STEYN STUDIO: Architect
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Award of Merit Citation
In places where the landscape dominates, all architecture is always relatively small and insignificant in relation to it. When architects or any other designers act within such a landscape they do it, either with a conscious understanding or with total lack of care for the role that architecture or any other man-made structures can play as the sites of meaning within the natural environment. These acts are either respectful or disrespectful, or they are what has been termed, l/it or l/Thou relationships. In turn, all of us understand the nature of this relationship either intuitively or by means of analysis — it does not matter how, we pick it up if we care to look.
This farmstead is situated in the Breede River Valley and its backdrop is the majestic Waaihoek mountain range. All valley sections are mostly spatially enclosed systems, with a watercourse at the lowest levels and with sloping land towards the mountain ridges that are edged against the sky.
Bosjes Farm has been in the Botha/Stofberg family since 1831. It was the client's wish for this project to restore the historic manor house, to add a tasting hall and bistro, guest accommodation as well as landscaped gardens and the chapel that is the specific project that has been submitted for this awards programme. The client also requested the development of a plaas werf in front of the homestead and the placing of the chapel next to the existing family graveyard. A further request was to use Psalm 36:7 for the inspiration of the design of the chapel. Next to the chapel they wanted to add an extensive garden, which had to offer a unique landscape experience. This garden had to contain plants with Biblical references.
This verse underlying the concept for the Chapel (depending on which translation is used) is: How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
The Chapel and all the other elements that form part of the larger project were placed by means of axial arrangements which, in turn, all focus back on the original farmhouse. In this way of doing things, the architects followed a pattern of organisation that has been well established over a long time in this part of the world. The pre-existing graveyard was also used to establish the position of the chapel. These two elements were brought into relation by means of a shorter axis that centres them on each other. Next to this ensemble, the garden with its Biblical references and an 'oasis' and tea kiosk were situated, albeit in a much looser arrangement than the other elements referred to before. The dramatic, linear and 'pure' approach to the chapel has to be placed adjacent to the experience of the wonderfully wild and luscious Biblical gardens next to it. In a way, they are a ying and yang and are purposefully contradictory experiences. The power of the chapel is situated in its linear and uncluttered approach and its illusion of weightlessness, where it would seem to float on the reflective pool in front of it. The chapel structure itself also seems to defy gravity. The complex shapes of its shell are rendered in white. Everything is done to keep this structure pure, clean and crisp at all times. In turn, the view from this glass-enclosed space is all round towards its natural and manmade context. In doing so, the users are acutely aware of their surroundings and of being present in a special place at a specific point in time to witness what special proceedings might be conducted. The relationship with the natural surroundings in this gravity-defying structure is then, in a way, incorporated and made manifest in a memorable manner by means of it. When the chapel is viewed as the destiny point on the path towards it, it becomes obvious what a small object it is in relation to the high mountain ranges in the distance that form the backdrop. Once in the inside, this view to the mountains is re-established: Now, however, this scaleless inside space establishes its equality to the drama of the natural context for one brief moment of near disbelief — truly an l/ Thou moment! The chapel is furnished in a minimalist manner and all support services are kept out of view so as not to distract from its purity.
The overall planning of the various elements on site, the respect to the older architectural structures of the farm, the drama of the chapel's form and the complete ensemble of elements and their relationship to the natural site have all been accomplished in an exemplary manner. It was also all done in a careful manner with much respect displayed to the site and its history.
Bosjes Chapel has been acknowledged by the 2019 edition of Architizer’s premier A+ Awards programme, the world’s largest initiative of its kind for architecture and building products.
These notes were last edited on 2019 11 08
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