Q&A with architect George Elphick
Architect George Elphick established a private practice in 1987 and became one of the founding partners of Elphick Proome Architects in 1989. He has served as design critic for five national universities over a 20-year period and, in his 30-year career, has completed projects including the design and implementation of large corporate offices, mixed-use developments and high-rise apartments, as well as numerous private residential and interior design commissions spread across seven African countries. Elphick designed the Umdloti home featured in our December issue and we asked him a few questions about building with unusual materials and the importance of densification in urban areas.
In the Umdloti house featured in House and Leisure’s December edition, you have incorporated building materials often reserved for industrial spaces, including off-shutter concrete, aluminium, glass and timber. What is it about these materials makes them well suited to residential architectural design?
There is a very long history of concrete houses designed by Le Corbusier and his contemporaries in Europe, Asia and South America, but it hasn’t been used extensively for residential design in South Africa. The principle of using off-shutter concrete is that it is a homogenous material that creates a oneness of spatial elements, especially when used both internally and on exteriors. It has a rawness, which gives it character that becomes interesting in its own right. It is extremely resilient and requires very little maintenance, which is particularly useful in coastal areas.
Similarly, aluminium is low-maintenance, durable and flexible, making it suitable for a variety of applications and elements of design. Glass is used directionally to access views, whether they are of the sea, inland or of courtyard spaces. Timber is not very hardy and has a short lifespan, but it generates contrast and warmth, which makes it essential, especially in tactile areas such as doors.
Are there other unusual materials that are gaining traction in residential design?
Stainless steel and Core Ten Steel are both being used with great success, whether with cladding or on their own, creating interesting structures.
You have also designed an innovative security system for this house using perforated aluminium. Tell us a bit about the screens.
Their purpose is to allow residents to open spaces at night, allowing for natural ventilation while being assured of security. The screens are integrated into the doors and create both interest and functionality.
This home is part of a medium-density development consisting of four semi-detached houses on one property. Should South Africans be thinking more along these lines for future developments?
Urbanisation is a given in most countries and today, 50% of the world’s population lives in cities. Densification in urban environments is critical to create homes and workspaces without lateral spread, which creates enormous pressure on infrastructure. Densification needs to be incorporated on some scale into all urban areas whether it be small scale like this development or allowing for high-density developments such as apartment blocks in suburban areas.