Sixty-one regional winners were entered into the Corobrik SAIA Architectural Awards. Six projects received Awards for Excellence, the highest distinction that SAIA can confer on a project in South Africa; ‘The Lake House’, KwaZulu-Natal Midlands by Koop Design was one of them.
Buildings like ‘The Lake House’ can only be made by total dedication. The whole team involved in the design and construction needs to share the desire for excellence in every aspect of the building. This kind of attention to detail needs to extent across the whole building, from the large scale to the tiniest detail – nothing can be left to mere chance. Above all, it also requires a highly talented and experienced team to achieve a building like this – to make it appear effortless, unselfconscious and generous. Buildings like ‘The Lake House’ will continue to live in the imagination of many, long after its initial completion. It will set a benchmark of inspiration for future generations.
This building is set in the idyllic and undulating hills of the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal, next to a small lake. This part of the country has always conjured up romantic ideas of living a good and bucolic life. The distant views have always instilled the desire to reach the crest of the next hill to explore the adjoining valley. The placing of this house next to the small lake takes advantage of every positive aspect that the site offered. The land on the slope towards the lake was shaped to create a platform for the building. In this way the building was cut into the landscape in order for it to be placed unobtrusively right on the edge of the water.
The plan and section of the building is generous and deceptively simple and direct. It has the kind of simplicity that can only be achieved by a distillation process of many iterations in order to let go of any unnecessary elements. The generosity of the plan is in the spirit of the best tradition of farm houses in South Africa. It has the profound logic where nothing needs to added or subtracted.
The relationship between the building and the water’s edge was the main driving force of the design of the building. Nothing was allowed to interfere with the purity of this relationship. In plan and elevation, the building has a relatively solid back towards the slope into which it has been cut, while the front of the building is mostly transparent to maximize this relationship with the lake. The section of the building provides it with a low and subtle profile. It is as if the bulk of the built form is intentionally made to hide it in the landscape.
The essence and spirit of the building can be found in the way it is constructed. The five-year process was relatively slow and it allowed for every step along the way to be well refined and considered before execution. What the eye can see and the hand can touch are mostly local materials purposively sourced via a network of sometimes unconventional suppliers. The prime structure of the building is made of steel. All the other materials used in the building was then coordinated into this core structure. The building appears ‘fragile’ at times but never cold and distant. It creates a warm domestic environment sheltering its inhabitants in the larger scale landscape.
This building is a prime example of ‘total design’ wherein the most careful design attention was lavished on all scales of the building. This can be seen in small details like hinges, the purpose made furniture, the innovative environmental control systems as well as the sensitive placing of the building in the landscape. The stonework and the African hardwoods used throughout locks this building firmly into its place in the world. It cannot be anywhere else – nor does it wish to be. The hands of the various levels of craftspeople who made the building are clearly visible, so is their pride in their handiwork the bedrock of the respect and love that the users and visitors would experience when in and around the building. ‘The Lake House’ is masterful in its relaxed simplicity. A simplicity that only the highly talented and dedicated can achieve.
The Corobrik SAIA Architectural Awards were held concurrently with AZA18, Africa’s premier urban cultural festival focused on architecture.