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House, Overport
Berea, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal

Alan Robert LIPMAN: Architect
Street:Hartley Road cor View Grove

A transcribed description of the house from a contemporary publication is provided below:

THIS is a home for an active professional couple with two sons and a daughter, all of school-going age. As they have advanced views on contemporary living they were not deterred by the enormous problem of the site-the extremely steep fall from the street down a virtual mountainside.

The steepness of the site is linked to its most advantageous feature - unparalleled views of the rolling green-clad hills of the Natal interior.

The site is on the inland slope of the Durban Berea-ridge. It has an immediate fall of 13 ft. (3.96m) from the road-level to a small sloping plateau, and then a fall of approximately 28 ft. (8.5m) to the north boundary - the total fall being about 40 ft. (12.2m) over a distance of about 140 ft. (42.7m). The site was covered with numerous fully-grown avocado-pear and pine trees which were preserved as far as possible by careful siting. The trees have been of great assistance in providing sun protection, as they are permanently in leaf, to the north and west facing rooms (a fundamental problem in Durban climatic conditions).

Narrowness of the street frontage and the difficulty of access for cars induced the owners to buy a small triangularly shaped portion of the adjoining plot (about 400 square feet (37.2 square m)). This made it possible to improve the vehicular approach and to orientate the house at the best possible angle vis-a-vis the magnificent views. Unfortunately photographs cannot adequately illustrate the drama of the views to the north (through an arc of 270 degrees) from the street level. As these views are rapidly lost to the observer when he descends the slope it was decided to place the living-rooms at street level. This has given an added charm to the views as they are seen from treetop level through and past the rich green of the semi-tropical foliage.

The narrowness and steepness of the site have moulded the plan in many ways, mainly because of the importance of achieving compactness. The owners' requirements were a living-room, dining-room, study, kitchen and breakfast recess. These are all on first floor level with access from the street via a footbridge on the east side of the double garage.

Sleeping accommodation (two children's bedrooms with ablutions and a master suite of bedroom, dressing-room and bathroom) is on the lower floor and opens directly on to the built-up garden terrace. All rooms are cross-ventilated and gain advantage from the cool south-easterly winds.

The approach to the front door of the house by the bridge has considerable dramatic effect due to the view of a garden some 17 ft. (5.2m) below eye-level coupled with the contrast to an architecturally severe street facade. The living-room with its boarded ceiling (oiled) and white-painted exposed rafters opens from a low ceilinged entrance and stair lobby. The ceiling carries beyond large glazed doors and sidelights over a 10 ft. (3m) porch. The dining-room opens off the living-room but at a level 2 ft. 6 in. (76.2cm) above living-room level. This interplay of floor levels, ceiling heights and volumes has proved most successful and permits the view to be contained and framed by a variety of enclosures.

The main bedroom gets its view past the trunks and lower branches of the trees whilst the children's bedrooms have their views interrupted by the geometry of the stair from the porch down to the garden terrace.

The owners requested that the double garage be sufficiently large to serve as a playroom, particularly for table-tennis. It is therefore a big room and has unusually large windows, and with the addition of an asphalt tile floor (which is not permanently marked by oil drips), a ceiled roof and pleasant colouring, does double duty both for housing the cars and for recreation and enjoyment.

The "butterfly" roof (draining to a U-shaped reinforced concrete box-gutter) together with the four levels of the house has permitted a successful juxtaposition of levels. Construction is conventional load-bearing cavity walls supporting a reinforced concrete flat slab at first floor level and a roof of rafter beams spanning from the spinal box-gutter to external north and south walls. Ceilings throughout the first floor are asbestos boards except to the living-room and the porch. The roof covering is asbestos shingles.

Externally the house has crisp white first floor walls - supported on a rustic red face-brick ground floor. All trim is deep "nocturnal" blue and the timber is oiled and left natural. The deeply ruled joints of the lime-washed white walls successfully break up the intensely bright quality of the Durban light, avoiding glare, and the white walls have a double cooling effect, firstly because of the contrast with the deep rich green of the foliage and secondly because of the black shadows cast in the severe tropical sunlight.

Internally white and off-white grey plastered walls contrast with contemporary South African furniture (difficult to find in Durban) and curtaining, and with occasional wall-papering. The house is generously provided with architect-designed built-in fittings.

Ref: Wale, Laurie. House, Overport, Durban. ARCHITECT AND BUILDER Vol. 11 No 2 March 1961: pgs 6 - 11

[Submitted by William MARTINSON]

Writings about this entry

Wale, Laurie. 1961. House, Overport, Durban. ARCHITECT AND BUILDER Vol. 11, No 2 March 1961. pp 6 - 11