How a green roof can help reduce your carbon footprint

by Gillian Holl

Globally a new movement referred to as “flight-shaming” has taken shape. People around the world are coming together to ask the public (and especially business travellers) to opt for other modes of transportation (like rail). Flying contributes to over 2% of the  earth’s carbon emissions.

Alternative eco-friendly ways of travelling in and around South Africa isn’t as developed as it is in Europe or Britain for example. That’s why SA Travel Industry started an initiative to offset carbon instead: by planting spekboom. A single hectare of spekboom can rid four tonnes of carbon from the environment per year. The Spekboom project aims to educate people on how planting enough spekboom can eventually make flights into and from SA carbon-neutral.

The building and construction industry and its related fields contribute towards 23% of the world’s carbon emissions. It makes me wonder why a movement such as “building-shaming” isn’t making headlines too? Perhaps because all of us are guilty of this…

The good news is sustainable building innovations in this field can bring down emissions drastically.

Something that is trending on this front, especially in cities overseas, is the use of green roofs. In fact, in some cities this is mandated policy. While green roofs aren’t “new”, it is most definitely brilliant. Something that city dwellers, businesses, those with limited yard space and even homes with large green scapes around them should all consider equally.

Apart from cleaning the air and producing oxygen, vegetation on roofs also:

  • Cool down the environment: Green roofs offer shade and encourages evapotranspiration, which lowers temperatures by up to 3% in urban areas, fighting the urban heat island effect.
  • Reduce energy requirements: Cooler, more insulated roofs means a more sustained indoor temperature during summer.
  • Improve biodiversity: Green roofs attract birds and insect species to our cities, offices and homes. Biodiversity has a fundamental role to play in the food we eat and the water we drink.
  • Filter rainwater: Green roofs can filter pollutants and heavy metals rainwater.
  • Protect roofs: A vegetation carpet on your roof can also extend the life of your roof by protecting it from the elements.

Greener buildings and homes also have a massive positive effect on our emotional and physical well-being.

You can make a difference where you live and where you work, simply by researching ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Why not plant a spekboom?


At Veld Architecture, it is one of our core beliefs to design buildings that are more sustainable. From something as simple as building orientation to more complex strategies such as eco pools, green roofs and making use of recycled materials – we aim to make buildings more eco-friendly.

Sustainable building is the future of architecture, and our firm would love nothing more than to make your project reflect this.


Let’s chat! 

Email me on 




Finding the right architect for your project

by Gillian Holl

The internet and social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram have opened landowners up to a world of architectural imagination. A building can be more than just practical. It can be smart, sustainable and stylish! (The 3 S’s that make us at Veld Architects tick by the way).

Does this make the design aspect of a building as simple as taking saved “Pins” to the most affordable architect to consolidate? No! Because the role of an architect is far more complex. Yes, architects are in charge of designing the look and feel (the skin) of a building, but it doesn’t stop there. Architects need to make sure the building integrates well with the available infrastructure and network of systems in order to function as optimally as possible. They have to gain all the relevant planning permissions, make frequent site visits, and adjust plans to accommodate changes or environmental/budgetary concerns. Architects are required to liaise with construction professionals on a frequent basis regarding the feasibility of their design and they also need to ensure that these plans are followed correctly. 

Yes, architects are in charge of designing the look and feel (the skin) of a building, but it doesn’t stop there. Architects need to make sure the building integrates well with the available infrastructure and network of systems in order to function as optimally as possible.

That’s why before choosing an architectural design studio, keep the following in mind:


Your architects will play an integral role in the entire build, from conceptualisation through to the final stages. Throughout the process your architects will be responsible to liaise with other key role players such as the municipality, contractors etc. Make sure your architects have a great name in the industry and that they are professional and accountable. This will eliminate unnecessary bottle-necks down the line.


Much like you would match a photographer or dress-designer to the style you are after for an important event, you should also do the same with your architects. The reason for this is to allow for creative freedom. If you want an architect to design a unique and inspired building that will provide a great return on your investment, you need to choose a team whose projects excite and inspire you. View various firms’ online project portfolios and find a team that show diversity in their designs.

If you want an architect to design a unique and inspired building that will provide a great return on your investment, you need to choose a team whose projects excite and inspire you.

Think beyond aesthetics

A building is more than just a gorgeous shell with dramatic pavement appeal. It can be hyper functional. It can complement the surrounding landscapes, make the most of natural light and be sustainable. Apart from finding architects that can design the style of home you are after, look for a firm that looks beyond design and stays at the cusp of architectural technology. Irrespective of whether you have a traditional taste, technology has the potential to make your build easier, more cost-effective and more eco-friendly. 


The building process is not something that happens overnight. It is a journey full of obstacles that your architects will guide you through with ease. So make sure you trust the architects you choose. You’ll be in contact often and you need to feel comfortable with them to take the lead and provide expertise on matters. It is wise to set up a meet and greet to see whether they will be able to convey your ideas on to paper.

The building process is not something that happens overnight. It is a journey full of obstacles that your architects will guide you through with ease. So make sure you trust the architects you choose.

At Veld Architects, Charné and I specialise in designing sustainable contemporary buildings using Virtual Reality and other forms of cutting-edge technology. Every project is personal to us and we invest incredible amounts of time and passion.

Let’s chat about your project, email us on:




Top sustainable building trends and the role architects should play

by Gillian Holl

Conserving and protecting the earth’s natural resources is something absolutely every government, every industry and every consumer should take seriously. The building and construction industry (directly and indirectly) contributes to around 23% of the world’s carbon-dioxide emissions. Sustainable building should be a priority for the future of our homes, neighbourhoods and cities. Some parts of Europe, America and the UK are already leading the way with ground-breaking initiatives, and the potential for South Africa is huge!

Sustainable building trends such as smart technology, improved water preservation, garden roofs and green spaces are of course very topical, but I would like to highlight three areas that are particularly interesting to our architectural firm at the moment.

Rehabilitating old buildings through adaptive reuse and clever architectural solutions…

Trend #1: Degrowth

Water and soil are two of the world’s scarcest natural resources. Rehabilitating old buildings through adaptive reuse and clever architectural solutions have given way to a “Degrowth” trend that has a lot of potential. Our cities have so many derelict buildings that could benefit greatly from architectural revival projects. Just think about the impact it could have on the current accommodation and job shortages in our cities…

A great read on this topic, particularly within the South African context is  10+ years 100 Projects – Architecture in a Democratic South Africa”. The book contains the best final-year architectural student dissertations from all eight of SA’s universities over the last decade. It is truly inspirational to see how useful, positive and striking our cities’ current dilapidated and unused buildings could be if we focussed more on adaptive reuse.

The Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town is perhaps one of SA’s most successful and well-known rehabilitated buildings to date. The old grain silos at the V&A Waterfront, which were built in the 1920s, were sustainably rebuilt into Africa’s largest museum. And it is gorgeous!

Trend #2: Innovative materials

New innovative materials (or new applications for traditional materials), sourced locally, are also creating interesting ripple effects in the industry. Precast concrete is just as weather-resistant as concrete, yet far more sustainable. Bamboo is a great substitute for hardwood flooring and recycled aluminium or steel beams are also more sustainable than wooden beams. 

Trend #3: Zero Energy Buildings

Zero energy buildings generate the same amount of energy used by the building annually from on-site renewables. This is done by using solar and passive systems to heat and cool the building, as well as installing energy efficient appliances. I am particularly fascinated with the work being done at Bugesera International Airport in Rwanda. The project includes a 30,000 square metre passenger terminal, 22 check-in counters, 10 gates, and six passenger boarding bridges all of which will be a zero energy space. Just imagine if our homes, neighbourhoods and cities followed this principal…

…sustainability projects are not conducted in isolation but instead seen as part of the greater sustainable ethos of the site, and potentially the neighbourhood and city as well. 

The role of architects in sustainable projects

As architects, we have a leading role to play in professional sustainable planning. By  collaborating with clients, construction companies, engineers and various other role players, architects can ensure that sustainability projects are not conducted in isolation but instead seen as part of the greater sustainable ethos of the site, and potentially the neighbourhood and city as well.  Professional planning also ensures that the quality of development isn’t lost in the process.

Sustainable homes and buildings can (and should) be beautiful. They can complement the natural surroundings and add value to the landscapes they are built on. At Veld Architects, we are drawn to the advantages of sustainable building. It is a fundamental part of the vision we have for our architectural consultancy, and we would love to share it with you.

“Home” an Architectural Style

By Ayanda Made

The idea of the home has always been a deeply personal, intimate and emotional part of all our lives. It is soaked with feeling. It’s a place of refuge after a long day, a very own fortress of solitude during times of hardship and I find it very interesting that when we describe our homes or imagine our home it’s always attached to a feeling that’s tied to a certain space, not place. It’s the wrapped in a blanket next to the fireplace moment in the middle of July or the room filled with laughter around the dinner table moment with close family or friends and sometimes it’s a quiet moment spent alone. Home is an incredibly sensual place, it’s always been. If home was an object it be your favourite blanket as a child and there’s a terrible misconception today in both architects and homeowners to no fault of their own of what constitutes good design for a home. Maybe it’s because before the personal camera and before taking pictures of buildings became cool, homes could always only be experienced personally using all our senses, they had to like good food almost be savoured and drunk in, in order to be fully appreciated. With this in mind, the beauty of the design of a home back then could only be judged through a holistic personal experience.

Today however in the pursuit of status and great design being more accessible through print and digital media, architecture is far more commonly being consumed in bite-size portions which are almost purely a visual overindulgence of the physical and unfortunately, we’ve come to celebrate and replicate that aspect in isolation. The home something previously so intimate and personal has been reduced to a symbol, or worse a commodity used to portray a certain image when it’s never been purely about the physical. Not the walls, roof, tiles or the overall particular style that these elements make up. I believe great architects understand this, that it’s rather the careful orchestration of these elements, how you conduct them to create spaces for life to happen that constitutes great architecture.

…it’s rather the careful orchestration of these elements, how you conduct them to create spaces for life to happen that constitutes great architecture.

Good architects play the instrument, great architects play the orchestra. What I mean by this is that great architects don’t just fetishize on the one visual and physical elements that make up a building. Instead, they orchestrate both the physical and non- physical together beautifully to deliver the imaginative architecture that these elements can create. When this happens, architecture moves from being just the art of building to the art of placemaking and it’s an incredibly contextually driven process. It takes all aspects of context into consideration.

… design cannot precede context the same way a Stage Design never precedes the contents of the play. The one informs the other.

I recently watched a famous Broadway play, The Death of a Salesman by the even more famous playwright Arthur Miller, and I believe there’s a missed lesson I’ll briefly draw attention to between the understated importance of Stage Design in drawing out the intended impact of a play and the relationship it has with importance of context in creating great architecture. What’s beautiful about Stage Design are all the props, draping, sounds and colours that are never really the focus of the play. You never really notice a stage setting’s importance and impact until it’s not there, its presence is felt and its absence renders the play absolutely flat no matter how rich the content. What I later discovered was that Stage Design always follows the contents of the play, it repeatedly asks the questions “What emotion is this scene meant to evoke?” and “What setting best conveys these emotions to the audience?” It then proceeds to dress the stage in the appropriate setting to support each act. Architecture should be re-approached in the same respect, design cannot precede context the same way a Stage Design never precedes the contents of the play. The one informs the other.

If we run with this logic when discussing and unpacking architectural design, it’s easy to see that almost all celebrated architectural styles were born from critical responses to their context. It’s when we abandon this that we design inappropriate, forgettable architecture that lacks character, and more particularly homes that are devoid of meaning and substance both to the environment and the homeowner. It’s ironic because all the styles architects and homeowners have come to love and want replicated were born from contextually responsive approaches. The various existing styles can in a few years disappear into one universal type of architecture unless everyone begins to appreciate and take pride in the unique identity context gives Architecture.

Lastly, on a personal note although this applies to all architecture there’s a unique opportunity for South African Architects and homeowners to develop a uniquely South African Architecture by responding to our extremely rich and diverse natural environment if we give ourselves the opportunity to. If we envision a future for South African Architecture there must be a commitment to be responsible in our desires for a home. The beauty is that most architects are brilliant at both the ability to accurately respond to context whilst simultaneously interpreting the needs of a client in developing appropriate spaces, at a certain point it becomes almost second nature. So, in essence actually it’s less about can we do it but rather do we want to? Let’s start imagining what a heritage of South African Architecture and homes could look like if we did.

Virtual Reality for architecture: Here to stay!

By Gillian Holl

Technological trends come and go. In architecture we’ve seen many new, innovative software solutions get replaced by the next, more advanced programme, and so on and so forth. And as we move closer to the Fourth Industrial Revolution and digital transformation, we will see even more of this. However, some technologies are undoubtedly here to stay. Like Virtual Reality.

In our field, Virtual Reality technology has evolved dramatically and will soon become an integral part of the designing and building processes of properties around the world. Virtual Reality allows people to engage multiple senses in an unrestricted 3D space. It has revolutionised the automotive, tourism, gaming and hospitality industries, and it has only just begun to pick at the surface of what it can mean for architects, their customers and collaborators.


Earlier this year, our team at Veld Architects started adopting the HTC Vive VR technology.

We’ve found that clients don’t always fully understand the conventional set of drawings they see in front of them. And these visualisation restrictions are often one of the largest hurdles we as architects have when it comes to communicating any new and innovative ideas to our clients. They like what they are being told, but they simply can’t envision it.

…when it comes to communicating any new and innovative ideas to our clients. They like what they are being told, but they simply can’t envision it.

VR technology is such a breath of fresh air for us and our clients. It completely transforms our ideas on paper  into an in-depth, 3D space. Our clients are able to experience every room of the house and get a better understanding of how various factors like natural light at different intervals, for example, will influence every space.

As a firm that specialises in one of a kind, exclusive contemporary residences we immediately saw the value this type of technology could unlock for us as a firm and our clients.

…visualising changes to a design as we make them.

Many software solutions are able to integrate with a range of BIM software in real-time, which allows us to:

  • better test new and innovative ideas on-scale;
  • design in real-time – visualising changes to a design as we make them;
  • effectively communicate these and other ideas to our clients visually;
  • improve feedback;
  • identify and solve potential problems quickly and efficiently; and
  • better adapt time and material consumption to suit our clients needs.


The different stages at which a development can be visualised i.e. an undeveloped countryside vs. the completed building in its entirety are mind-blowing. We are incredibly excited about the future of VR.


Want to use this technology on a leading-edge residence you are planning?

Inbox me and let’s chat:




Industry Cannibalism: A Culture of undercutting in Architecture

By Ayanda Made

We’re all familiar with the saying “The value of anything is what someone is willing to pay for it” and if you aren’t, unfortunately, it’s the underlying culture you the architect have inherited. I’d like to change your perception regarding this saying and pour the foundations for a new culture of valuing work by proposing that it is firstly the value determined by the collective producing the product or service, together with the value of what the public would associate the product or service with. But the first half of this statement is the crux of the current situation. The trick is this can only work if there is a common understanding, respect, and agreement between Architects of what that value is because if we collectively agree on the value of what we do, we get to set a standard that our clients and broader society can follow.

If you don’t believe me let’s take the economics of money for instance because this is what it’s all about, our livelihoods. We all use it, we all need it and we all wish we had more of it but for this example I want you to focus more on the whole idea of it. In its most basic it’s printed paper whether that’s a 20, 30 or 50 Rand note and chances are the A1 sheet of paper you use to print your plans on is worth a whole lot more.

So how does it work? why do we value it so much? The trick about it is we’ve all agreed as people that it has a certain value and that’s the only reason you and I can buy the things we enjoy so much with it. Quite obviously money then is only more than a sheet of paper because we have collectively agreed it has value as a group, the key ingredient being a consensus.

…where our lack of consensus lets a small percentage of professionals control the value and quality of what we produce, we not only do ourselves but our clients a horrible disservice.

If the flip side of the coin relates to the first saying where our lack of consensus lets a small percentage of professionals who lack the respect and pride in what they do and how they do it control the value and quality of what we produce in an industry as complex as architecture, we not only do ourselves but our clients a horrible disservice.

This happens in two ways:

The first is undercutting works on a bottom-up approach and is, in all honesty, a level of self-exploitation whether we realize that or not. How undercutting works then is that the lowest and not the best price sets the standard for the whole industry and although this at face value seems good for the client it also simultaneously reduces the quality of work that gets carried out as these two are almost exclusively married to each other.

The second is the idea of cannibalism in the industry which plays itself out a little like this: If professionals in an industry undercut each other for long enough, the price and quality of work produced eventually becomes the new industry standard. So, to continue to undercut in order to win work you need to drop your price and with that the quality of what you do even lower, eventually creating a cycle that causes that industry to begin to slowly collapse in itself to no fault of anyone else but its own.

This cycle if left misunderstood has the potential to spiral to the point where it just doesn’t make sense to or worth it for new, young potential architects to pursue a career in the profession or even the profession itself to exist as it does. Unfortunately for us then, this unspoken side effect becomes one where if someone is undercutting an industry standard for a set of work of a certain value and quality there’s a high likelihood someone is undercutting them, and whether it’s evident now or we see it a little down the road there is a bottom where this way of business eventually pulls down the industry as a whole.

.. I believe it’s something worth thinking about, worth talking about and worth doing something about.

So, for all of us, agreeing on a collective value as architects isn’t about overcharging or undercharging but rather creating an environment for us and our clients where they are getting, and we are providing the full value of what something is worth and reshaping this culture of cannibalism and self-exploitation. The silver lining though is that architecture in South Africa as a profession has the ability to unlike most due to its size organize itself around this new culture of agreed value and restored pride in what we do. A culture that once enjoyed a high level of respect and status in the hearts of the general public not only because of what we do but how we’ve continued to contribute to society. For those reasons alone, I believe it’s something worth thinking about, worth talking about and worth doing something about.

The Bricks of Building a Beautiful Home

By Gillian Holl Veld Architects

Blue Hills Magazine Veld Architects
Often the temptation to jump straight into the building project overshadows the importance of the planning that needs to take place prior to starting. The sooner you can get the contractor to start laying bricks, the sooner you’ll be done, right? Continue reading

Sense of Place

A Modern Home on Monaghan Farm in Lanseria finds its sense of Place through Pared-down Contours and Connection to the Landscape.

Photos: Elske Kritzinger
Words: Graham Wood

In the evening, when the lights are on, if you glance up from the main road as you head towards Monaghan Farm there’s a house on the hill that looks like everyone first imagines a house should: an archetypal box with a pitched roof. This simple form belies the thoughtfulness with which Gillian Holl of Veld Architects designed the home. The clean-lined silhouette might represent simplicity, yet the design is anything but simple. It shows a considered response to the setting, a modern farm estate with views of the Magaliesberg, and a layered approach to meeting the needs of a family of four and linking them with the land.

“People find a sense of belonging when they connect with the landscape,” says Gillian, explaining one of the main aims in her design approach. On one level, the urge to belong informed the shape of the building, which has a precedent in the farm-style houses that befit this kind of setting. “And then we tried to think about it in a new way.” The idea was for it to look appropriate in the landscape but at the same time not to devolve into pastiche.

The design essentially became three buildings, each with a slightly different identity. The living area, dining room and kitchen occupy one wing; the bedrooms, bathrooms and a TV lounge another. And, set slightly apart, there is a guest cottage clad entirely in corrugated iron – a “celebration of the farm shed”, as Gillian puts it.

Achieving the pared-down purity of form of the roof required some out-of-the-box thinking. Monaghan Farm requires rainwater harvesting, but box gutters tend to ruin the perfect silhouette. So Gillian looked to Ancient Rome for a solution and designed a series of storm-water troughs that run like aqueducts at ground level and channel rainwater into underground tanks, leaving the clean roofline uncom-promised. The purity of the silhouette is mirrored inside in the pitched ceilings, which give the interior a streamlined minimalism. But, if there’s one thing Gillian is as passionate about as architecture that connects with the landscape it is detailing. She’s layered a variety of materials and textures to create visual interest and character.

The bedroom wing is bookended with off-shutter concrete, there’s painted brick, a face-brick feature wall in the living room and wood accents. Patterned steel awnings throw geometric shadows on the floor; and at the entrance small framed windows create focused views from inside and make beautiful light boxes at night from outside.

It might be “a simple modern farm house”, as Gillian calls it, but through the way she’s begun with simplicity, connected the building to the landscape and then lay.ered on the details, she’s indeed created a sense of belonging – the other archetype of home.

Lots of glass lends transparency to the two wings of the house, making the most of the views to the south and allowing in sunlight from the north. By contrast, the separate guest cottage with its solid form brings to mind a farm shed. The Monaghan Farm architectural guidelines encourage a break-up of the bulk of the house into separate structures interlinked by courtyard gardens.

A slatted wooden deck connects the kitchen/ dining area and the pool pavilion. Architect Gillian Holl designed the steel awning, which throws geometric shadows on the floor.

Sleek wooden cupboards in the master bedroom form a warm contrast to the off-shutter concrete walls and screed floors.

A small courtyard between the kitchen/dining area and the living room serves to link the two wings and connect the interior to the landscape.

The minimalism of the white kitchen focuses attention on the panoramic view from the dining area. The subtle Unfold pendant lamps above the kitchen island and pendants above the dining table by Danish brand Muuto do not detract from the vista.

From this angle one can see the grassed courtyard between the two wings, which allows sunlight to flood into both sections of the house.

The walls of the main living room are painted dark to form a contrast with the adjoining rooms. The vistas from here are the most spectacular; windows to the west afford framed views of the valley and the Magaliesberg in the distance. The sofa is by GOET Furniture and Design.


The spacious master bathroom also has large windows, which look out on an enclosed courtyard. The basin is cleverly placed in a free.standing unit right in front of the window to foster the indoor-outdoor connection.

From the driveway, a randomly scattered arrangement of protruding box-like windows makes a feature of the street-facing wall, especially at night, when they’re lit from the inside. It’s another example of the layer of detail that gives this house its sense of character.

The master bedroom features a large off-shutter concrete wall – part of architect Gillian Holl’s exploration of materials and textures that add richness to the sleek simplicity of the design.

House of the Month Architect’s Home


Text: Natalie Boruvka | Styling: Heather Boting | Photographs: Elsa Young

Gillian and Ivan designed the natural swimming pool, which is filtered by means of an ecosystem of water plants instead of salt chlorinators. Green Art (082-854-0880) supplied the water plants and the Celtis Africana tree. The lighting was implemented by Hi-Tech lighting ( The house’s north-facing facade incorporates natural rusted corten steel boxes that juxtapose the lightweight feel of the structure. The house was constructed by du Plessis & lombard Building Projects (084-511-8614). consultation on the floating cantilever slab and rammed earth wall, which is a composite material of lime and soil excavated on site, was provided by InSynch Sustainable Technologies(

When Architect Gillian Holl and her husband, Ivan, bought a stand in the grassland surrounds of Monaghan Farm in Gauteng, her abiding enthusiasm for the glass-infill steel structures of 20th century modern architecture finally found a fitting platform for expression.

‘When we visited the estate for the first time my thoughts immediately turned to the expansive vistas of Mies van der Rohe’s New National Gallery in Berlin,’ recalls Gillian. One of her chief objectives was to capitalise on the natural surrounds. To this end, at the centre of the house, separating the office space from the bedroom wing is a 14m-long open-plan living area enclosed on either elevation by wall-to-wall retractable glass sliding doors. One side frames the entrance courtyard and the other captures fields of grazing Nguni cows and panoramic views of the distant Magaliesburg Mountains.

The kitchen, which lies at the far end of this space, is where Gillian most enjoys spending time with Ivan and their four year-old son, Noah. It’s also the area she feels most successfully materialises her vision of creating an interior that continues the architectural language of the house.

‘Despite being a minimalist at heart I believe in intrinsic detailing,’ she says, referring to the cabinetry’s custom-crafted handles, which were manufactured from recycled steel window frames and designed to reference the profiles of the house’s I- and H-beam framework. A further connection is formed by the glow of kiaat and copper that echoes the tones of the rusted steel panelling on the adjacent exterior wall.

Jayde, the Yorkshire terrier waits patiently for some attention from Noah. The sofa is from Casamento ( and the rosewood dining room table and bench were custom designed and manufactured by Veld Architects ( Mud Studio supplied the chandelier ( Designed by Veld Architects, the brown kiaat kitchen cabinetry features Blum drawer systems and hinges purchased at Eclipse ( and counter tops by StoneTech (; heat generated by the Morsø ( fireplace is supplemented with underfloor heating installed by Florad (

It’s at the entrance, however, that the conversation between exterior and interior reaches its pinnacle with a projecting rammed-earth wall. An as yet uncommon building practice, the construction involved compacting soil excavated on site. The resulting striking colour striations, combined with the earthy hues of the kitchen, introduce subtle warmth to the interior. ‘I realised that in winter, when the intrusive landscape loses its lovely greenness, it would be important to have elements like this to help alleviate the austerity and coldness that a strongly minimalistic aesthetic may create,’ Gillian explains. ‘Ultimately beyond the vision of the design was a home for my family that would be comfortable and inviting.’ And this the home indeed achieves.

Despite the sense of contemporary sophistication cemented immediately at the entrance by an impressive cantilevered concrete slab (Barcelona Pavilion-inspired), whimsical and playful touches in the interior create balance: curiously-suspended light fittings, jolts of vibrant colour and seemingly incongruous items of retro furniture. ‘The croaking frogs and jackal calls at night remind us that we’re here because we want to live simply and close to nature, so the last thing we wanted was something pretentious,’ says Gillian.

For the Holls, a key appeal of the estate was its ethos of sustainability. Gillian met the challenge of a design with reduced running costs by orientating the house just off north and employing roof overhangs, which optimise the angle of the winter sun while creepers create shading in summer. ‘Interestingly, one of the issues with the Barcelona Pavilion was the glare created by the granite floor, which made exhibiting problematic,’ Gillian explains. ‘We went with terrazzo floor tiles that absorb the radiating sunlight and release the warmth at night when the temperature drops.’

The home’s ability to retain heat is bolstered by low-emission glass, while solar-powered under-floor heating and two Morsø fireplaces lend additional cosiness in winter. ‘We also have loads of blankets because there’s no better way to warm up than snuggling into one with Ivan and Noah,’ says Gillian.

Above the headboard in the main bedroom the painting of the couple is by Adele Adendorff ( The bedroom and bathroom walls have been finished with Earthcote’s Pandomo by casonia coatings (074-893-6303). The headboard and bathroom vanity were custom designed by Veld Architects while the towel railings were a joint dIy project between Ivan and Gillian. The ostrich egg pendant in the bedroom was made by Enzo Manna (082-865-4987).


The things I love most about winter are glühwein, fondues, hot chocolate and cuddles (Gillian); wearing warm comfortable knitwear and scarves (Ivan). We stay cosy by keeping the Morsø going (Ivan). The best aspects of living here are the freedom, and driving 40km an hour (Gillian); the slow pace I return to after daily commutes to my Sandton-based office (Ivan). Our favourite space in the home is the kitchen – we cook, we laugh and are happy here (both). I’m inspired by Danish and Scandinavian design, and nature (Gillian); Gill inspires me (Ivan). The first thing I do when I get home is run to Noah for hugs and cuddles (Gillian); go mountain-bike riding on the trails with Gill and Noah (Ivan).

My most treasured piece of furniture is my grandfather’s typewriter and my grandmother’s Singer sewing machine (Gillian); my dad’s dumpy level, which he used during his early career (Ivan). I could never live without Ivan (Gillian); my family (Ivan). The soundtrack to my perfect weekend is Hôtel Costes (Gillian); Tree63 (Ivan). The most inspiring places for me are Gaudi’s Sagrada Família abroad and, locally, in my study at my desk facing the Magaliesburg (Gillian); homes without boundaries (Ivan). My favourite winter comfort food is lamb and bean stew (Gillian); freshly baked bread with lots of melted butter (Ivan). For friends, we’ll entertain with a fondue starter, lamb curry tagine and chocolate fondant (Gillian); around the fireplace with glühwein to start and espressos to end (Ivan).

The floor to ceiling curtains were made up by Caroline Wright Interiors (, and Ivan designed and installed the simple cable mechanism. Classic Trading( the Hansgrohe taps. The bath was sourced from Bella Bathrooms ( and the mosaic glass tiles are by Douglas Jones ( RIGHT The hanging wood lamp is from Goet ( and the bedside table is from Veld Architects.

Gillian painted Noah’s bedroom walls while the custom-made vinyl wall art was supplied by De Waal Art ( The white oak bunk bed is by Veld Architects and the chair is from Raw ( The easy-to-clean natural oak floors are from Oggie (

Architecture acquaints itself with nature

Veld Architects bring to life an interactive project where nature and architecture merge, to become a true representation of harmonisation.


From the first visit to the site on Monaghan farm, which forms part of the Rhenoster Spruit Conservancy, it was clear that the main design generator should be nature. The design process evolved from a biomimetic approach to design, where nature was used as model, measure and mentor to solve problems and inform decisions regarding the marriage of architecture and landscaping.

The context provided ample inspiration of natural designs and processes that were applied to the architecture which in turn informed the landscaping design. Careful consideration of the interaction between architecture, planted landscape and indigenous landscape contributed to the harmonious integration of the man-made into the natural splendour of the site.

The fogstand beetle gave cues on the importance of water harvesting. All-star water run-off from the roofs are harvested and collected in an underground tank and is used to irrigate the strictly indigenous garden. During times of drought, household greywater can be redirected to collect in the underground tank and used for irrigation and the natural pool, where the water is circulated through a live ecosystem of plants, can be recycled and used as household water.

To integrate the architecture and its inhabitants with nature the threshold between nature and architecture was blurred with courtyards planted with indigenous shrubbery that act as the green lungs of the house. The ecosystem inspired the cyclical closed looped system that was implemented on the project. The sun’s energy is harvested and stored in batteries that form a backup energy source and provides adequate water heating for use in the house. In colder winter months the resulting warm water can be redirected into the underfloor heating system to support the passive space heating. The water harvesting and recycling mentioned above also contributes to this factor of the house.

The intention was producing a building that integrates well with its environment by mimicking an organism, its participation in a larger context and the process and cycle of the greater environment. The manmade was successfully integrated into its natural landscape and context.

People upliftment

Monaghan farm is surrounded by Diepsloot and Cosmo city where unemployment is alarmingly high.

“Nature was used as a model, measure and mentor to solve problems and inform decisions regarding the marriage of architecture and landscaping”

Once the earthworks was completed there was a vast amount of bulk material left which would have had to be carted away. After some deliberation, it was decided to use the excess material in a rammed earth wall that became a big feature of the overall project. It also created an opportunity for the surrounding community to develop a useful skill set and to become part of the building process. The local community members were trained on site to familiarise them with different construction materials, workmanship of the formwork as well as due diligence. The erection of some test blocks was done under the supervision of an expert in the field and the specific mixtures of lime and soil to provide adequate strength to the wall explained.

Evolutionary paradigm

Monaghan Farm is situated close to the Cradle of Humankind. The rich history of the farm and the area’s link to the prehistoric past informed the eco-estate’s vision of only developing three percent of the 520 hectare farm. It was therefore important for the project to sit quietly on the rolling grasslands of the Highveld and embrace its surroundings, history and nature.

Placemaking performance

Instead of public performance and activities in an urban context, the focus was on creating a space where the daily performance of raising and growing as a family can happen naturally. Open plan living spaces allow for meaningful interactions and the ingress of the natural landscape allows for an ever-present connection to nature.