Cradle of Humankind House
Text Graham Wood Styling Leana Schoeman Photographs Elsa Young Although it has a beautiful natural setting and striking modernist architecture, many of the most remarkable aspects of Doris and James Forbes’ home are things you can’t see. Its surroundings at Monaghan Farm near Lanseria – The Cradle of Humankind – stir an awareness of our ancient relationship with the earth, so it’s not surprising that it inspired the ecologically sensitive construction of their new home. Doris and James went to great lengths to make it a landmark of green architecture, working closely with architect Enrico Daffonchio to realise their vision. ‘They made no compromise in terms of comfort, but it is all as green as can be,’ says Enrico. The result is a home that exists in harmony with its environment and engenders a casual, sociable family lifestyle. James works from home, and he and Doris have the place to themselves during the week. On weekends, however, their four children arrive from school, often with friends in tow, and the house is transformed into a family-filled retreat. The house’s long horizontal structure is divided into two parts – one for the children and another for their parents, ‘so there is space and privacy for them, and sanity for us!’ says James. The two parts are linked by a common area in the middle, ‘where they can all come together,’ says Enrico. Stackable glass doors open the house to the outside areas. ‘There is nice circulation between the living areas: kitchen, dining room, the terrace lounge, the bar and outside,’ says Doris, which makes for easy entertaining. The simple appearance of the steel and glass building is deceptive. ‘Everything has layers,’ says Enrico.mThe various areas from the terrace to the interior are cleverly linked. ‘Even the swimming pool is designed so that there are two areas, one cooler and one warmer,’ he adds. The ease and luxury of living here belies the effort and ingenuity that went into making the house. Both Doris and James researched various aspects of green architecture, and the house includes highly sophisticated green technology. The hot water system runs off imported heat pumps, which also drive the underfloor heating. A bank of photovoltaic panels on the roof generates most of the electricity and powers the heat pumps. In summer, a cool interior is ensured by an evaporative cooler on either side of the house. (The heating, water and evaporative cooling systems are also separate, so that half can be shut down while the kids are away.) The swimming pool is heated by conventional ‘solar water mats’ on the flat roof. Enrico adds, ‘Much of the energy saving is low-tech and is embedded in the design.’ The building’s passive solar design makes the most of sunlight. There is double-glazing on the windows. The insulation has been taken to new levels of efficiency. It is, as far as Enrico knows, a one-of-a-kind system in South Africa. ‘Even the frames of the double-glazing play a role in eliminating thermal bridges between the interior and exterior walls,’ says Enrico, ‘as they act as a continuation of the cavity wall insulation.’ All outside surfaces are independent of the inside, so there is no heat soak from the outside. ‘It’s a 100 per cent insulated shell.’ The interiors hint at the natural context without being overt. ‘The theme of the development was natural, so we decided to keep it as simple as possible without being cottagey,’ says Doris, who did the decorating herself. ‘We wanted contemporary decor and clean lines not overloaded with fussy detail.’ Despite its sleek appearance, you’re never far from a comfortable spot in which to recline. In seeking harmony with the environment, this country home has created a peaceful environment of its own, making for an easy and uncomplicated lifestyle.