houses, small spaces

Baring It All

Elsa Young

Deep within the jacaranda-lined streets of Joburg’s Westcliff exists one of the city’s smallest solutions to cutting-edge residential living. Contrary to the countless rambling heritage homes emblematic of the suburb, this one weighs in at a slight 60mÇ. Furthermore, that it’s not part of a block of flats, but is instead a stand-alone structure set on acres of undulating terrain is even more remarkable. The creators of this home, which is less garden cottage and more sleek and compact apartment – Silvio Rech, Lesley Carstens and Jack Alexander of Silvio Rech and Lesley Carstens Architects – were tasked with designing a unit that ‘crystallised the concept of a house into one little space,’ explains Silvio. Moreover the new build was to take inspiration from its neighbouring structure (created by the same firm and featured in HL August 2011) – a minimalist, colonnaded pavilion. He adds however that having a great client is fundamental to the success of a piece of architecture of this nature. Defined by a framework of Corten steel, the building follows the form of a triangle with a sweeping glass frontage and a sixmetre high concrete tower that rises above the building’s roof line, while a robust combination of concrete, steel and copper lends the home a measure of purity that works to enhance its stripped-back simplicity. But simplicity in its truest guise is a complex affair – its success is thanks to meticulous detailing and a measured approach to structure and materiality, and it’s here that the architects have prevailed. Only the essential areas – the bathroom and shower beyond it – are segmented by dividing walls with the remaining daily functions all co-existing in one open-plan room. ‘When you’re inside, it feels like an important space because of the height (about 3.5 metres at its highest),’ explains Silvio. The back wall runs the length of the living area unifying the various zones, and yet subtly distinguishing them with a change in surface treatment. The kitchen, for example, is backed by striated ironwood, while a series of Ducoed cupboards follow on to conceal the stuff of daily life. ‘It’s about creating a number of experiences with the use of different materials,’ Silvio explains. The bathroom meanwhile is an ode to Japanese minimalism – evident by way of a soaring cast concrete tower, punctured  with cathedral-like stained glass windows, a copper sliding door and porthole window. ‘It’s not just another bathroom,’ says Silvio,‘it has a poetic austerity to it.’ What little furniture there is has been custom designed by the team in order to answer to the unique needs of the apartment. The bed takes on the appearance of a sofa during the day while all other pieces adopt a sparing use of line in order to promote a sense of space. ‘It was important for us to take care of the design right from the street entrance to the back where the laundry is,’ says Silvio of the finer details present throughout the home. A partition of sliding glass doors forges an immediate connection with the garden, framing an immense Patrick Watson-designed landscape. And, when needed, a lightweight veil of diaphanous linen curtaining can be pulled across the view to filter light and offer privacy. The materials alone are a triumph in architectural expression. Off-shutter concrete takes on a wood-grained patina thanks to the flaming process used in construction. Elsewhere, geometric relief work set against the cast concrete planes gives a nod to Cubism. ‘Copper, Corten and concrete make for a wonderful juxtaposition,’ says Silvio, adding that ‘contradiction is one of the joys of the detailing’. Only design of this ilk has the ability to communicate a sense of space that’s austere yet poetic, detailed yet understated, and above all generous at 60mÇ. ‘Sometimes a tiny space has a concept that’s bigger than that of an entire shopping mall,’ says Silvio summing up the overall effect this apartment has. This article originally featured in the March 2014 of House and Leisure.