When South African couple Lukas and Wendy van Niekerk decided to build their own home, they chose the spectacular setting of the Monaghan Farm eco-estate in Lanseria, a small village near Johannesburg. The estate’s masterplan, as well as parts of the architectural and environmental guidelines, had been developed by Daffonchio Architects. Impressed with their portfolio, the van Niekerks decided to work with the firm to design House V. Set over several pavilions with a separate cottage, the residence showcases how close collaboration between a design team and client can deliver a striking outcome.
As a design engineer, Lukas put together the brief and drove the design process. "We had a very detailed brief," says Wendy. "We wanted a modern design crafted from ‘off-shutter’ concrete, raw steel, and glass with lots of light bringing the surrounding environment up to the house."
The house is intentionally sunk into the ground, a point that Daffonchio had insisted on when developing the general guidelines for Monaghan Farm. As a result, the large scale of the home is diminished in the landscape and the double-height front door, crafted from raw steel, is revealed only after walking down a set of steep steps and through a courtyard.
"After opening this very imposing door, visitors find themselves in a double-volume glass box with sweeping views of the bush and river," says Daffonchio. "This is an intentional sequence of spaces and emotions."
The house comprises a series of pavilions with deep overhangs, thin roof slabs, and recessed floor-to-ceiling glass that create an elegant horizontal profile that sits in harmony with the surroundings. Glass corridors connect the pavilions internally, and boardwalks that float over the veld grass link them externally.
The pavilions are separated by courtyards and "green fingers", which are contrasted with the open natural landscape. "It was important to have these enclosed courtyards so that the African bush could be safely enjoyed at night," says Daffanchio. Many of these courtyards also double as outdoor living spaces—such as the external space adjoining the master bathroom, which features an open-air bath and shower.
The secluded site boasts unimpeded views of the Jukskei River and the surrounding indigenous bush. "It is sensational," says Daffonchio. "It’s like being in an African game reserve."
In response to the site, the home is almost entirely glass on the river-side, opening out to expansive views, and completely closed on the road side. "We did a thorough sun study so that we could include enormous glass surfaces that opened up to the views without overheating the house," says Daffonchio. "The unimpeded access to the surrounding nature was very important."
The home also has many ecologically friendly features that respond to the architectural guidelines set by Monaghan Farm, including water harvesting, photovoltaic panels, and roof gardens. "It is very long and low, like a prairie house," says Daffonchio. "We literally recreated the original landscape on the roof gardens, so that from a bird’s eye view, the home should blend perfectly into its surroundings."
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Lukas also came up with practical solutions to several unusual elements in the design. "The clients are well educated architecturally and had a very clear wish list," says Daffonchio. "For example, they loved a particular detail from Carlo Scarpa’s Canova Museum, and this inspired the glass cube window on top of the shower."
"For us, this is more than just a home," says Wendy. "Besides functioning as a house, it is also a way of expressing our energy. The living area is unique with big glass sliding windows, and when these doors are open, this space becomes part of the environment. We love living so close to nature and are constantly reminded of how fortunate we are."
Builder: Lukas van Niekerk
Structural Engineer: Len Nyenes
Landscape Design: Lukas & Wendy van Niekerk
Interior Design: Lukas & Wendy van Niekerk
Sculptural Artwork: Conrad Hicks
Photography: Adam Letch
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