By Gillian Holl Veld Architects
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 IDEA WAS FOR IT TO LOOK APPROPRIATE IN THE LANDSCAPE.”
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.
WHILE THIS FARM HOUSE IN GAUTENG HAS A MINIMALIST INTEGRITY, IT ALSO EMBODIES A SENSE OF WARMTH
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 (hi-techlighting.co.za). 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(insynch.co.za).
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 (casamento.co.za) and the rosewood dining room table and bench were custom designed and manufactured by Veld Architects (veldarchitects.co.za). Mud Studio supplied the chandelier (mudstudio.net). Designed by Veld Architects, the brown kiaat kitchen cabinetry features Blum drawer systems and hinges purchased at Eclipse (eclipsegroup.co.za) and counter tops by StoneTech (stonetech.co.za); heat generated by the Morsø (morso.co.za) fireplace is supplemented with underfloor heating installed by Florad (florad.co.za).
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). 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).
GILLIAN & IVAN’S HOME TRUTHS
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 (carolinewright.co.za), and Ivan designed and installed the simple cable mechanism. Classic Trading(classictrading.net)supplied the Hansgrohe taps. The bath was sourced from Bella Bathrooms (bellabathrooms.co.za) and the mosaic glass tiles are by Douglas Jones (douglasjones.co.za). RIGHT The hanging wood lamp is from Goet (goet.co.za) 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 (dewaalart.com). The white oak bunk bed is by Veld Architects and the chair is from Raw (rawstudios.co.za). The easy-to-clean natural oak floors are from Oggie (oogie-sa.co.za).
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.
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.
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.
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.