Completed in December 2016, Steyn Studio’s Bosjes Chapel opened its doors to the public in March this year. The new chapel, set within a vineyard in South Africa, is designed by South-African born Coetzee Steyn of London based Steyn Studio. Its serene sculptural form emulates the silhouette of surrounding mountain ranges, paying tribute to the historic Cape Dutch gables dotting the rural landscapes of the Western Cape.
Constructed from a slim concrete cast shell, the roof supports itself as each undulation dramatically falls to meet the ground. Where each wave of the roof structure rises to a peak, expanses of glazing adjoined centrally by a crucifix adorn the façade.
Drawing poetic inspiration from Psalm 36:7, the crisp white form is conceived as a lightweight, and dynamic structure which appears to float within the valley. A reflective pond emphasises the apparent weightlessness of the structure. Elevated upon a plinth, the chapel rises from the flat land its sits upon, providing a hierarchical focal point within its surroundings. New planting including a vineyard and pomegranate orchard create a lush green oasis on the otherwise exposed site.
Inside, a large and open assembly space is created within a simple rectangular plan. Highly polished terazzo floors reflect light internally. The undulating whitewashed ceiling casts an array of shadows which dance within the volume as light levels change throughout the day. This modest palette of materials creates a neutral background to the impressive framed views of the vineyard and mountains beyond.
Bosjes, meaning ‘small bushes’ in Dutch is the new name given to the old Bosjesman’s Valley Farm, which produces wine grapes, olives, peaches and proteas just over an hour’s drive from Cape Town. “The farm has been in the client’s family for 184 years,” explains Coetzee Steyn of Steyn Studio. In recent years they have been buying back parcels of original farm which has been sold off during the years, in order to restore the glory of this historic Cape Dutch farm. “In the interest of ensuring the continuation of this legacy the client had the vision to create an Agritourism facility that would sustain its activities for years to come and also make a major investment in the local community,” he says.
The client has recognised the economic benefits of enticing local and international visitors to the farm; wanting to share its Cultural Heritage and unique natural environment. The aim is to create a destination where families can relax and get away from the pressures of everyday life.
The chapel is only one part of the bigger project, other parts being landscape gardens, a tea garden, a restaurant (Bosjes Kombuis) and boutique guesthouse (Die Skuur) in the Cape Dutch Manor house. Apart from being open to the general public the venue could also be hired for functions, including weddings).
Being glass walled the building is orientated in such a way as to limit the amount of sun that enters the building; especially during the peak hours. The peaks of the roof also leans outward in order to cast more shade on the glass, whilst still being aesthetically pleasing. Wind is also at times a particular problem in the area, and the building is orientated with the principal entrance facing away from the prevailing wind directions, therefor avoiding the need for a wind lobby. Formally ques were also taken from the surrounding mountainous landscape.
In order to keep the structural form of the roof and assembly space pure, other elements of the buildings functional programme are either hidden within the plinth, or discretely within the outer corners of the surrounding garden.
Inspired by the simplicity of the Moravian Mission Stations established on Cape Dutch farms in the 19th Century, the chapel lacks a spire – relinquishing a sense of significance in relation to its impressive natural surroundings.
An open embrace which invites in, the chapel is also a space that extends outwards into the valley and mountains beyond, raising the awareness of God’s creation in the immediate environment.
“One of the physical problems we encountered was the wind, in-fact, we had to award an extension of time to the contractor due to the adverse effect of the wind-force on the application of the “shotcrete” to the reinforced steel cage of the roof,” explains Swanepoel. The wind literally blew the concrete away before if hit the spot and it was also unsafe to work on top of the roof. “This lead to another problem, wastage!” he explains. “We actually had a waste-factor of over 50% on the concrete (shotcrete) due to the prevailing strong wind conditions.”
Among the many, the biggest challenge for the architects by far was the construction methodology and detailing of the chapel roof and glass façades. “Our early research found that such an intricate shape has never previously been constructed in South Africa,” says Swanepoel. “We had to find a viable construction solution that would be suitable for the Worcester climate and we had to at the same time be realistic regarding skill and workmanship in the South African building sector. We realised from the start that it would be an indefinite challenge to the team to ensure that the design together with the pre-contract documentation and detailing are successfully transferred into building form without compromise and within the budget.”
Specific challenges were:
1. Formwork – As there is no benchmark or similar structure for this unique shape/form, all the formwork for this project was purpose made. The entire formwork structure was designed as a truss-system and all trusses were pre-manufactured and assembled on site. The formwork process took almost five months to construct on site.
2. Reinforcing – Due to this unique form, each reinforcing bar (top and bottom) had to be individually cut and hand bent/shaped to fit.
3. Concrete/shotcrete – All the shotcrete/concrete work had to be done from mobile platforms. They experienced very extreme weather conditions during the shotcrete process and had many delays due to strong wind and rain. The entire shotcrete process took almost six weeks compared to the original allowance of two weeks. The shape was so unique that the volumes of concrete could only be calculated with the use of 3D CAD models.
Coetzee Steyn is South-African born and educated originally from Montagu in the Western Cape, and he been in London for almost 14 years. It has been 6 years since he started Steyn Studio, almost the full duration of the Bosjes project from conception to completion. They do a broad range of projects, not being shoe-boxed into any specialised field. “With Steyn Studio being London-based it was best to have a local architect in SA leading the project on the ground and to bring local expertise to the project. A series of interviews were held and TV3’s professional and diligent approach was what gave the most comfort,” he explains.
TV3 Architects and Town Planners was founded in 1991, and for them, sustainable development initiatives, based on current initiatives (green building) are at the forefront of their approach to architectural and planning projects, with the objective to encourage sustainable development in order to improve the symbiotic relationship of both the natural and built environments. It is a multi-disciplinary practice of architects and town planners, offering an extensive range of planning and related professional services.
“I realised from the start of the project that Coetzee’s design on paper was very creative and special, but now that it is actually fully transformed into reality, I feel that the team has created a bit of South African construction history,” says Swanepoel. “We made the impossible, possible and have proven that there is still knowledge, skill and determination in our South African construction industry. An achievement that we are all very proud of!” And so they should be – having already received recognition around the world, the Bosjes Chapel, and its ancillary structures, is a project you are bound to hear more of in the future.
The farm will be open to both day visitors as well as overnight guests as it is the perfect venue for weddings and other celebratory occasions. Visitors will be able to visit the beautiful avant-garde chapel which appears to rest lightly on the body of water before it and it is quite likely that many, will want to make a pilgrimage of sorts and to stand in the quiet space, look out of the glass walls and take in the magnificence of the mountainous valley surrounding them.
Afterwards, guests will be drawn to the thoughtfully landscaped Chapel Gardens, for some more mindful meditation and inspiration. There are various elements to the gardens and there is a diversity of vegetation that will delight both the knowledgeable and the novice gardener. Plants that are referenced in the bible form the base of it but there are also celebratory lush fruit tree sections and a sculptural water feature. There is a small hill that is designed for a gentle walk (which is also wheelchair accessible) to the top, from where one can get a bird’s eye view of the property and surrounds.
The universal appreciation of the earth and what it produces makes this a sacred space no matter what your religious affiliation. The garden, like the chapel, and the rest of the farm, is an inclusionary space and welcomes all.
Once guests have worked up an appetite they can either enjoy a selection of cakes or savoury sandwiches at the open-air tea garden or head on over to Bosjes Kombuis for lunch. The restaurant, like the chapel, was designed by Coetzee Steyn from Steyn Studio, and is a complementary perfectly contrast to the old manor house next to it. The restaurant boasts high ceilings, glass walls, a wooden terrace, mountain views and a delightfully whimsical historical-and-nature inspired blue and white tiled mural of the Bosjes Tree of Life created by Lucie de Moyencourt and Michael Chandler. Consultant chef Pete Goffe-Wood has designed a contemporary rustic lunch menu and diners will love the robust flavours that have become the signature of Chef Pete.
There is also a children’s playground designed by Leanie van den Vyver, within viewing distance of the restaurant and while it is perfect for play it is also a playful artwork, complete with electric blue Klipspringertjies dotted around.
Overnight guests of will be able to stay in the gorgeous guesthouse, which has been decorated, in muted shades of sand with accents of chartreuse and copper by talented interior designer, Liam Mooney. The house is perfect for a large family or wedding party wanting to enjoy quality time together either at the pool on hot days or around the fire pit on cold ones. But all five rooms, including the family room and the honeymoon suite can be rented individually.
Liam Mooney has also decorated the voorkamer in the original manor house which can be used for small day conferences and private boardroom style meetings.
LOCATION: Bosjes Farm, Witzenberg District, Western Cape, South Africa
START ON SITE: 2013
COMPLETION: December 2016
GROSS FLOOR AREA: 430sqm
DESIGN ARCHITECT (Chapel & Wine Tasting & Masterplan): Steyn Studio (UK)
PROJECT ARCHITECT (Manor House & Guest Suites): TV3 Architects (South Africa)
FURNITURE DESIGN: Liam Mooney Studio
CONTRACTOR: Longworth & Faul
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Henry Fagan & Partners
MECHANICAL & ELECTRICAL ENGINEER: Solution Station
QUANTITY SURVEYOR: De Leeuw
PLANNING CONSULTANT: Ron Brunings
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: CNdV Landscape Architects
HERITAGE CONSULTANTS: Graham Jacobs, Elzet Albertyn & Lize Malan