River Retreat, Camps Bay

Mark Thomas Architects

A variously sloped site, heavily wooded, with a perennial mountain stream running diagonally through it, may not be the most promising of architectural propositions, but this unique project overcomes all possible hurdles with great aplomb. The street entrance offers no clue as to the nature of the difficult terrain. Entry is gained via an informal open-air off-street parking area, and a short walk across a bridge, descends gently towards the front entrance.

It was a deft solution to site the building close against the erf border in the larger triangular section, enabling beautiful garden and mountain views diagonally back, across the stream. A small entrance hall features a foot or shoe bath with replaceable lid, an unexpected utilitarian feature, here raised to a sort of luxury. This surprise element sets the anticipatory tone for the rest of the house, which culminates in the discovery of the tower, with egg-shaped footprint, set at a slight tangent to the main house, containing bedroom spaces on two levels. Access to the tower is gained via mini bridges through a transparent (fully glazed) passage section, an interior design conceit, elaborating wittily on the external garden bridge idiom. Materials used for the main house are principally natural: recycled brick and timber, with irregular slasto floor paving. As sensory contrast, the tower is clad in wooden shingles. The intimate scale of the footprint is offset by higher-than-normal ceilings, and copious and well-judged picture windows at every level, enhancing the delightful inside-outside character of this project.

The design may be described as semi open plan, with most interior spaces having the potential of switching from mixed-use to something more specific. The house extends to naturally shaded seating areas behind the house and across the stream. The sophisticated spatial articulation throughout the entire building and terrain is characterized by a playful sense of expectation and surprise; beyond doubt an architectural gem.

Architect and Principal Agent: Mark Thomas

Structural Engineer: Alten Hulme; Main Contractor: Kaashif Toefy

Garden Designer: Franchesca Watson

Steel: Illiano Tavasci

Doors & Windows: Ambassadoor

Joinery: SA Kitchens

Pergolas and Decking: Lumley Hulley

Heating: Greenability / Ecosense

Solar Power:Northface Solar