“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
The post War suburban experiment has had a dramatic impact on urban form, the livability and performance of many cities. South Africa’s peculiar sub-urbanism and its mainstream popularity has created limited spaces of experimentation for compact urbanism and the conscious creation of seamless neighborhoods and communities.
3 in 1 House in De Waterkant of Cape Town is an exemplar of compact urbanism, partly defined by the character of the neighbourhood, but by the inventiveness of the architecture which maximizes spatial opportunity where the average design eye would not have recognized and unleashed its potential.
The façade is a largely unadorned stock-brick assembled in a cubist manner – complete with niches and sheathes of light and dark – that from first encounter is somber and abstract. It belies the temptation to create a readily consumed picturesque streetscape, in favor of a curious arrangement of skin and skeletal spaces; a puzzle of depth that inspires curiosity from afar. Penetrating the skin of the building reveals a series of rectilinear volumes – carved horizontally and vertically – connected with a square spiral stair that draws light down the full height of the architectural edifice. A limited palette of light woods, black steel and crisp detailing is reminiscent of the Scandinavian movement; indeed, the street façade has echoes of the conceptual austerity and delight of Saynatsalo by Alvar Aalto.
The architectural strategy is not only a noteworthy contribution to the mastery of spatial planning and internal proportion, it succeeds in creating credible alternatives to livable and delightful urbanism, and is thus an important contribution to the densification of cities through the power of architecture.