When your client is a highly successful and innovative businessman and patron of South African arts, and his brief is that you come up with a ‘signature piece’ that is an annex to an existing weekend retreat on the Vaal river, then your solution can never be far from Elphick Proome Architects’ Vaal studio. This is even more so when there is a desire to use steel and the need to preserve the existing trees on site.
One of the expectations of anyone when told about the location of the project would be that there is much physical and visual contact with the riverside environs. This however was not the case. Instead, what drove the Architect was the need to create a conceptual notion of a sculpture set in the veld (open uncultivated grassland in Southern Africa). The result was a dramatic studio with an angular skeletal roof element set on a series of solid ‘boxes’ expressed in contrasting materials (corten and concrete).
A windowless kitchen and minimal bathroom from the enclosure to the East and an existing garage to the South; the two solid elements being articulated with a simple entrance and a cantilevered canopy. The north bay is entirely glazed which not only serves the function of allowing winter sunlight into the house, but also allows good views to a bronze sculpture on the outside.
On the Western side is a glass wall plane with a freestanding chimney and anchored with a linear tilted steel wing. Morning light filters through the canted clerestory of the truncated floating roof which expands spatially from the entrance northwards. Connection to the exterior is created to the northern veld and to the west courtyard’s timber deck. The quality of the assemblage is spatially and formally electric, intending to challenge the senses at every turn.
Steel Construction Magazine (vol. 32), Aug 2008 gives an overview of the studio’s materials. Raw finishes contrasting slick, seamless components create a powerful dialectic and visual feast in this composition where steel is intentionally the celebrated material. Corten steel plates deployed for wall cladding and oxide accelerated mild steel members for the skeletal roof structure combine in a highly tactile fashion to envelope this building. The roof is crafted from thin steel plates, accentuating its planar quality and the dynamic form it delivers.
Ceilings are also of steel plate to extend the eaves plane into the interior, while the ribbed quality of the expressed roof structure delivers an attenuating rhythm to the studio space. Primary steel beams are treated in a blunt and utilitarian manner to convey the brute strength of the material. This, juxtaposed with carefully shaped rafters and sprockets and plated overhangs, generates a visual tension and heightens the importance of materiality. Secret fixed plain corten panels provide refined rich oxide walls which shield the studio into its veld and verdant landscape.