Memory in Architecture: Chapter Four
In my opinion, successful architectural is that which recognises, builds upon and improves its traditions through the influences of function or available technologies. Copying a tradition freezes it in time and results in limited aesthetic interpretations like the ubiquitous Tuscan enclaves that surround our cities. This chapter on memory and the next, will focus on regional architectural traditions and will show how a response to climate and available materials in Pretoria after the Second World War created honest architectural traditions that have continued to influence local architecture.
To respond regionally in architecture, a designer requires sound knowledge of the geographical characteristics of a region, such as climate and topography, a sense of place, and building traditions which include the use of tried-and-tested and available materials and technologies.
During and after WWII, architects in the capital then known as Pretoria, had to make much with very little. Material shortages and limited budgets forced architects to be creative. Together with this, was a search for a national (South African) architectural identity and a rejection of orthodox international building styles. From this emerged the so-called Pretoria Regionalists, such as Hellmut Stauch (1910-1970) who used design principles like the efficient use of space and a direct response to local context (through material use and climatic orientation). Stauch's "houses made good economic, functional and climatic sense, to assume in their simple vocabulary a poetry with local materials" (Peters, 1998:175). During the 1960s, these principles were further extended by a number of Pretoria architects like Jack van Rensburg, Johnny Claassens and Pieter Hattingh (1932-). Their buildings exhibit all of the qualities characterising Pretoria Regionalism as suggested by Fisher (1998:125): traditional plan form, rustic brick, either directly or as whitewashed stock, low pitched iron roofs, deep shaded eaves and verandahs, sun-shy windows, sensitivity to landscape and land features, and an architecture responsive to climatic constraints.
I recently visited Stauch's house Kellerman of 1950 (and extension of 1959), in Menlo Park Pretoria. It has been well cared for over the years, albeit with some newer and less sensitive internal alterations. The house has withstood these manipulations through a powerful design ethos based on climatic orientation with adequate roof overhangs, attenuated plan layout, a grid layout determined by standard 3’4”steel window proportions, and continuity of inside outside space; the latter creating a positive connection between building and place. Although the limitations of the tight site could have restricted the climatic responses, Stauch responded by cleverly separating and stepping living and sleeping wings to face north.
Northern approach to House Kellerman with raised bedroom wing on the right and living block to the rear with corner window to dining room visible on the left © Barker, 2015
The north-western corner of the living room with clerestory windows providing adequate northern sun in the winter and the corner window creating direct connection with the garden © Barker, 2015
Floor to ceiling glazing in the second bedroom providing northern sun in the winter and connection to the vegetation and sky © Barker, 2015
The corner window of the dining room and entrance pergola © Barker, 2015
Interior view of north-western corner of the living room © Barker, 2015
Clerestory glazing to the dining room © Barker, 2015
Simple detailing of corner window in the dining room © Barker, 2015
House Rooke, Monaghan Farm
In 2007, another Pretoria based architect, Karlien Thomashoff of Thomashoff + partner Architects created a unique, regional-modern dwelling near Lanseria airport in Gauteng by building upon and extending the tenets of Pretoria Regionalism. A direct response to place is made through the alignment of the two wings of the house with a row of existing trees while the use of slate flooring both inside and outside reflect its historic use of this locally sourced material after WWII. Buildings are directly north orientated with inventively designed roof overhangs using modern building technologies. Recently House Rooke won a 2013 PIA award for architecture which is a testament to the high regard that the profession holds for this building.
Memory and tradition
There is a rich tradition of regional architecture in South Africa. Unfortunately not much has been written about it and many seminal buildings have been demolished or altered beyond recognition. The simple principle of a direct response to place through climatic design and positive inside-outside relationships, as well as the use of simple building technologies can go a long way towards extending our traditions and creating successful houses that provide comfortable indoor environments.
House Rooke, Monaghan farm, Lanseria, 2012. View from the north-east and internal view with slate flooring and clerestory lighting (Rooke, 2012)
Sources and further reading:
- 1. Barker, A. 2015. Extending architectural regionalism. House Rooke, Monaghan Farm, Lanseria, 2010–2011 in Architecture South Africa. July/August 2015. Pgs 19-27.
- 2. Fisher, R.C. 1998. The Third vernacular. Pretoria Regionalism – aspects of an emergence. In Architecture of the Transvaal. Edited by R.C. Fisher & S. le Roux with E. Maré. Pretoria: University of South Africa, 123-147.
- 3. Peters, W. 1998. Houses for Pretoria: An appreciation of the Houses of the 1950s by Hellmut Stauch. In Architecture of the Transvaal. Edited by R.C. Fisher & S. le Roux with E. Maré. Pretoria: University of South Africa, 175-195.