From Gregg Cocking
When a client approached Johannesburg-based Architects Of Justice and commissioned an avant-garde retreat he could disappear to, a journey began which would culminate in a recent Commendation for the project in the Mpumalanga Institute for Architecture (MPIA) Awards for Architecture 2017.
The site for the project, situated within the Mjejane Private Game Reserve – a private Big 5 game reserve incorporated into the Kruger National Park – opens onto a view of the Crocodile River on the north boundary with a green belt on its eastern edge. The retreat was designed to maximise the connection to nature and wild game while ensuring privacy between the five en-suite bedrooms as well as from neighbouring lodges. The rigorous estate guidelines motivated the architects to design around the existing flora on the site, which led to a freeform design that required only three trees to be replanted.
It was one of Architects Of Justice’s early projects, the SEED Library, a shipping container structure for the MC Weiler Primary School in Alexandra, Johannesburg, completed in 2010, which led to the practice being approached by the client for the Mjejane project. The library had caught the attention of the architectural fraternity, winning a number of awards, including an SAIA Award of Merit, the Afrisam SAIA Award for Sustainable Architecture and an international award for architects under the age of 35, the YAA (Young Architects in Africa) Competition. While visiting his daughter in Hong Kong, the client was paging through an architectural magazine featuring the library when his son-in-law commented that he went to university with the architects.
After meeting with Architects Of Justice, where he requested an unconventional and innovative retreat, project architect Kuba Granicki worked on a concept model for the client, who immediately approved it. “It was a meeting of minds,” says Granicki, explaining that the original model is satisfyingly close to how the completed project turned out.
The home, which is beautiful from every angle, is incredibly site and context driven, fitting the client’s requirements to be able to connect with nature. Nature, however did provide its own unique challenges; there could be no openings or entries into the roof void, as it would provide the ideal habitat for a myriad of animals to take up residence within this space, and measures had to be taken to prevent warthogs residing underneath the suspended wooden deck on the north of the site.
The crowning jewel of the house is a floating steel roof that overhangs the house on every side with a minimum overhang of 1,6m. At its maximum, the roof overhang extends in an impressive 13m butterfly cantilever creating a seemingly unsupported roof over a boma. The total roof area for the 450m² residence totalled at an impressive 900m² allowing inside spaces to blend effortlessly with the outside.
“Initially the roof was to be concrete and planted,” notes Granicki. “After the client eventually decided against the use of a green roof due to concerns of maintenance for what was to be primarily a low-maintenance holiday home, the concept was redeveloped with a steel roof that would be lighter and quicker to erect on site. With this construction methodology, we still managed to obtain cantilevers all round on the roof and an open span lounge/dining room of more than 100m2, with no columns to obscure the view over the pool and surrounding bushveld.”
The steel roof overhangs helped design a passively cooled home which mitigates heat gain by shading the exteriors throughout the day in an area of the country that often reaches 30 degrees Celsius in winter and well over 40 degrees Celsius in summer.
Off-site fabrication allowed for a very clean assembly process on site, and bolted connections meant that very little welding took place on site. The steel roof arrived in four parts, which was logistically possible as the manufacturer, Quality Steel, was located just over an hour away from the site. A four phase Lego-set type erection, also meant that there was no need to clear and disturb the natural bushveld for storage of building materials. Ingwe Construction was chosen to carry out the building work due to their proven track record of constructing large scale private bush lodges sensibly and sensitively in this part of South Africa.
In the interior, the idea was to not obstruct the user from the surrounding nature, and as such, huge glass windows, doors and fin walls constantly connect and direct the user to the outside bush. The placement of the windows facilitates a constant flood of light on the hand polished concrete floors and simple plaster walls, while angled ceilings facilitate natural airflows and complement other sustainable features of the project (such as rainwater harvesting from the extensive roof structure).
“As the client comes from a mining background, aesthetically the home reflects a ‘from the earth’ narrative, and an almost industrial approach of using crushed rock, gabion walls and steel I-beams was embraced,” explains Granicki. He notes that while the home is definitely a modern take on architecture, there is still an earthen quality to its finishes as a result of some of the techniques of the local contractor.
After a twelve month construction period, Architects Of Justice delivered a successful project, not only by understanding the environment and designing around it, but also by working closely with the client. The following comments from the client are testament to the work which they produce and their ultimate aim of client satisfaction: “Our dream of embracing the outside bushveld, inside our home, has exceeded our expectations. The architects’ design allows for large openings that let the remarkable landscape to be enjoyed from every part of the house. The ambitious overhangs and cantilevers, made possible by the steel roof, affords us the ability to live harmoniously with nature as the lines blur between inside and out. We are incredibly proud of our home which is a stunning piece of contemporary architecture.”
Receiving the recent Commendation from MPIA is another feather in the cap for this young practice who are currently busy working on a host of office, warehouse and high density residential projects. The MPIA judges' comments on the project were extremely positive: "The design concept is brave, original and is befitting of the site and the brief. The judges loved the three dimensional 'origami' roof which floats as a sculptural object, seemingly emulating the typography of the surrounding landscape. The spatial qualities are sculpturally impressive and sensory experiences are manipulated through impressive angled ceiling spaces which guide the eye outward towards the surrounding landscape. The cantilevered covered patio roof is a structural feat. The massing and siting of the building is successful within the confines of its site, and achieves the key objectives masterfully.”
In this private lodge at Mjejane Private Game Reserve, the architects have created a structure which rests elegantly in the surroundings. It is a home which while being architecturally innovative, doesn’t distract from the location of the project and draws the user’s attention to the outside. Granicki concludes; “We are very grateful to have had the opportunity to work on such a unique project in such a stunning location.”
About Architects Of Justice
The three partners in Architects Of Justice, Mike Rassmann, Kuba Granicki and Alessio Lacovig, formally established their practice in 2009 after working in various other architectural practices. “Our main reason for starting our own business, was that we wanted to do architecture in a way that all the projects we touched would be unique and exciting,” explains Rassmann. The three partners share the same goal of wanting to make a positive effect on the built environment by doing justice to their clients, their sites and architecture in all of their projects.
Architects: Architects Of Justice
Project Manager: Condor & Co Project Management
Structural Engineers: Professional Consultants Corporation
Contractor: Ingwe Construction
Steelwork Contractor: Quality Steel
Structural Steel Detailer: Orbit Steel/Quality Steel
Cladding Supplier: Chromadek
Energy Consultants: Structatherm Projects
Quantity Surveyor: Build Aid