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3-IN-1 House
Cape Town, Western Cape

Michael LUMBY: Design Architect

2017CIfA Award for Architecture
2018SAIA Award of Merit
Street:146 Waterkant Street


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33°54'46.95" S 18°24'55.03" E Alt: 43m

Award of Merit Citation

This family home is situated just outside the conservation area of De Waterkant in Cape Town. The slope of the land in this area can afford spectacular views towards the Cape Town harbour and the ocean beyond. The rectangular site is only 90 square metres. It is a long and narrow site with the longest dimension adjacent to the street edge. This area is relatively densely built up with mostly two- to three-storey residences. These houses are mostly semidetached buildings that, collectively, result in a well-defined street edge.

The site context and size have created a relatively difficult problem for any architect. To solve it inventively and with some inspiration calls for a very talented hand and mind. The historical nature of the streetscape could easily demand a response that would overwhelm any designer trying to be even mildly aware and respectful of this situation. The design of this house holds many lessons of how to fit into any built environment in an inspired manner. Closer inspection of the design as realised reveals incredible levels of invention on a spatial and material level that are embodied in the building. The facade of the house reveals little of its dynamic interior. The facade can appear fortress-like with its intricate brick construction and detailing and with its smallish and carefully designed openings. In contrast, the interior is filled with light and interlocking volumes creating a sense of excitement and spatial freedom. The spectacular views from the inside of the house to the city and the ocean are gloriously revealed and celebrated. This visual connection to the beautiful urban and natural context finds its culmination on the roof terrace. Here, in a wonderfully private world reminiscent of suchlike spaces in North Africa, pure enjoyment can be found in simply being there; of being part of the views towards the mountain and the sea and towards the rising and setting sun and the stars. To increase the exotic pleasures of being in this space, a small swimming pool has also been incorporated.

The plan and the facades of the house have been subdivided into roughly three equal parts. On the brick facade, this tripartite arrangement has been clearly shown and used to design the expertly crafted and geometrically complex facade. This arrangement is in keeping with the mostly vertically articulated street facades of the neighbouring buildings. Internally, this tripartite geometry becomes even more pronounced. In the one-third, three nearly identical bedrooms with their en-suite bathrooms are vertically stacked on top of each other. The middle third of the plan is 'empty' while it only contains an internal garden with the main staircase encircling it. This space is filled with light and it also functions as the central and organising space of the building. Next to this area is the kitchen, dining area and the double volume lounge topped with the roof space already mentioned.

This building reveals its design brilliance discretely. It is immaculately detailed and constructed. It is also another excellent example that illustrates that the maximum freedom and innovation can be released by a talented architect when the physical constraints are their most severe.

Writings about this entry

South African Institute of Architects . 2018. Awards : South African Institute of Architects. Awards for Excellence, Awards of Merit, Regional Awards for Architecture 2017/2018. Cape Town: Picasso for SAIA. pg 30, 31 ill