USE AN UPSTANDING BEAM
ON WATERKLOOF RIDGE IN PRETORIA, ARCHITECT BRYAN DUNSTAN HELPED HIS CLIENTS DECONSTRUCT A SWISS COTTAGE AND TURN IT INTO A CONTEMPORARY DREAM HOME
Leon Roper and Andria Grobler bought the house because of its spectacular views from Waterkloof Ridge north over Pretoria, and its huge 6 000m2 stand, which offers plenty of space for their two children, Christopher, six, and Elizabeth, four, to play. But the house itself was far from what they had in mind.
‘I wanted a sleek modern block with a flat roof,’ explains Leon. The steep-pitched roof, step-fronted facade with awnings and terracotta-tiled patio couldn’t have been further from that. ‘But I could see that the house had a block in it somewhere,’ he says.
The Ropers enlisted the help of architect Bryan Dunstan of BD Studio to unlock the modern block that Leon had in mind. The view and orientation of the house were both to the north, so the house was already well positioned. It had enough space to suit the Ropers, too, so there was no need to add rooms.
‘Nothing was added or taken away from the footprint,’ says Bryan. But the facade was ‘busy’, and Bryan strives for ‘quiet’. ‘We wanted to clean it up and make it look more congruous,’ he says.
They immediately lifted off the offending roof, which freed space and views upstairs, and replaced it with a flat roof.
They straightened out the stepped facade with a balcony, introducing the simplicity and visual calm Bryan strives for. One of his trademarks is what he calls the ‘rigorous spatial and geometric ordering’ that structures his work. In this case, it was a matter of finding or unlocking the geometry of the house and expressing it in the facade.
Where a separate cottage had been added, slightly different in style from the rest of the house, Leon explains, ‘We had to build out and integrate it with the rest of the building.’ What he calls the ‘question mark’, a zigzag element on the facade, integrates the buildings while also adding a subtle dynamism.
Perhaps the most structurally radical transformation was the decision to lift the beam between the ground and first floor, making it possible to raise the sliding doors all the way to the ceiling. The beam previously came down to the height of a standard door, cutting off a substantial part of the view. Replacing it with a ‘standing beam’ had a significant effect on the quality of the downstairs living area (see Big Idea #3).
Apart from that and a few other minor changes, the interior spaces remain largely unaltered. Downstairs, a couple of walls
While downstairs there were large glass sliding doors, it still wasn’t possible to have floor-to-ceiling windows because a concrete beam supporting the external facade of the top floor of the house, which was set back from the facade on the ground floor, protruded down to conventional door height, chopping off the top of the view. ‘The previous structural arrangement of downstand beams and brick supports was heavy and imposing and divided the main living space into three smaller spaces,’ explains Bryan. In the end they took it out and replaced it with an upstand beam. ‘Relocating part of the structural depth of the beam into the floor above enabled us to replace the brickwork supports with a slender steel column,’ he says. ‘The new upstand beam is located in the middle of the main living/gallery volume (about three metres behind the line of the glazing).’ And now the glass doors can go all the way to the ceiling, liberating the view.
were knocked out to integrate the kitchen, living and dining areas. Upstairs a bathroom was added for Elizabeth. The passage was removed as far as possible, integrated into a dressing room in one area and made into a pyjama lounge in another, and the main bedroom’s bathroom was joined to the main room so it, too, could enjoy the views. But for the most part, the walls stayed intact. Nevertheless, the transformation looks radical, an effect achieved by changing the finishes.
While Leon and Andrea wanted a modern interior, they didn’t want it to feel industrial. They chose simple, familiar materials, and decided largely on wood finishes. ‘The wood is contemporary but natural,’ says Leon. He wanted the downstairs living space to double as a gallery for their remarkable collection of contemporary local art, so the walls are white.
Looking at the house now, it’s hard to remember its previous incarnation, so complete is its transformation. The change is at once radical and subtle, with close ties to the original design, showing how much can be done with an existing structure. Find the specialists’ details in the HL Black Book (page 94)
The main living area was opened up substantially and integrated with the kitchen, and the walls were painted in a white Cashmere paint by Plascon (plascon.co.za) to form a pristine backdrop for the Ropers’ collection of contemporary South African art....
A well-placed opening provides a glimpse of the spectacular view as you come down the driveway. LEFT Leon had the idea to introduce a porte-cochère above the front door. Not only does it introduce some ‘modulation to break up the mass’, as Bryan puts...
The transformation of Leon Roper and Andria Grobler’s house on Waterkloof Ridge in Pretoria appears radical although this belies its close ties to the original design. ‘The facade was all bitty,’ says architect Bryan Dunstan. ‘I tried to reduce it to...