Completion Date: December 2014


Swartberg House, Prince Albert, South Africa
Openstudio Architects

This passive solar house on the edge of the Great Karoo desert in South Africa acts as a poetic and flexible agricultural object - a harvester of light and air - which is adjusted by its inhabitants in response to the changing natural elements.

In the light and intense heat of summer the thick-walled house can be shuttered, while in winter the large openings act as suncatchers, allowing the dark brick floors to radiate the stored warmth of the sun in cool evenings.

The 230m2 house was built by local builders, and was completed for less than £200,000. It uses a limited palette of robust materials, which connect to the previous use of the site as a sheep farm – brick-on-edge floors, ash, local roughcast, lime-washed plaster and white ceramic tiles.

The shifted geometries of the plan are a consequence of arranging the spaces in response to the surrounding landscape: the volumetrically differentiated rooms are inflected relative to one another in order to capture specific views of the mountains and grasslands.

The day/night, light/dark character of the house is emphasized by large glazed ash doors, which slide away into roughcast plaster walls, and small scattered openings, which allow shafts of light to penetrate into shadows, and are configured according to the positions of stars in constellations visible from the upper roof terraces.

The large elevated roof terraces act as a modulated raised ground surface. They foreground far views of the mountains, and bring the inhabitants closer to the clear, star-filled skies.

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