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Highveld Pavilion (Vaal River Pavilion)
Vaal River Small Holdings, Sasolburg, Free State

studioMAS: Architect


Situated in a lush smallholding along the Vaal River, we knew from the start that this holiday retreat would have to be spectacular, to do justice to its natural context. The buildings function as garden pavilions, with open entertainment areas that provide complete visual connection between the interior spaces and the surrounding landscape. While creating the seamless, almost weightless architecture at times proved difficult, we loved the challenge. We also loved making art such an integral part of the architecture; laser cut screens by renowned South African artist, Willem Boschoff slide across the façade, providing an engaging and beautiful skin.


Poised within a verdant parkland on the Vaal River, the Highveld pavilion is embedded in the natural landscape while artistically responding to the functional needs of a vacation guest house and entertainment area. The architects designed a building that is as much an intricate building, as it attempts not to be a building at all.

Acknowledging the beauty of the surrounding Highveld, the pavilion is designed not as an object obstructing the flow of nature around it, but rather to be invisible, so that when experienced indoors or out, it merges seamlessly into the landscape. This invisibility is achieved through an inventive use of materials. It includes seamless façade glazing, slender structural steel columns that are pulled away from the building edge to appear like the trunks of the trees alongside them or a thin roof slab that hovers above ground in defiance of all laws of gravity.

The pavilion strongly emphasizes an interaction with the landscape and one’s journey through it. On arrival, vehicles are left behind in a circular parking area so that one walks through this portal space toward the pavilion and the grounds beyond. A continuous wall blocks off the access road, thereby increasing privacy into the pavilion spaces. The façade's initial solidity prevents direct views into the bedroom spaces in the north block. This solidity dissolves immediately once the pavilion is entered, allowing the user to experience the landscape through the two parallel transparent blocks and a central courtyard space, for the first time.

The architecture is also inspired from the extensive artworks and sculptures located on the grounds. For this reason, the pavilion was designed in part with artist, Willem Boshoff, who created the laser cut steel screens on the northern block that are used for sun protection and additional privacy. The screens list the names of beneficial domestic herbs, such as lavender and thyme, as they appear in various languages of the world. The concept of solidity versus transparency also emerges where the text on the solid steel screens appears inversely on the glass façade. This art work merges landscape, art, architecture and function, proving that these need not be mutually exclusive.


The property on the Vaal River is characterised by its beautiful landscaping and scenic tranquillity. Originally consisting of the family’s weekend retreat, the pavilion was needed to provide a place for family, friends and other guests to stay. The pavilion had to supply bedroom and entertainment areas while emphasizing the splendour of the natural landscape through a poetic architectural intervention.

Being the first building one experiences, it forms a threshold for visitors to the grounds and provides privacy for the family in the main house as well as their guests. Consisting of two wings, the pavilion's northern wing delivers functional accommodation areas, while the southern wing is a multi-purpose entertainment area that opens up completely, forming an extension of the landscape and linking both areas to each other. A courtyard is formed within these, acting as a comfortable outdoor living room.

Part of the pleasure of using these spaces is to feel constantly present in nature, while still within the comfort of shelter. Whether the glazing and screens are completely open or not, one is always presented with views to the dam, grasses or trees surrounding the pavilion. If it is simply being used by one person as a retreat, or by many as a gathering venue, the pavilion successfully accommodates these varying needs by morphing itself through the manipulation of its façade screens.

The pavilion merges its functionality to meet our needs with our passion for art, as evidenced by our joint collaboration with artist, Willem Boshoff. Our experience of the pavilion is one where building, art and landscape harmoniously qualify our experience of the property. We feel that this project meets the requirements of excellence in South African architecture and support the submission by studioMAS architects and urban designers in the Award for Architecture 2009. For this reason we agree to allow the review panel to visit the Highveld Pavilion by appointment.

[studioMAS, March 2010]

All truncated references not fully cited below are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.