to truly observe.

One cannot walk away unimpressed by the building's making and presence on the site. One cannot walk away without feeling the deepest respect for the brilliance, commitment, craftsmanship and attention to detail - not to mention the professional and inspired cooperation that must have existed - between the client, builder and architect.

Writings about this entry

South African Institute of Architects. 2016. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2015/2016. Cape Town: Picasso for SAIA. pg 10-11