House Rosa
House Rosa It is often in leafy green suburbs that one discovers modernist architectural gems. A case in point is Rex Martiensen’s own house that was recently on sale in Johannesburg. In Pretoria, masterpieces by amongst others Alan Konya, Hellmut Stauch and Norman Eaton enrich the otherwise conventional suburban context. The integrity of such architectural works is often threatened by wealthy clients and willing architects, supposed custodians of this heritage. An emphatic architect reacts to the existing with constraint, mindful of the modernist architectural tradition. The Existing: One such an architectural work is situated in the Pretoria suburb of Brooklyn. The residence was designed and built by renowned Pretorian Architect, Gordon McIntosh (1904-83) in 1941 for a Dr Cronje. The buildings contain many formal gestures of the architectural language of a modern Pretoria around 1940. McIntosh sited the residence towards the north of the property with a generous setback from what has become a very busy Charles Street. The space between house and street contains the garden. The landscape affords a dramatic approach to the entrance of the residence, situated on the southern façade of the building. At this point, McIntosh ended the dialogue between the building and its natural environment and the planning becomes internalised. The ground floor was offered visual participation by means of a porch along the northern façade. This engagement between inside and outside was restricted to visual means only – the site remained mostly unexplored. The result defines the building as pavilion typology, surrounded by large expanses of lush, green garden and under utilised, uncontained landscape. Regrettably, in 1965 a pitched roof was added by the owner at the time. This most insensitive addition consumed much of the modernist architectural vocabulary, which spoke in long pronounced horizontal bands enforced by a flat concrete roof and shallow parapet roof edges. The Intervention: The architect was commissioned to enlarge the existing house, an adaptation to the new owner’s modern lifestyle. The brief called for a new entertainment area, enlarged kitchen, an additional bedroom as well as a painter’s studio. The architect’s response to what is essentially a layered architectural record - was to add rather than remove, to submit rather than subtract. This approach to place-making has always been a strong motive in the vocation of the architect. The new functional program is arranged in two pavilions. These flank the existing house and result in an enclosed courtyard. The pavilions oppose one another across a pool. The reflecting film of water allows the pavilions to enter into silent dialogue with one another. This dialogue resolves the spatial tension and unifies the courtyard to the buildings. The painter’s studio and additional bedroom is placed on the eastern edge of the arrangement. This pavilion is reconciled with the existing house through a new living room. A somewhat senseless requirement by local council. Town planning regulations stipulated that the house should be one connected building. A separate wing would result in two dwellings on one residential stand. The Architect’s original intentions were to liberate the new from the old. This requirement brought the heritage value and clear design approach fostered by the architect in direct conflict with the town planning requirements. The new entertainment area is placed on the western edge. The entertainment pavilion is unified to the whole by an enlarged kitchen, which supports and shares the functional requirements. The architectural qualities become apparent when one moves through the building. The addition brings about a new richness of plan with subtle yet purposeful celebration of the existing. Transitions from old to new are treated with slight level changes and stairs. These thresholds are further pronounced by high level openings, which allow light to filter in and mediate between wall and floor – old and new. The staggered floor plate recalls the topography of the site. Through this, the architect achieves an engagement between the buildings and the landscape. The result of this engagement is the courtyard, a peaceful outdoor room. Large but calculated views enforce the continuity between the built form and the garden. Movement from the new to the old reveal framed views of the existing and validate the architect’s poetic gestures towards the historic fabric. Plastered walls, rendered with white paint, dissolve into a light weight steel and timber roof structure. Although the tectonic language is in contrast to that of the existing building, its application as seemingly flat roof planes commemorate the horizontal idiom of the modernist structure. This spatial organization completes a diagram, a whole achieved by the sum of its parts. Its pavilion status is subtly altered to a courtyard typology, framing the existing. The McIntosh house remains the central focus but also becomes the backdrop to a new drama. Awarded Pretoria Institute of Architecture award & South African Institute of Architects Merit Award


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