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House Schoeman
Walmer, Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth), Eastern Cape


Client:Mr and Mrs Schoeman
2013SAIA EC Award for Architecture

This project is for a large family house on a new residential estate on a golf course in Walmer, Port Elizabeth, with the building aligned north west (road entry) to south east (golf fairway) with the preferred aspect and views to the north east over a cul-de-sac.

The client expressed a liking for 'Onion Row', a previous project by John Rushmere, specifically the sense of space (volume), the spatial flow and the light. The view overlooking the pond in front of the 6th tee was stressed, and a study, a music room, a studio, a cellar and a lift were added to the accommodation schedule.

Planning guidelines on the estate had deliberately omitted restrictive building lines except in relation to the golf course. This was done to avoid 'left over' alleys and boundary walls and to promote positive outdoor spaces and courtyards framed by neighbouring buildings. Unfortunately, this invitation has been generally ignored in favour of the suburban 'island' building approach – not so the Schoeman House.

The long, narrow site, its orientation to the north east and the south winds determined that the building align its 'back' along the south west boundary, avoiding unusable left over space and prying windows to the south west neighbours. Instead there is a blank 'canvas' for the neighbours to exploit whether it be by building or planting or both. Crucially, they are also guaranteed privacy. Perhaps most importantly, light, space, privacy and protected outdoor living for the Schoemans is maximised to the north west, east and south east.

Private places (sleeping, bathing, cooking, music) are assembled to form four separated 'mini-blocks'. They are arranged for their own advantage and, significantly, to define and shape a public 'hall' that is the central celebratory space. It has height, position and an outside place that acknowledges our southern latitude properly, and a banqueting table (it will have a stove for warmth) and it links and balances 'private' and 'public', up and down, in and out and across – in other words, it has journeys.

The 'hall' is raw, allowing brick and timber to underline its openness and the robust nature of its human interplay. The mini-blocks are intimate, discreet and minimally detailed (there is even a bridge to the main bedroom space) and smooth and refined as befits their own nature. The main bedroom space, with supporting dressing and bathroom space, is found at the end of the bridge at the upper level on the mini-block in the south. The owners' existing furniture has found its places and they have begun to create a landscape to soften up and make the places of the house feel 'owned' and special to their family.

The hall void, between the spaces described above, is the connecting public place that is appropriately large to cater for a variety of social interactions but also is spatially varied with main space and 'space beyond space' that allows for smaller scaled and interesting places. Time was spent, at the request of the client, to allow for this space to be changeable and be able to change with time with the changing activities of the house. So the large volume is currently the dining space and the lower more intimate space to the east of it, defined by a fireplace, is the lounge. There is a studio with attractive light and views to the south east and a large covered outside space to the east. But these can change to suit occasion – dining can happen more intimately, lounging more expansively etc.

A small guest room, separate from the main house, is pushed to the property boundary to the north east, defining the extent of the property from the neighbouring houses and cul de sac to the north east and creating the necessary privacy for a small courtyard off the kitchen and kitchen services.

Finally, it is suggested that the building will remain incomplete until the neighbour with imagination and vision takes note of the invitation implicit in the undecorated wall to the south boundary, to claim ownership of it. In doing this, and with time, the row of houses of similar property proportions will be seen as more as a built up block and this house is the north east concluding end to the block.

(The Workplace Architects - 2014)


Award for Architecture Citation

The project continues a tradition of projects, its predecessor and deliberate antecedent those of Onion Row, authored by the same architect. A linear double-volume space which is the core of the house is articulated with carefully considered and highly expressive material and structure detailed meticulously, to the point where junctions draw attention to the particular. The project is highly demanding of the care of craftsmanship and this has been brought to the project. While the house appears large, the site is in fact restricted and the space organisation and disposition makes full use of the diagonal views and source of natural light, making for a sense of generosity and liveability. This is a mature work richly deserving of a regional Award for Architecture.

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.

Writings about this entry

Herholdt, AD (Editor). 2013. Coastal Contemporary : Architecture of Nelson Mandela Bay : 2000 - 2013. Port Elizabeth: DOT Matrix Publications. pg 130-133