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SA's avant-garde home designs

18 Dec 2014

South African architects are proving more innovative and are producing more attractive designs than their colleagues in the UK and many of the other European countries.

South African architects are good at ‘playing with the sunlight’, and their challenge is often to combat excessive heat loads and glare - rather than penetration by cold.

Rawson says, his two trips to the UK this year have convinced him that this is the case - particularly in the residential sector.

This is the view of Bill Rawson, Chairman for the Rawson Property Group, who says it may be that in the corporate mega-blocks world, South African architects, sometimes operating on more limited budgets are not able to compete with some of the more spectacular UK central city complexes, which he has seen on his trips abroad.

However, he says when he looks at the homes that are currently on the market in affluent areas such as Sandton, Umhlanga, Constantia, Fresnaye and Camps Bay, he is amazed at their innate quality and style - the sheer boldness and inventiveness of many of today’s designs.

Asked why, in his view, South African architects have been able to forge ahead of their UK colleagues, Rawson says UK architects are constrained by two strong factors.

The first, he says, is that often they have to design for precincts that are already dominated by older buildings.

“This presents any enterprising architect with a real challenge because it would be wholly inappropriate to introduce the sort of avant-garde homes that we have on the affluent Atlantic Seaboard into a street in which the other homes are large Victorian or Edwardian buildings.” He says while it has to be admitted that UK architects have proved adept at upgrading the interiors of these, for aesthetic reasons, they are prevented from making any major changes to the façades and exteriors.

The second factor limiting creativity among UK architects, he says, is the simple obligation to ensure that the home has to be ‘a fortress’ against what are often severe winter conditions - a primary requirement to keep the interiors warm and comfortable, even when temperatures drop close to or below zero. This inevitably reduces the designer’s chances of creating a light filled, modern interior.

Rawson says these two serious constraints are seldom limiting factors in South Arica. He says South African architects are good at ‘playing with the sunlight’, and their challenge is often to combat excessive heat loads and glare - rather than penetration by cold.

As a result, he says full length glazing, not just on areas leading to patios and balconies, but also across whole walls, is now regularly found on South African buildings - often with breathtaking results.

“Most of the best new South African home designs have free flowing internal layouts with minimal barriers between the indoor and outdoor space.” This not only gives an openness and freedom to the design but it also facilitates outdoor dining and entertaining - something for which European and British people envy us for, he says.

Other features which tend to add value for many modern South African homes are the extensive use of wooden decks and wood panelling, natural stone and exposed structural steel, with steel taking the place of the usual concrete or brick components. Mono-pitched, multi-gabled and V-shaped roofs are also growing in popularity.

Rawson says all these give added interest to South African buildings, while not in any way destroying the simple harmonious proportions on which the success of the design will always ultimately depend.
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