A South African Architect Designs an Off-Grid, Modern Home For Her Parents

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By Michele Koh Morollo
Requested to build "nothing that looks like a house," an architect creates a barn-inspired retreat with its own conservatory to help regulate interior climate throughout the year.

When Nadine Engelbrecht's parents asked her to design a rural residence for them that looked nothing like an ordinary home, they were seeking a place in which they could escape the hectic pace of urban living. Through an unconventional floor plan and barn-inspired design, the South African architect has brought this request to life on her parents' 80-acre farmland just outside of Pretoria. 

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There are two nearby dams on the farmland that provide drinking water for the off-grid home.  

There are two nearby dams on the farmland that provide drinking water for the off-grid home.  

Tapping into the vernacular of the nearby African barns, the 6,458-square-foot house, named The Conservatory, has been designed with a massive glass facade. At the push of a button, this glazed facade retracts discreetly upward toward the soaring, pitched roof to open the lofty interiors to the grassy farmland outdoors. 

Exposed steel, concrete soffits, and cement-washed bricks were been chosen as key components of the home due to the materials having low-maintenance, yet being extremely durable.   

Exposed steel, concrete soffits, and cement-washed bricks were been chosen as key components of the home due to the materials having low-maintenance, yet being extremely durable.   

Warm tones of timber combined with polished concrete floors and industrial-style cabinetry give the interiors a modern, paired-back look. 

Warm tones of timber combined with polished concrete floors and industrial-style cabinetry give the interiors a modern, paired-back look. 

"The large, overhanging patio and timber shutters assist in eliminating unwanted afternoon sun. The remainder of spaces remain oriented north, with optimal overhangs to ensure climate comfort throughout seasons," explains Engelbrecht.

"The large, overhanging patio and timber shutters assist in eliminating unwanted afternoon sun. The remainder of spaces remain oriented north, with optimal overhangs to ensure climate comfort throughout seasons," explains Engelbrecht.

Because it was just Engelbrecht's parents who would be living in the home, she located the high-ceilinged volumes and dwelling areas all within a single level. 

In winter, the conservatory is configured to enable solar gain while keeping cold air out. 

In winter, the conservatory is configured to enable solar gain while keeping cold air out. 

When the glass partitions are open, the passive heat from the conservatory is then released into the adjoining living spaces. 

When the glass partitions are open, the passive heat from the conservatory is then released into the adjoining living spaces. 

In warm summer months, the automated glass façade opens up the conservatory, creating an outside patio that draws and circulates natural breezes throughout the house.

In warm summer months, the automated glass façade opens up the conservatory, creating an outside patio that draws and circulates natural breezes throughout the house.

At the heart of the building is the conservatory with solid and translucent roof-sheeting that’s insulated enough to optimize passive climate control.

The wine cellar can be seen through the glass section of the floor.

The wine cellar can be seen through the glass section of the floor.

The dining room connects to the kitchen.

The dining room connects to the kitchen.

A peek at a bathroom with colorful botanical print wallpaper.

A peek at a bathroom with colorful botanical print wallpaper.

Views of the grasslands can be seen from both sides of the kitchen.

Views of the grasslands can be seen from both sides of the kitchen.

The industrial use of building materials continues to the interior closets, cupboards, and kitchen area. 

The industrial use of building materials continues to the interior closets, cupboards, and kitchen area. 

Standing within the conservatory, a glass floor allows one to see through to the wine cellar below, which is accessible via a seamlessly integrated trap door. 

Standing within the conservatory, a glass floor allows one to see through to the wine cellar below, which is accessible via a seamlessly integrated trap door. 

Guest suites for visiting family members and friends are located in a separate lower-ground area that is not integrated into the circulation of the main house. This guest areas includes its own private entrance and outdoor space. 

The master bedroom is located on the western side, and has a balcony that is well set-up for enjoying brilliant sunset views.

The master bedroom is located on the western side, and has a balcony that is well set-up for enjoying brilliant sunset views.

A sunlit workspace.

A sunlit workspace.

"Sloped natural grasslands and majestic views informed the design of a dwelling partially submerged in the hill," says Engelbrecht. "Veld grasses are allowed to flow continuously onto a portion of the roof, and vegetation permeates the interior through this conservatory placed at the core of the building." 

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"Habitable spaces are oriented around the conservatory to make optimal use of surrounding views." 

A look at the simple, modern bathroom with a monolithic sink.

A look at the simple, modern bathroom with a monolithic sink.

Project Credits: 

Architecture: Nadine Engelbrecht 

Builder: Hans Boursema Boukontrakteurs 

Structural engineering: DMV Structures Inc. 

Landscape design: Nandi Koster 

Photography: Marsel Roothman Photography