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Text Roberta Coci Styling Leana Schoeman Photographs Elsa Young, Sally Shorkend (portrait)

on the edge
A modernist pavilion in Westcliff is the perfect spot
from which to enjoy Joburgs resplendent views
Open spaces and breezy decks make this Mies
van der Rohe-style pavilion in Westclif,
Johannesburg, the ultimate summer hideout.
GASS Architecture Studios was recently
awarded a commendation in the architectural
category at the annual South African Institute
for Structural Steel Awards for its design.
86 HL november 201 2 houseandl ei sure. co. za
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erched on the ridge of one of Johannesburgs oldest
suburbs, Westcliff, lies a modernist pavilion hidden amid
a forest of trees. This house touches the earth lightly, says
architect Georg van Gass of GASS Architecture Studios, and looking
at how it is almost suspended in its sylvan setting, its obvious how
much respect the structure has for the surrounding area.
While the home takes up only a tiny corner of what was once a
massive 5 600m
property, Georg is convinced they chose the ideal
spot on which to build.When youre sitting out on the front deck,
you think things cant get better than this, he says, pointing to the
striking urban views and glorious Joburg skies. But then you turn
around and youre immersed in nature. Thats the beauty of this
house; no one side is more impressive than the other.
Co-architect Clare J. Eisenstein agrees that the setting is
magnificent, but is quick to add that it came with three large
restrictions that affected the design of the home. Firstly, the site
is at the end of a long, awkward driveway, which made access
difficult during construction. Secondly, they wanted to limit the
environmental impact on the ridge, and thirdly, they had to negotiate
an extremely steep slope. The original brief was to use glass and
steel, and the architects found that by creating a pavilion in the
manner of architect Mies van der Rohe, they could overcome all
three challenges, while perfectly encapsulating the brief.
The whole house is essentially a steel structure, explains
Clare, which means that the subcontractor could build off site and
create a kit that was welded on site. By doing this they neatly
sidestepped the access problems. Steel is a sustainable and fully
recyclable material, and we reduced our impact on the ridge by
building off the site.
In one of the most aesthetically interesting features of the house,
Georg and Clare created a floating stone wall that spans the length
of the house. Clerestory windows complete the effect, giving the
impression that both the building and the wall are suspended.
Because we did not build directly on the ground, we overcame the
problem of the steep slope, and once again minimised our impact
on the ridge. Clare adds that the fact that all the stone is quarried
from the site itself makes this a typical Westcliff house, but that the
floating wall is a folly. We wanted to turn the whole concept of
a wall on its head.
Inside, the cheekiness of the wall becomes even more apparent.
We wanted the wall to look massive from the outside, but inside its
actually carved out to provide cupboard space, explains Clare. Once
again, its a folly, but a practical one, given our spatial constraints.
As the home is a subsidiary dwelling, property laws dictated
that the architects had only 110m
to play with. In order to work
around this they made effective use of decks all the way around the
property thus increasing the area while providing unbeatable living
areas from which to enjoy the views and Joburgs superb weather.
Space constraints led to another innovation. The kitchen
incorporates a scullery and prep area which you can simply close off
with sliding doors when youre entertaining, explains Georg. This
was part of our plan to use minimal space for the private areas and
maximise the entertainment area, he says, adding that features
such as wet-room bathrooms mean all the spaces are generous.
Standing in the pavilion, its hard to imagine that the interior of
this house is no bigger than your average apartment. And while this
home takes a giant step away from the style of baronial mansions
so typical of the area, it has its own magnificent sense of space.
This house represents a way of living, says Georg. Its not about
creating icons and monuments, but more about complementing the
nature that surrounds it. Its a simple space that you can love and
enjoy. GASS Architecture Studios,
Te kitchen scullery and prep
area can be closed of neatly with
sliding doors. Te armchair in
front of a wooden side table by
Goet Furniture ( is
from Mdernist (,
082-903-6886). OPPOSITE,
FROM TOP Flooring indoors
and out is by Top Decks (topdecks.; a Jozi Table by Goet
Furniture is surrounded by .03
chairs by Maarten van Severen,
available at Crma Design
88 HL november 201 2 houseandl ei sure. co. za
contemporary hoMe
Q&A WITH GeorG vAn GAss
What was your design principle for this house? To design a
house that complements its surroundings and makes the setting
the hero. Abuilding you wish youd conceived? Ludwig Mies
van der Rohes Barcelona Pavilion. Your pet design peeve?
Trends. What are you inspired by? People. We ultimately design
spaces for people. I can study people and their interactions with
spaces for hours. I love it when I design a space in a certain way
and people use it exactly in that manner without my having to
explain it to them. Which individuals do you have your eye
on? I love the work of Brazilian architect Marcio Kogan. Your
favourite summer colour? Green. I think summers beauty lies
in the transformation from brown to green. Just imagine how
boring it would be if everything was green all year round. What
is your best piece of architectural advice? Design buildings
around you and your needs. Design aesthetic is important, but
functionality is more so. Buildings should be beautiful, but
they wont stand the test of time if they arent functional and
practical. How would you describe your style? South African
minimalism minimalism with texture. What is your favourite
way to spend a summer evening? Outside with family, friends,
food and drinks. What do you love most about old Joburg?
The abundance of good architecture in the CBD. Do yourself
a favour and go on one of the city walks operated by the
Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust (parktownheritage. Best thing about summer? The long days: theres so
much more sunshine to enjoy.
Te entire pavilion hovers above the ground,
providing a foating efect, which reduces its
environmental impact. Te contractor for the
project was Vision 5 Projects (
and the engineer was Ferdi van der Kuil
of E-Struct Consulting (082-336-1035).
OPPOSITE, FROM TOP Architects Clare
J. Eisenstein and Georg van Gass; patio
seats from the owners garden make a perfect
spot from which to watch the sunrise; in the
main bathroom, spectacular views provide a
backdrop to bathroom fttings from ON TAP
Plumbing and Bathrooms (
houseandl ei sure. co. za HL november 201 2 91
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