Sitting on the foothills of Table Mountain, Disa Park’s imposing trio of towers are famous for their unique cylindrical design. For architects Christiaan van Aswegen and Alexander Geh – both keen buffs in the history of architecture and its movements – the building’s brutalist nature and tube-like shape posed an alluring design challenge, which saw them swapping ‘rooms’ for ‘wedges’ and manipulating angles to enhance perspective. Surveying the city from their perch on the 14th floor of the first tower, the couple discuss their attraction to Disa, unlocking the apartment’s potential, and their predilection for greenery.
CHRISTIAAN I’ve never liked living in houses. I’ve always loved apartments, but I was initially quite sceptical about Disa Park because it’s had quite a negative reputation. ALEX They aren’t elegant buildings, let me put it that way. But they could be! Yeah, they could be. I’ve known this place since I was a student and I’ve always admired it. Sometimes buildings don’t have to be pretty. Disa’s brutalist nature really appealed to us. Now we absolutely love it and we want people to understand that it has merit. What made me feel most anxious is how dark it was. It was really tough for me to imagine how to make that great, but you have an incredible talent in seeing the potential in a place. As it turns out, we couldn’t knock out all the walls, but we created openings and the result, spatially, is a lot more interesting. It’s still open plan, but because the opened spaces are framed by the walls, there are shifting perspectives as you move through.
With this apartment, we really embraced the style of the building. You can’t bring a preconceived vision to it. The real secret – and I hate expressing it this way – is in listening to the building. There’s an idiosyncrasy in the way Disa Park is shaped. All of the original flats are trying to cram a normal cellular apartment into these wedges and that set-up wasn’t working, so we stripped it out. Everything that we then introduced to the space needed to be perceptible as ‘new’. In that way, we’ve taken a very systematic approach to coding elements. If the element carries water – the taps for example – it’s highlighted in yellow. The door openings are green. All the existing structure is painted in pink. The new additions, like the shower cubicle, are in textured grey brick. It’s almost as though you’re able to read the different elements and understand how the parts fit together. There’s also a very strong connection between the unfolding of private space and the landscape. Like the shower cylinder that’s echoed in the other two towers in the distance. We specifically chose this apartment because we wanted to be able to see the towers ahead, and at this level, you get a strong idea of the relationship between yourself and what’s out there. Inside, what I really love are the plants. They’ve made a remarkable difference. The greenery hasn’t just softened the space,
it’s become the characteristic element of it. And it’s my hobby. It’s more than a hobby! But we haven’t collected much art. We spend what we have on travel, property and furniture, and so the plants fulfil the function of art.
A lot of the furniture we have is from a certain era. And it’s not instantly recognisable. It’s difficult to get standard furniture to fit into an unconventional configuration. Luckily, our couch doesn’t need to rest against a wall – it can stand by itself. We make the architecture do a lot of the heavy lifting. When we’re entertaining, people spread throughout the apartment yet remain connected visually – which makes socialising easy. Did you expect that it would be this way living here? I was surprised. I still am happily surprised. I feel very much sheltered, but also perched in the sky. It really feels like a haven, but when you’re standing at the window, looking out over the city, there’s also supervillain lair-like quality, which I really enjoy. Yeah, there’s always a different thing to see. Even though we’re cooking and working and going through the banalities of the everyday, when we move through the apartment we are constantly treated to new views and perspectives that enrich and elevate our lives.