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.

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.