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House Rosa

contributed by 323 World Architecture Festival , 13 July 2009


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Description 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.

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Pretoria, South Africa

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