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House Anderssen
The Willows, Pretoria, Gauteng

Norman Musgrave EATON: Architect

Date:1949
Client:Dr FG Anderssen
Type:Homestead
Status:Extant
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This is the second house that EATON designed for the same client the first house was built ten years before in timber and thatch.

(Harrop-Allin 1975:33 ill)

For South African architects, the surviving architecture of Norman EATON is a reminder that buildings can be particular to their country. EATON's work has that timeless quality which is associated with great architecture, and the Anderssen House is arguably his finest piece of domestic architecture. It is one of his later houses. The construction documentation was produced by him and consists of 20 large sheets covering every detail.

The house was originally designed as a farmhouse, but the city of Pretoria has gradually enveloped the property. However, indigenous trees planted many years ago have now reached full size, and the house blends attractively into the gardens.

The concept of the house is ingenious, with all major rooms opening to the north (ideal Gauteng (Transvaal) orientation). The southern approach from the road is informal but screened, and the house stretches out in a linear direction east-west, clearly separating the smaller reception garden from the sprawling private north garden. Large protective flat roofs stretch out overhead, with higher roofs over the bigger central living rooms cascading down to lower roofs over the bedrooms and service areas. The house thus feels earthbound and comfortably attached to the African veld. A stoop is not clearly demarcated, but the deep overhangs permit shaded sitting areas during the hot summer months. The Gauteng (Transvaal) climate is marked by extremes, and during the winter a cold - reminiscent of the desert - sets in for several months. During this period the sun is low, and despite the house's roof overhangs, it penetrates deeply into the rooms and warms up the interior. The tall windows and doors, admitting winter sun, are a response to the climate.

A heavyweight construction is considered ideal with the extremes of temperature in this dry climate. To compensate for the lightweight windows and doors on the north, substantial masonry walls are used on the other facades. On the west, the heavy fireplace and the undulating garden wall extend out from the kitchen yard. An extended overhang to the west beyond the scullery creates a kitchen porch which is both an external space and a thermal insulator to the interior kitchen spaces.

The scale of the house is deceptive, and only after thoughtfully examining the house as a visitor can one grasp the subtlety of the spaces. Although the building has an almost mansion-like appearance, the actual spaces are economic and comfortable. Entry to the two major rooms (lounge and study) is indirect, being a gradual spatial progression. As one enters the lounge on a landing level, the ceiling lifts up, and one then descends three stairs into the room proper. The smaller study uses a variation on the same theme, though the landing is smaller, creating a greater sense of privacy than the stage-like effect of the lounge. The corridor is unusually broad to counter the passage-like quality. The southern wall is broken by a small bay window containing a desk. Eaton's old partner, Mr Tobie LOUW, commented that the house has a special quality which in an abstract sense is reminiscent of Georgian architecture with its ingenious spaces.

The client was involved with the department of forestry and enthusiastically advocated the use of timber. He was also partial to stone (such as encountered in Wright's work at Taliesin West). Timber, in variety, is used for floors, cupboards, doors, windows, ceilings, and fascias. The floor finish consists of narrow strips of Eucalyptus fastigata arranged in a regular pattern which reflects the grass mats of tribal African huts. The cupboards, doors, and windows are made from large pine planks from which a golden lustre now emerges. By contrast, structural darkened cypress posts and beams reflect a traditional African technique of building. Use of stone is also African, local undressed koppie klip in a random pattern. Another feature of African derivation is the narrow regular wall niches in certain walls, giving a sense of delicacy and emphasis in an architecture which otherwise has a plain dignity.

It is difficult to imagine that Wright did not have an influence on EATON. It is clear that EATON understood and found Wright's principles attractive, adapting them to the arena of Southern African architecture.

(UIA Issue 8, 1985: 22)

Anderssen House brings together in a unique synthesis the wide experience of EATON in Africa and the East. The poise of the house on its site, horizontal emphasis, and local stone have a strong sense of Wright. The spatial character, despite subtly changing volumes, is reminiscent of early Cape houses. Rooms with exposed rough, rounded beams supporting a split pole ceiling are complete, carefully proportioned volumes with painted brick walls. Shutters and windows, too, owe much to Cape tradition. There is also a Japanese suggestion in the way a rough structure of timber posts relates to sophisticated wooden window screens in the living room. The mass of stone walls punctured by doors connects the house distinctly with the architecture of Africa.

(Julian Cooke in UIA, 1985: 60)


Writings about this entry

Beck, Haig (Editor). 1985. UIA International Architect : Southern Africa (Issue 8). London: International Architect. pg 22
Pienaar, Marguerite. 2013. Norman Eaton Legacy, The : a critical architectural appraisal of the documentation of his domestic oeuvre. Pretoria: Unpublished MArch thesis, University of Pretoria. pg 103-105, 109, 192
Beck et al Norman Eaton. Anderssen House, Pretoria (1949-50): in Beck, Haig (Editor). 1985. UIA International Architect : Southern Africa (Issue 8): pp 22-23
Various A Biographical history: in Beck, Haig (Editor). 1985. UIA International Architect : Southern Africa (Issue 8): pp 60