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Poised pavilion - house in Kommetjie, South Africa
Magically suspended between mountain and sea, this house and its attendant library are set like jewels in an Arcadian landscape.
This modest house in Kommetjie, a village on the mountainous Atlantic coast about 40 km from Cape Town, was originally envisaged as a retreat for Roelof Uytenbogaardt and his wife from the distractions of city living. The house and garage were completed in 1992, but the result convinced the Uytenbogaardts to live there permanently, necessitating the addition of a small building to house a workroom and library. The site, which enjoys panoramic views of the bay and the back of Table Mountain, slopes steeply down from the mountainside towards the beach some 300 m away. Strong winds and heavy rains sweep the area during winter and it is baked by hot dry weather in the summer months.
Approaching along the road through Kommetjie, the house is an immediately striking presence, poised in an elevated position above the local villas. The building has an upper lookout level, enclosed against the mountain at the rear and then opening up northwards in a great visor slit of glazing to encompass the sweep of coast and sea. Above floats a thin plane of the roof perched on delicate angled timber struts like a hand raised to shield the gaze and extend it against the horizon. At evening the fragile silhouette of the fanlike supports is etched against the deep amethyst of the darkening sky, reinforcing the contrast between the lightness and freedom of the upper structure and the strength and enclosure of the box below.
The steeply inclined road meets the site obliquely, so the garage and extended boundary wall look like a plinth for the poised monumentality of the house proper, further up the slope. This sense of authority, belying the tiny 8 m x 6 m footprint of the house, is the result of the symmetry and clarity of both plan and form: the raised entry point with its staircase and the way in which the doorways and windows are phrased as a single expression at the front of the house. This demonstrates the power of symmetry to transform a small space; and refers to the precedent of a Classical object set in the Arcadian landscape.
There are three doors on the main elevation; two side entrances lead to cellar-like bedrooms providing cool havens from the glare of the sun and the incessant sound of sea and surf. Passing through the central door, you are drawn up a staircase with a view of the mountain to the rear of the main living room. Turning round, you are confronted by a breathtaking 180 degree view of mountain and sea, channelled forward and down the slope of the ceiling. When the full-height sliding doors are open, the sense of space rushing out towards the horizon is almost overwhelming.
The arrangement of the room at the top of the house quite naturally accommodates this outward and downward movement of space. You stand to work at the kitchen counter (above which is a sleeping gallery) against the high rear service wall, while areas for sitting, dining and relaxing are located under the lower ceiling at the front, in what is essentially a broad, enclosed veranda. Sitting surveying a glorious, lingering Cape sunset, you become magically suspended between mountain and sea.
The newly added library is at the bottom of the site, and contains the forward thrust of the pavilion by twisting against its axis. Like the house, it is conceived as an independent pavilion, comprising a solid brick box with a terrace above it and the roof acting as a pergola. Despite the small scale of the finished complex, it is rich in reference to past and present. Uytenbogaardt has distilled a lifetime of study, building and teaching into this small house and library, which accord remarkably with their context and time. Like all good buildings, they look as if they have always been there.
Ref: Lange, Rory. The Architectural Review, March 1995
Submitted by William MARTINSON
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.
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