Upper Albert/Sauta Residence
Textual description provided by the architects. Architect Philip Olmesdal, director of Cape Town’s SAOTA studio, had been living near this site in the city bowl for more than 15 years, admiring it, before he was able to secure it for himself. But the timing was perfect. “We needed a more spacious home for my family when the children reached their teenage years,” he says. Being his own client gave Philip the opportunity to push boundaries – combining the wisdom gained in designing homes with SAOTA over the years with something a little more quirky and experimental. “When architects design their own homes, they can have more fun,” he says. They could be a little less thoughtful. This does not mean that the design of his own house is any less rigorous, but rather that Philip can take the opportunity to explore architectural ideas without necessarily feeling the need to make a definitive statement or conclusive theory and weave in personal associations and preferences.
The corner site he acquired was steep and had a “memorable” 1960s farmhouse-style house in the middle of a large garden, as were typical of garden suburbs of the era. However, Philip points out that the City of Cape Town’s densification strategy in this area has presented new possibilities. In response, he divided the property along the contour. He redeveloped it to create a five-bedroom family home in the upper section and two four-bedroom rental apartments in the lower section. “The goal was to create one home that had the energy and energy of the city,” says Philip. At the same time, he sought to recreate something of the spirit of a single townhouse in a garden suburb for a changing urban context.
Conceptually, the relationship between the main house and the accommodation below, separated by a common wall, refers to the row houses that historically characterized the area. When it came to the design of the main house, instead of a garden on the ground floor, Philip extended the space of the house directly into the setbacks to create a deck on the lower two levels. “I wanted to build my garden in the sky,” he says. The podium includes garages with a gym, guest and staff accommodation and utility rooms. The two upper levels are devoted to living space, which, from this height, can make the most of the stunning views of the city. The third level accommodates the living area and a covered outdoor terrace. Four en-suite bedrooms plus a small lounge and office occupy the upper floor, including a spacious study for Philip and a yoga studio for his wife.
From the street, the boundary and base walls are finished in gray plaster, a nod to the mid-century Cape Town residential buildings associated with the University of Cape Town campus and their prominent place in the city’s architectural heritage. However, the building’s essential identity is conveyed by the distinctive red-tinted concrete of the upper levels, especially the angled precast concrete screens mounted on steel frames, which provide shading and privacy to the expansive facade glazing. Philip says the color choice was based in part on memories of a trip he and his family took to Mexico. He also reused the clay blocks that formed part of the old boundary wall, which, he says, were “removed, stored, sandblasted, returned and incorporated into the structural steel screen.”
However, color also expresses and emphasizes the raw material and texture of the concrete. Philippe says that, like many architects, he “loves the way things are built,” and something of this fascination and delight is incorporated into the tactile use of materials and the expressive tectonic elements of the façade. Internally, the character of the house is best embodied in the main living space, which was envisioned as a large open-plan area comprising the living room, kitchen and dining rooms. They form a series of overlapping and interconnected spaces, a hallmark of homes designed by SAOTA, and form a flowing living platform. Philip says that “the contrast between clean lines, clean geometry and tactile finishes” is central to SAOTA’s approach – “the idea of combining contemporary design with natural materials to create an architecturally progressive space that is also a comfortable and happy space to live in.”
Lighting is also key to the experience of the living space: “The entire upper floor is filled with soft light,” says Philippe. Screens, of course, filter light. However, the skylights, the south-facing windows, which let in “moderate and lovely” light, and even the high windows in the stairwell, which catch the late afternoon light, have been carefully positioned. While artificial lighting is unnecessary during the day, at night, Philippe was sure to let light fall into “pockets of warmth” to “create interest” and contrast, often using free-standing lights. The seamless merging of indoor and outdoor spaces, separated only by floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that completely disappear when opened, creates a clear sense of place. As Philippe says, SAOTA’s most successful living spaces are those where the connection between interior and exterior space is direct and uncomplicated.
However, the park contains “beautiful little pockets of space surrounded by landscaping.” Philippe says he “absolutely loves” Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill’s famous house built in a converted cement factory. He has always been fascinated by its simple, generous, flowing spaces, raw materials and how “the landscape seems to invade the building.” The wild and overgrown character of the landscape of Philip’s house forms a vision of the happy coexistence of architectural and organic elements.
The interiors bring a new dimension of complexity and interest to Philippe’s handling of materials, which often involves extensive research and development, innovation, and collaboration. The materials he chose for the interior finishes offer a thoughtful dialogue with the living heritage rooted in the skills of artisans and artisans. The polished polymer concrete floor, widely used in the living room, decking, stairs and outdoor paving, is made from greenstone aggregate which is a by-product of historic copper mines in the Namaqualand region of the Western Cape. Rustenburg granite is used for paving and local sandstone paving around the pool and outdoor dining area in some areas.
Solid stone features prominently in furniture pieces as well. For example, Paarl granite was used in the stunning four-piece server in the living room, the console in the master bedroom, and the sinks, all made by J. A. Clift, a third-generation stonemason in Paarl known for his work on language monuments Afrikaans. Other heritage finishes that nod to the 1950s and 1960s include Hessian wall. The wood lattice ceiling design (a local Meranti-stained hardwood, which complements the poured concrete parapet) adds richness and a sense of continuity between indoors and outdoors. Other elements are more “weird” or sentimental. “The breakfast table in the kitchen was the old dining table,” Philip says. “We modified it and installed it on a stainless steel table.” This fusion of this house’s exploratory engagement with materiality and heritage, combined with its bold aesthetics, proposes a creative solution to the changing urban context of the city while offering a striking addition to the suburban landscape.
(Tags for translation)Architecture