A Minimalist Retreat at the Edge of South Africa's Karoo Desert
Varied conditions mark the Great Karoo, a semi-desert region in South Africa where climates are dry, rainfall is sparse, and temperatures range from extremes of heat and cold—but the sky is always clear.
These factors were of utmost importance for London-based firm Openstudio Architects, who designed a retreat on the outskirts of Prince Albert, a town that sits near a pass of the Swartberg mountain range. The owners, David Jenkins, a publisher, and Jennifer Beningfield, a founder of Openstudio, desired a structure that could stand up to the area's significant changes in light, heat, and wind throughout the seasons, all the while connecting to the surrounding natural landscape, which was previously the site of a sheep farm.
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Working with local builders and materials, the architects designed using a minimal but robust palette of brick, ash, local roughcast lime-washed plaster, and white ceramic tiles, all of which "connect the home with the traditional building style in the Karoo," the architects said.
A consistent application of materials and colors blurs boundaries between inside and out. Patterned brick-on-edge floors extend into the outdoor courtyard, and plaster walls line interior and exterior surfaces alike. In tandem with double-glazed windows and large wooden sliding doors that can be completely shuttered or opened as needed, all work to optimize the home's passive solar gains.
Clusters of elongated, double-glazed windows punctuate the thick and hardy, opaque walls. "A harvester of light and air," as the architects describe it, the home is a testament to traditional building techniques tailored to weather the the region's mutable climate. By day, it's bathed with artful, linear compositions of shadow and light; and by evening, atop the upper roof terraces, the residents can enjoy a view of the star-lit night, dependent on nothing else but the clear desert sky.