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House Denis Santry, Kleine Schuur
Parktown, Johannesburg, Gauteng

BAKER and FLEMING: Architect
OFFICE 24-7: Architect

Date:1910 : 2013
Client:Denis Santry
Type:Homestead
Status:Extant
2013GIfA Award for Architecture
2014SAIA Award of Merit
Street:12 Rhodes Ave
See more photographs

(Fleming 1985)

The house was designed for the architect Denis SANTRY.

Wording on Parktown Westcliff Heritage Trust plaque:

Kleine Schuur, "the perfect cottage", set the style for
Rhodes Avenue in 1910. It was designed by Baker and
Fleming for artist/cartoonist Denis Santry. Santry
presumably chose the name mockingly referring to the
difference between himself and Cecil John RHODES for whom
Baker built Groote Schuur. Santry's political satire,
much of it focused on World War I, was created in the
studio within the steeply-pitched roof. He left in 1918
for Singapore to work as an architect. The next
owner was J.A. Ashburnham, Chief Magistrate
of Johannesburg.

________________________

Additions to the house by Nabeel ESSA of OFFICE 24-7 won a GIFA Award for Architecture in 2013 and an Award of Merit form SAIA in 2014.

Architect's Project Description

100 years marks the space between the original Herbert Baker house and the new additions and insertions. The project aimed for clarity in method in its intent to enhance the heritage house with contemporary sensibilities.

The tight constraints of the existing house meant that the new additions had to be designed to maximize space. This project was an exercise in smallness, asking how little space do we need to live in without compromising on comfort, how maximizing space is about sustainability.

A vertical garden carries a floating glazed box that hovers above the ridge and savours the view of Herbert Bakers elegantly proportioned and iconic ' house'. The articulation of the vertical garden wall is intended to make the structure disappear, hence emphasizing the cantilevered glass box.

There is a clear connector between the old and the new. This allows for a conceptual demarcation and reading of the two structures and acts as a buffer between the two pieces of architecture. A new spiral staircase inserted in the old wing of the house is a sculptural twist that connects to the upstairs pyjama lounge.

Each room has a specific identity and engages 1911 heritage with 2012 lifestyle in varying degrees.

A main suite of connecting rooms blurs dressing, bathing and sleeping in a series of framed glimpses, sliding screens and slipping boundaries addressing the informal inside the formal.

The language of the new is clearly contemporary, yet it does not challenge the architectural impact of the main house. Hence it is set back to be right up to the boundary wall allowing for maximum distance between itself and the main house. New mechanisms inserted into and around this heritage artefact reconfigure a new hybrid lifestyle - knitting a century of Parktown history into a spatial dialogue.

Award for Architecture citation

Nabeel Essa was asked to alter and provide additions to a heritage house in Parktown, initially designed by Herbert Baker and later altered by FHF Fleming. The house sits on a ridge overlooking Wits University and was originally designed for a cartoonist who worked for Rand Daily Mail. The additions rework this charming historic home and bring it into the contemporary world accommodating a workspace, bathroom and improved access to the children's bedrooms. It is the study, built on the southwest side of the Baker House, that stands out in this intervention. The elevated and partly cantilevered glass cube forms a viewing platform that looks south toward Wits and east at the Baker House. A billboard sized mural in this room references the original cartoonist's work The scheme positions architecture as a vehicle for spatial interpretation and storytelling that extends beyond the modernists obsession with function. The planted wall and glass panels dematerialize the addition reducing the visual impact of the new elements on the original Baker House. Carefully detailed stairs and other elements follow the same sensitively worked approach. The judges were unanimous in conferring an Award for Architecture on this project, for a work that is intelligent and sensitive, successfully respecting both the building’s historic character and the demands of contemporary life. It is, to quote the architect "an exercise in smallness" and clearly demonstrates "how little space we need to live without compromising on comfort."

Award of Merit citation

There are not many buildings in the relatively young city of Johannesburg that can be classified as 'old'. The number of buildings that can be viewed as 'important' for architectural and socio-cultural reasons are miniscule in relation to the total built fabric of the conurbation. This fragile heritage plays only a small part of the daily life of its inhabitants. Its role is so small and insignificant that most, generally, believe that this fabric can be allowed to follow a natural path into oblivion or that the salvageable materials/structures should be used for the very different requirements of newer generations and the conditions dictated by the quest for survival.

When the owners of a building and, in this case their architect, step in to creatively stem the tide of attrition - society should take note. When it is done with such elegance and careful thought - those interested in the values inherent in the built environment and the architectural profession, should celebrate.

Kleine Schuur was designed in 1910 by Sir Herbert BAKER for Dennis Santry, who was a satirist working for the Sunday Times and the Rand Daily Ma;7.This house, situated on the southern edge of the Parktown Ridge, was named Kleine Schuur in a satirical gesture to the house Groote Schuur in Cape Town, which was built for Cecil John Rhodes and was also designed by Sir Baker. Francis Fleming, Baker's partner, later prepared the design for alterations to Kleine Schuur.

The original double-storey house, built in the materials and solid craftsmanship of the time, reminds one of the Arts and Crafts style of some typical English country cottages. Its symmetry is reinforced by its elevation, and steeply pitched broseley tiled roof that has dormer windows and prominent chimneys. In plan, this symmetry is reinforced with a central room stretching from the northern to the southern facades. Adjacent to this beautifully proportioned room, the more private and service accommodation is to be found. The house was placed right on the edge of the ridge in order to visually connect the north-facing garden with a magnificent southerly view over central Johannesburg. The architect, Nabeel ESSA, worked carefully with this legacy and fabric in order to add the required new accommodation, to rationalise and modify older accretions, and to effect internal re-arrangements. This was done with great sensitivity, applying also the principle that the 'old' will remain so, while the 'new' will also reflect the sensibilities of its time in order for the combined whole to reflect its total history, both physically and socio-culturally, as far as possible.

Inside the original house, service areas like the kitchen and bathrooms have been rationalised and updated. A new spiral staircase has been introduced to enable easier access between the ground floor and the loft. On the side of the garage, further rationalisation of existing accommodation followed. It was with the new addition in this area of the existing buildings that the architect really excelled in making a memorable contribution to the whole. This new room, with its bare concrete floor and ceiling and its crisply detailed floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding-folding doors, is a tour de force belying its small scale.The cantilevered window box is made 'weightless' by the vertical garden that covers and hides its support structure and the accommodation that might be behind it. The vertical garden emulates the steeply sloping and heavily forested 'wildness' of the garden on the southern part of the property. It also contrasts with the more serene and classically ordered north-facing garden on the other side of the buildings. The views created from this room draw attention to the old house, as well as to the city. The longest and most prominent wall of this room is covered with an enlarged version of one of Dennis Santry's satirical drawings -most probably created in the loft space of the original house, where he worked for most of his life. The shape of, and views from, this room also bring to mind the qualities of the 'noble' central room of the original house.

The qualities created in this new addition, coupled with the way that the changes were effected to the older parts of the house, ensure that space-time and social continuities are embodied in the structure and felt throughout. In this way, both 'new' and 'old' sets a context for the next generations that might inhabit the house. Kleine Schuur also sets an example for society, as well as the architectural profession, of how to deal with such a fragile historical legacy in an inspired and careful manner.

(Paul Kotze - 2014)

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Writings about this entry

Greig, Doreen. 1970. Herbert Baker in South Africa. Cape Town: PURNELL. pg 241
South African Institute of Architects. 2014. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2013/2014. Cape Town: Picasso for SAIA. pg 46-47