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Rietjiesvlei (House Lubbe)

Rayton, Bloemfontein (2009-2010)

The design of this residence on a small-holding just outside Bloemfontein was a multi-layered design challenge: the minister-owner wanted something symbolic to reflect the religious aspect of his life, while simultaneously incorporate basic sustainable design principles dictated by the Free State climate and landscape. The above mentioned two aspects were used as points of departure in the conceptual approach: on a practical, climatic level and due to the rather large accommodation needs, a courtyard typology seemed logical to allow two wings exposed to the northern sun (living spaces and bedrooms). The other two corridors completing the courtyard, house the entrance west with a library and tower while the eastern part accommodates some services. This introverted courtyard typology also helped on a symbolic level (arched courtyard of the Early Christian cloisters) in the sense that all spaces focus on the quiet green space in the middle.

Photograph: Jan Lubbe

This is a deliberate attempt to echo the Early Christian cloister courtyards with arched corridors: a place for silence and reflection. A glimpse of this is seen on arrival through the medieval-like library with its vast collection of books. This place of knowledge, the library, is emphasized with a vertical steel tower allowing access via a ladder to a secluded place for meditation. Views from here are spectacular, not to mention stargazing on a clear summer night.

In contrast to this inner private sanctuary, the exterior of the house resembles a Free State farmstead complete with water tower on top of the pantry silo, water tanks, and earthly colours in local materials including stone, sun shading lattices, red face-brick, and corrugated iron roofs. The fact that the “farmstead” is surrounded by bluegum trees and a pond with ducks emphasize its vernacular roots.

The regionalist approach supported the sustainable applications: cavity walls and floors insulated with “Eco-insulated fiber” while the courtyard dictated shallow rooms allowing effective cross ventilation. The roof shape generates suction through the living spaces and bedrooms during warm summer months due to hot air rising to clerestory windows (this also allows direct sunlight into the bedrooms). All water is harvested from the roofs and stored in corrugated iron tanks to provide in the needs of the vegetable and wildflower garden. Sun- geysers provide hot water for domestic use.  

The relationship of the residence with its context radiates a subtle complexity of layers that truly becomes a retreat: a place of silence.