Back To The Fu­ture

Is this retro-fu­tur­ist cliffhanger Cape Town’s most stu­pen­dous house?


One of the great­est virtues in life is to be brave, am­bi­tious and have a clear vi­sion. The same is true of build­ing great homes. and that cer­tainly was the phi­los­o­phy be­hind the ex­tra­or­di­nary Pengilly house res­i­dence, which landed on the hill be­hind Clifton beach in Cape Town, seem­ingly from an­other di­men­sion.

The house is the cul­mi­na­tion of the en­thu­si­asm of Lloyd Pengilly and his son hanno for south africa and its nat­u­ral beauty, but also re­flects hanno’s pas­sion for mid-cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture and de­sign.

The Pengillys had al­ways had an apart­ment on the beach at Clifton but when a large par­cel of land around net­tle­ton road opened up, they had the op­por­tu­nity to ac­quire sev­eral ad­ja­cent stands along a unique kink in the cliff – a wind-pro­tected spot of re­mark­able still­ness. They ended up with three plots and then ‘to do it jus­tice had to do some­thing ex­cep­tional’. They also wanted to cre­ate some­thing at once time­less and fu­tur­is­tic and so grav­i­tated to the idea of a fu­ture vi­sion rooted in the past.

That vi­sion was en­cap­su­lated by the work of John Laut­ner, who worked up and down the west coast of amer­ica, prin­ci­pally dur­ing the seven­ties. John in turn was in­spired by a post­war amer­i­can op­ti­mism about the fu­ture and the goo­gie move­ment with sweep­ing arches and hard an­gles, which in­spired mid­cen­tury modern con­struc­tion in Palm springs and The Jet­sons, amongst oth­ers. John cre­ated ex­pan­sive, lat­eral con­crete homes, of­ten perched on clifftops with amaz­ing views. The re­sult­ing sleek fu­tur­is­tic cine­mato­graphic set­tings lent them­selves to be­ing the back­drop for many movies, in­clud­ing Bond films. The most fa­mous of these re­cently was the home of Iron Man, which is a com­puter gen­er­ated mix of John’s arango, Beyer and el­rod res­i­dences. and when you visit this

house you re­ally do feel like you have en­tered the world of Tony stark mixed with James Bond.

hav­ing de­cided on the gen­eral theme, Peerutin ar­chi­tects was ap­pointed and the next two years were con­sumed with de­sign work to re­fine the John Laut­ner vi­sion in a man­ner sym­pa­thetic with the nat­u­ral sur­round­ings. For in­stance, the house needed to be split into two wings due to large ex­ist­ing rock for­ma­tions and the

270 de­gree views needed to be max­imised. The man­date was also to sink the house into the moun­tain and make it less vis­i­ble from the road be­low, which it largely is.

The re­sult is a tour de force, a daz­zling mix of var­i­ous John in­flu­ences sit­ting above two floors cladded in bat­tered rock, which dis­ap­pear into the nat­u­ral cliff. These lower lev­els con­tain a vast garage with a turn­stile, an in­door pool and an of­fice, but it’s re­ally above these lev­els that the house re­veals its true na­ture, with two disc-shaped en­ter­tain­ment spa­ces re­plete with raked glass win­dows – shapes which re­call 1950s draw­ings of ufos. These ap­pear to hang in space above the rest of the house, sep­a­rated by an el­e­gantly land­scaped lawn. These disks, with their shut­tered con­crete roofs and ex­te­rior water fea­tures, echo the lines of John’s Casa arango in aca­pulco.

one of John’s aims was to bring the out­side in and not to have bar­ri­ers to na­ture. This is achieved here by hav­ing ex­te­rior liv­ing ar­eas in­te­grated with the

in­te­rior. one of the disks doesn’t have win­dows but is open to the el­e­ments. Per­haps most im­por­tantly, in the out­side ar­eas balustrades have been re­placed with moats and plant­ings so that you have a rare sense of open­ness al­low­ing an un­fet­tered close­ness to the ocean.

Be­yond the ar­chi­tec­ture, huge con­sid­er­a­tion has been given to the fin­ishes and fur­nish­ings. ‘given the con­crete shell, we wanted it to be warm, lo­cal and easy to live in,’ says hanno. The con­crete it­self re­tains marks from the shut­ter­ing and has an or­ganic nat­u­ral feel. To fur­ther achieve this vi­sion, the own­ers also de­vised a lan­guage of five ma­te­ri­als – smoky glass, cop­per, Brazil­ian rose­wood, white ter­razzo and flamed Kala­hari sand­stone – that per­vade each space, along with the primeval el­e­ments of light, water and earth. The team be­hind the fin­ishes – sil­vio rech and Les­ley carstens – also cre­ated an al­most cu­bist lan­guage that pop­u­lated the spa­ces. ‘These take the an­gu­lar­ity of the nat­u­ral rocks on the site and con­trast it with the cir­cu­lar­ity of the discs,’ hanno ex­plains. a house like this can­not take clut­ter nor should it be a seven­ties mu­seum. There is a well cu­rated mix of fu­tur­is­tic War­ren Plat­ner chairs com­bined with less rec­og­niz­able works that keeps the eye firmly on the ar­chi­tec­ture, set­ting and view.

Pengilly House is man­aged by Brian Fut­ter of Camps Bay Hide­aways camps­bay­hide­

‘given the con­crete shell, we wanted it to be warm, lo­cal and easy to live in’

the Sunken pool bar, over­look­ing the main moated out­door Swim­ming pool, helps Seg­re­gate the Space from the rest of the house

The mas­ter bed­room, with ceil­ing ocu­lus, cop­per head­board and be­spoke cu­bist sidetables, pre­sides over un­in­ter­rupted views of The at­lantic ocean right off-shut­ter con­crete used in The mas­ter bath­room’s shower in­vites The out­side in whilst pro­vid­ing...

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