by Akash SinghOct 07, 2023
Curved, delicate white concrete forms, spiralling trellises, and viridescent vegetation distinguish the Spens cafe and Winkel gift shop developed by Steyn Studio in collaboration with Meyer Associates and Square One Landscape Architects. Embedded into the picturesque landscape of Breedekloof Valley, the structures are part of the Bosjes Estate - a working farm and recreational venue in South Africa's Western Cape region. By drawing from the San, an ethnic group who were the valley's earliest custodians, and the initial Dutch settlers who subsequently occupied the area, the design pays homage to the Western Cape's diverse and abundant cultural history. These influences bore a result that represents an 'effortless fusion' between architecture and the natural landscape, with gardens that wrap around structures built into the earth.
Based in London, Steyn Studio was also responsible for the earlier design of the estate's iconic Bosjes Chapel. Together with the nearby manor house, the structures serve as the property's two major attractions. The client had solicited the services of the UK-based architectural practice with a brief that specified a contextually coherent new intervention within the estate's gardens. Consisting of a small restaurant/cafe called 'Die Spens' (The Pantry) and a gift shop dubbed 'Winkel’, the project aims to craft a welcoming and engaging visitor experience while moving between the two landmarks.
Integrating the structures into the surrounding natural landscape was of paramount importance throughout the design process. Views of the valley's sweeping hills and mountains were also to be left unobstructed. Moreover, the design team at Steyn Studio needed to make special considerations to avoid overtly wrestling attention away from Bosjes Estate's existing attractions. With these guidelines in mind, they settled on a program comprising two separate structures, bermed into the terrain - which slopes over three interconnected terraces. This approach facilitated the concealment and amalgamation of the nearly 750 square metres of new construction within the natural landscape, in a microcosm that referenced the regional and agricultural context of Breedekloof Valley.
Partially built into the gradient of the land, the two structures are carpeted by roofs overlaid with soil - populated with indigenous grass, succulents, and vegetation that seamlessly integrates their curved masses into the contours of the site. Their lush green mounds bear a disarming likeness to the undulating silhouettes of nearby hills. Furthermore, by incorporating wetlands and natural water treatment methods into the nearby forest habitats, the architects were able to rehabilitate and diversify local ecologies.
Low visual profiles generated by embedding the structures within the earth ensure that the buildings do not overpower the discernible axis between existing landmarks on the estate or hinder panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. As a result, the design respects and enhances the prevalent visual relationships between the manor house and chapel, alongside landscapes in the background consisting of vineyards and hills.
Linked by a meandering path around the site's periphery that provides universal access, the café and the gift shop are separated by carefully planted gardens, with an overall composition that produces an effect reminiscent of a processional route. Additionally, these areas were designed to inspire both children and adults to commune with and appreciate nature by forging interactive playscapes around the buildings.
The buildings’ forms have their precedents in the 'Matjieshuis' (Mat Houses) - built by the San people and the 'Kaphuis' (Truss House), a type of dwelling constructed by the earliest Dutch settlers within the province. The former was a portable, curved, slat framed structure covered by woven mats, utilised for shelter by San herders when they migrated alongside their livestock during pre-colonial times. On the other hand, the 'Kaphuis’, likely influenced by the San's dwellings, presented an intriguing hybrid between local and colonial construction. It consisted of a series of A-frame trusses, with thatched roofs and lowered interiors that permitted extra headroom.
Steyn Studio and Square Landscape One Architects collaborated closely to ensure that the new structures created objects of interest within the site while simultaneously serving as the foundation upon which the landscape design rested. Conical spaces towards the buildings’ front ends are partially sunken to diminish their scale impact, and functional areas at the rear are entirely immersed within the terrain. Submerged elements facing the mountainous background have raw cement finishes to create coherent aesthetic links, while delicate vaulted concrete structures are painted white to reference the nearby Bosjes Chapel and whitewashed Cape Dutch homesteads - characteristic features of the region.
Following extensive research, the project's gridshell and facade consultants - Arup, realised that oak was the ideal material for the elaborate, braced trellises which wind around, frame, and stitch the new development together, paying homage to the heritage of the San. These structures serve as visual guides that usher visitors towards the irregular oval enclosures outlining the cafe and gift shop's forms. The architects expect that these trellises will gradually become overgrown with dozens of species of climbing plants, further blending the structures into the landscape with the passage of time. Glazed sections of the facades employ zig-zagged configurations that mimic motifs exhibited by the trellises to provide continuity between interior and exterior spaces.
An uncomplicated material palette makes use of grey terrazzo for the flooring and external walkways. Liam Mooney Studio, continuing their association with the Bosjes Estate, aided in the development of interior design elements such as the cafe's deli counter as well as curation of the gift shop's items. Acknowledging the forms of the two buildings, the triangular layouts of the deli counter and overhead lighting systems accentuate and harmonise the spaces they occupy. Colour variations associated with the hues of surrounding vineyards in autumn are exhibited in the interior finishes of both buildings, featuring display plinths overlaid with delicately oxidized brass and copper sheets, along with light wood finishes that impart a serene, relaxing atmosphere.
Detailing and implementing some of the project's more challenging and intricate elements - such as the extensive trellises or below-ground construction, required the aid of multiple consultants as well as engineers, manufacturers, and subcontractors with expertise in similar situations. To resolve these issues and handle the project's on-site execution, Steyn Studio commissioned Meyer & Associates to act as local project architects and agents within South Africa.
Merging organically into its striking natural surroundings, the burrowed structures of Die Spens cafe and Winkel gift shop exhibit a harmonious union between architecture and nature that subtly complements its setting within South Africa's wine country.
Name: Die Spens Garden Cafe and Winkel Gift Shop
Location: Western Cape, South Africa
Area: Gardens 2ha, Shop 190 sqm, Deli 550 sqm
Construction: August 2018 - December 2020
Design Architect: Steyn Studio (UK)
Project Architect: Meyer & Associates, Architects Urban Designers (South Africa)
Landscape Architect: Square One Landscape Architects
Furniture& Fit-Out Design : Liam Mooney Studio
Main Contractor: GVK-Siya Zama Construction
Structural Engineer: Grobler & Associates Consulting Engineers
Façade and Gridshell Consultants: Arup (SA)
Gridshell Structural Engineer: Henry Fagan& Partners
Civil Engineer: AVDM Consulting Engineers
Heritage Consultant: Graham Jacobs