Southdowns Dairy Farm Estate is part of a 100 year old dairy farm just south of Irene, Pretoria. The architectural guidelines consequently requires a ‘farm’- or ‘Old Transvaal’ style aesthetic, which was interpreted in a contemporary way by Strey Architects.
The vision of the architects were three fold: To show that one can be sustainable even in the city, to experiment with different materials & building methods, test the capacity of unskilled labour, recycle & reuse existing materials, and thirdly use the building as office & marketing material
The main house consists of a ‘barn type’ structure of rusted steel portal frames, precast concrete floors & non-loadbearing LGSF walls. Sheet metal clad ‘sheds’ accommodates the garages, also doubling as steel- & woodworking workshops. The South of which is constructed of a Light Gauge Steel Frame (LGSF) construction only & the North of a timber frame and Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs). The entrance, staircase and access to the cellar are housed in a recycled brick & reinforced concrete ‘silo’, in keeping with a typical farmstead, with precast reinforced concrete cantilever stair treads.
Some passive and sustainable design principals are a lap pool to the North of the barn, acting as a passive cooling device in summer, rain water harvesting for domestic water use, PV panels for independent electricity, natural gas for cooking and space heating, solar water heating with natural gas backup and thermal insulation and double glazing appropriate to the local climate to name a few.
The Irene Dairy Farm was established by the van der Bijls around the 1880’s. Irene, a historic town to the south of Pretoria, (South Africa), has been part of the Old Transvaal history since its inception, and maintained its ‘Old Transvaal Farm style’ character until today. At the turn of the 21st century, it was decided by the 3 van der Bijl brothers, to sub-divide the farm and create a security estate while maintaining the adjoining and still successful dairy operations. The result is a ‘Farm style’ security estate, bordering the quaint dairy farm & the oldest golf course in Pretoria (Irene Golf Course), with pastures encapsulated in the estate layout where black & white dairy cows can graze and different kinds of feed can be planted for the cows, depending on what is most appropriate for the season.
A stand was selected which offered the largest Stinkwood tree on the estate, bordering one of these pastures to the South & encapsulating beautiful views of the Kaal Rivier (more a stream which flouds its banks once a year during the rainy summer months) to the North. The challenge was to make the most of the pasture to the South and the views & the tree to the North, while still maintaining a certain level of privacy from the Cul-de-sac also on the North. The local vernacular & sometimes extreme weather conditions with frost in winter and high winds and above 35C days in summer, also had to be taken into account.
The result was a contemporary ‘farm style compound’ with the main house accommodated in a ‘barn’ structure, the garages & workshops (steel- & woodworking workshops for the tinkering owner) in adjoining ‘sheds’ and the entrance & staircase housed in a semi-klinker ‘silo’ structure. A lap pool to the North of the barn act as a passive cooling device in summer, by cooling the warm summer winds from the North-East down through the evaporation of the pool water, and drawing the hot air from the ‘barn’ through large apertures facing the pool to the North & the pasture to the South. Triangular windows in the gables can be opened to draw out further hot air rising to the ceiling level inside the house. Proper insulation materials & methods for the roof, walls & floors, together with double glazing results in a cosy & warm interior. The lap pool is also n analogy of a drinking trough for the cows which used to roam the land and found on the farm before it was developed, hankering to its past, but off course also is just a swimming pool, in which the kids can play or train in for swimming galas.
This house is meant to self-sufficient and ‘off-the-grid’ in the end, through the incorporation of many ideas & systems. Through passive design principals like the correct orientation of the buildings towards North in the Southern Hemisphere (South in the Northern Hemisphere), correct window placing, size & shading, as well as passive heating- & cooling principals, one can create a building which is comfortable to live & work in without necessarily paying extra, through proper design only. Further enhancements came at an extra initial cost, but massive savings in the long run, which makes absolute economic sense. These include items like a rain water harvesting system with galvanized tanks on the outside in feeling with the farm style vernacular, grey water recycling for garden irrigation, solar water heating- & photo voltaic (electricity generation) on the roof, the use of recycled materials obtained from demolished buildings & bridges at the time, and low-water-low maintenance gardens, indigenous to the area.
For the architect this house is meant to be part experiment, part marketing ploy but mostly a home to live, work & play at, creating a save & healthy environment for the family. Many lessons were learnt in the design & building process of this house as it was designed & built mostly by the architect himself. The reason was to gain experience in different building- & insulation methods, costs involved in trying out ‘alternative’ building methods, execution ability through the use & training of local unskilled labour, how recycled materials can be reused, etc. , as well as to show that one can live sustainable without living in the proverbial ‘mud hut’, but in an upmarket gated estate. All this takes a lot of time, effort and perseverance, but in the end the architect can consult his clients & contractors alike through experience gained.
Many curious people have been visiting this project since the large hole was dug on this beautiful piece of land a few years ago. Some probably came away overwhelmed, surprised or even confused. Some requested the exact same house, after we explained that we never repeat a design, because every client & piece of land is different, but we can design something similar but bespoke for that specific client’s needs, taste & budget and that specific stand’s location, vernacular, climate, context, features and so on.