by Meghna MehtaJan 27, 2020
This mountainside home in Cape Town, South Africa, enjoys some of the most spectacular views we have seen around this side of the world. Years ago, before any kind of construction and urban development touched the landscape, this slope was conceivably covered by indigenous forest and fynbos. Today, the area is developed with strategic building placements and smart design dotting the slopes, the eye enjoys sandy beaches, boulder outcrops, and the Twelve Apostles mountains on the south side and sunset views over the Atlantic Ocean.
Located in the wind-protected suburb of Clifton and accessed from Kloof Road, which winds along the western slopes of Lion’s Head, the structure of the house is a gift to its surroundings. It stands out and yet seems to bask in and grow from the steep and stunning mountainside. The first aspect of the project that required addressing was the steep slope that had to be excavated to accommodate the structure.
The home was conceived as an arrangement of staggered blocks that rise along the side of the mountain. “The conceptual approach to the design was to reinstate the qualities of the natural landscape,” says architect Phillippe Fouché of South African architectural firm SAOTA, who lead the project. What especially works here is the way the upper, living areas have been appropriately shielded from both visibility and street-level noise, addressing the issue of invasion of privacy.
The lower part of the building — a seemingly independent apartment altogether — is designed and drawn out as ‘a heavy stone plinth’. The gabion-walled exteriors with the cocooning interiors of dark-stained oak and off-shutter concrete reflect the strata of the mountainside out of which they emerge. On top of this is a transitional space, which has been designed as a green terrace with a braai area, all representative of what would have been the landscape’s foliage level.
Quite simply, all the levels of the house are connected via a sculptural timber staircase, which unravels like a flat-folded ribbon. In keeping with the story and scheme of the home’s design narrative, the staircase works as a visual string, tying the floors together, gradually lightening in tone as it progresses from one level to the next.
A vertically slatted box structure hovers over the terrace, allowing the forest landscape with its bushwillow trees below to grow into this level. The area has been fitted with screens that can be opened or closed to adjust the amount of natural light filtering into the interior — “As if you were sitting in the shade of a large tree,” says the architect. The structure was engineered from a durable yet lightweight aluminium in a finish that mimics the different tones of the bark — a fitting, durable solution bearing in mind Cape Town’s capricious seasons.
“Above this, the living level is set back considerably to follow the slope of the mountain, resulting in added privacy and acoustic buffering while creating the perception that one is on a platform, connected to the surrounding views,” says Fouché. “The space is visually extended via the introduction of a courtyard towards the mountainside, which allows for ventilation, light and, again, an opportunity for planting.” The concrete ceiling of this level is shuttered with rough-sawn planks, and reflects the overall raw texture. This emphasis on using natural materials can also be seen in the wooden floors and timber-clad scullery in the living areas. The scullery forms the base of a private study built on a mezzanine level, which is accessed via a bridge that spans the length of the room, all the while giving the scale of the space some smart visual relief.
The uppermost level, with the master bedroom, sits above the tree-tops and as such the materials — white marble, pale timber — and use of skylights wash the space with a feeling of air and openness. The highlight here is the use of fold-away glass walls that integrate the stunning expanse of the view right into the bedroom, without trying too hard.
So, whether it is the jaw-dropping views or the expansive indoors, the house on Kloof Road ticks all the right boxes with discrete design intentions.