houses, small spaces

a matter of perspective

Greg Cox
Christiaan van Aswegen and Alexander Geh.

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.

WATCH: Christiaan and Alexander share a virtual tour of their home and inspiration

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.

Disa Park loom over Cape Town’s city centre, but homeowners and architects Christiaan van Aswegen and Alex Geh want residents to see the merit in living in an unconventionally shaped space.

Flow of the apartment is enhanced through perspective and clever graphic techniques that create a sense of movement. The wall on the left was built using a textured brick to signify that it is a new structural addition to the space. Existing walls are painted in a pale pink, and doorways highlighted in sage. The salvaged 1960s fibre cement planter set on a repurposed brass lounge table base creates a colourful statement. The Bird Chair and Stool are by Harry Bertoia for Knoll. The pair purposefully choose pieces that have a sculptural sensibility.

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.

Amid the greenery is a Tulip table by Eero Saarinen for Knoll.

A Tangle Twist sculpture by Richard X Zawitz rests atop a slab of granite from WOMAG: ‘In order to make spaces feel larger, keep furniture closer to the ground,’ advises Christiaan.

The light-filled living area is alive with Alex’s collection of plants. The Togo modular sofa is by Michel Ducaroy for Ligne Roset.

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.   

A collection of secondhand vessels in the kitchen.

The couple take a ‘slightly unconventional approach to shelving and storage’ throughout the home, which extends to the cooking space. ‘It’s the idea of not just multifunctional space, but also architectural fittings as furniture rather than as cabinetry,’ Christiaan explains. ‘It’s more robust and has a greater aesthetic sensibility.’ Alex used yellow to signify any feature that carries water, such as pipes and taps.

A Tahiti Lamp by Ettore Sottsass for Memphis stands next to a BeoSound Century hi-fi.

The kitchen and dining room are one area, which makes it easy for entertaining. The table is from LIM and the B34 chairs by Marcel Breuer were bought at Pier Rabe.

The cylindrical shower on the left-hand side of the bathroom echoes the shape of the towers. A framed artwork by Renée Rossouw forms the backdrop for a vignette of objets in the bedroom.

In the bedroom, the three-tiered beige Componbili cabinet is by Anna Castelli Ferrieri for Kartell. ‘Rose Rose’, a 2012 London Summer Olympics lithograph poster signed by Bridget Riley, picks up on the pinks, yellows and greens in the space.

A framed artwork by Renée Rossouw forms the backdrop for a vignette of objets in the bedroom.