Materials. Now.

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Architecture is not just about design; it’s about selecting the right materials to bring those designs to life for generations to come. We’ve gathered a group of visionaries who are using everything from cork to stone to repurposed tires to create functional and stunning structures that will stand the test of time. Let’s step inside the projects of the people who are making it happen. 

RAMMED EARTH 

Constructing with earthen materials is one of the oldest traditional technologies, and is a sustainable building practice that works hand in hand with nature. We used rammed earth in our project Soil & Serenity — a   material   that   brings   character   to   buildings   through its textures.  

Rammed earth has a low carbon footprint that promotes a cost-effective home with a use of local materials that will be stringent for years to come. It can be directly sourced on site, can be repurposed, supports local workmanship and techniques, requires none to minimal maintenance, and contributes to excellent thermal comfort due to its high density. 

Too often, the natural landscape of a building is only considered in hindsight, losing the powerful connection that exists between a building, the landscape, and the user. To preserve this link with nature, the excavated soil from the site was repurposed and interwoven into the building in layers of rammed earth walls. These unique feature walls subtly yet intentionally mimic the surrounding Magaliesberg mountains and create a main entrance axis that guides users through the home. This beautifully practical   construction   method   pays   homage   to   the   client’s   profession as a geologist. Simple durable and honest, it reduces the design to the point of elemental poetry. 

Gillian Holl 

Director and Professional Architect 

Veld Architects 

HEMPCRETE 

Of all the plant fibres used in construction, hemp is superior from both the ecological perspective as well as the economic one. With most conventional wall construction techniques, you can expect to find multiple layers of different materials each performing only one specific function. For example, a steel framed structure with a composite wall system requires an insulation layer, vapour barrier layer, breather membrane, sheathing layer, and finishing cladding, to name a few. A hempcrete wall can perform all of these functions and, due to the reduced number of connection points between these materials, a more air-tight envelope can be achieved. 

As a lightweight, breathable, vapour-permeable building envelope, it regulates internal relative humidity, eliminating condensation on internal faces. It has excellent thermal insulation values and good thermal mass well above regulation standard, leading to substantial energy savings compared with conventional building technologies. It is microbe, insect, mould, and rot resistant — one square metre of hemp can absorb up to 14 litres of water. Hempcrete is also a carbon negative material, meaning it sequesters CO2 from the atmosphere. About 108kg of CO2 can be locked away as biomass per cubic meter of hempcrete for the lifespan of the building. The material is 100% biodegradable as it is fully organic, and has the potential to be a zero-waste material, as previously used hempcrete can be reused and added to new mixes.  

In our South African context, industrial hemp can be cultivated and harvested in abundance with relative ease. It grows quickly, requires little water, and its farming can be completely toxin-free. In fact, it can even contribute to the phyto-purification of previously contaminated soils. Plus, it has the potential to create a whole new industry and job pool, which is particularly relevant in our country. 

Wolf 

Director and Professional Architect  

Wolf + Wolf Architects and Afrimat Hemp 

CROSS-LAMINATED TIMBER 

An impressive and completely unique engineered timber-pleated façade warmly clads Deloitte’s Cape Town offices. The exterior, executed using XLAM’s Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), gives the building its distinct identity. The site, which was previously a parking lot, is rectangular and orientated at a slight diagonal from north to south. Therefore, the saw tooth angled façade’s job was to correct this by folding the timber or glazing onto a direct north-south to assist with the sun control strategy.  

The carbon savings involved in the use of CLT are significant. It is local, renewable, and highly durable. It requires no additional finishes to interior or exterior, no insulation, is a room temperature material, and ultimately allows the timber façade to improve with time as its weathers and ages.  

Sean Mahoney 

Director and Professional Architect  

studioMAS 

House Elliott
House Elliott by Paul Elliott Architects, Newlands, Cape Town. Photograph courtesy of Danie Nel

CORK 

House Elliott is a cork-clad, mass timber house built on a relatively inaccessible site — the subdivided portion of a house designed by Julian Elliott. 

Mass timber was chosen as the structural building material for its carbon neutral credentials, ease of erection, and health benefits. Due to the location’s inaccessibility, the cross-laminate timber floor, wall, and roof panels were lifted over the existing house using a crane. 

Cork was chosen as the cladding material as it is water-repellant, UV and mould resistant, and has excellent insulation and acoustic properties. Used to clad the walls and the roof, it gives the house a monolithic appearance. 

Paul Elliott 

Director and Professional Architect 

Paul Elliott Architects 

DOUBLE-GLAZED GLASS  

35 Lower Long, an elegant 86-metre glass-clad office tower designed by dhk Architects, is characterised by a singular sculpted massing with dynamic glazed planes that extend seamlessly over the office and parking levels. The two main corners of the building are chamfered towards the roofline and soar upwards, forming a striking wing-like effect, resulting in a distinctive, non-orthogonal addition to Cape Town’s skyline. By extending the façade screens beyond the roof level with parapet sloping, the appearance of soaring shards is created, opposed to an abrupt utilitarian termination.  

In terms of materiality, a glazed façade was selected due to its flush and sculpted reflective form, which is able to conceal both the parking levels and solid spandrels. Not only does glass facilitate an exciting play of light, but it allows for an expressive articulation of the building mass in the screen and shard-like elements.  

The introduction of pixilation on the portions fronting the parking levels, ceiling voids, structure, and internal desk height upstands allows the building to avoid overbearing horizontal bands. The glazed façade allows for unencumbered floor-to-ceiling vistas, further enhanced by glazing with mullions at 2.4-metre-wide centres. This required a high-performance, double-glazed specification with increased internal cill height raised to desk height — reducing both solar gain and radiant heat, which significantly lowered HVAC requirements.  

  

Pierre Swanepoel

dhk Partner and Lead Project Architect

dhk Architects

ASPHALT SHINGLES 

There is a long tradition of architects building bespoke structures for their own use. Freed from the responsibility and constraints of designing for a client, these projects are an opportunity to innovate, to take risks, and to experiment. Gregory Katz’s ‘Armadillo Studio’ is one such project. Built in just three months by the architect and a pair of skilled carpenters, this 80 m² duplex box was designed to house Greg’s practice on the upper story and his wife Caryn’s voice coaching studio below. A number of advanced materials and building technologies were used in the build.  

The structure is of balloon-framed light gauge galvanized steel, supplied by MiTek Industries, wrapped in a black ‘raincoat’ of asphalt shingles from Owens Corning. The unusual application of shingles on all surfaces including vertical ones (shingles are traditionally used only as a roofing material), gives the block-like form its striking, homogenous, sleek appearance. It’s a wonderfully versatile solution: it’s light-weight, waterproof, and UV stable, and it’s flexible enough to form flashings at the corners, eaves, and lintols. Both materials are fully recyclable — although this durable little studio is built for keeps! 

Gregory Katz 

Director and Professional Architect 

Gregory Katz Architecture 

SOLAR TREES 

Dotting the urban landscape of Eastgate Shopping Centre is Batley Partners’ solar tree family: a self-reliant live installation that provides shade, shelter, containment, and a sense of place to the piazza. The trees harness the sun to provide a source of renewable energy to the centre, whilst increasing the public’s awareness of sustainable green methods. 

Inspired by the Baines’ baobabs in the Botswana Nxai Pan National Park, which have been captivating people for centuries as Africa’s ‘tree of life’, these solar trees are designed to encourage community-driven experiences and facilitate social and storytelling culture, just like the baobabs.  

To make the trio look as natural as possible (the tallest tree stands at 13.5 metres), each tree consists of three primary parts: the steel tubular ‘trunk’ and ‘branches’, which allow electrical cables to run through them without being seen, the stainless-steel netting called Jakob Webnet procured in Switzerland, and the solar panel ‘leaves’ that have a life-span of 10 years and can easily be replaced. The hollow steel sections are the most cost-effective components to use, as they offer a good strength-to-weight ratio and are extremely flexible in terms of ‘bendability’. They are also easy to ‘splice’ or join, and can be divided up into components for transportation and installation. In fact, being so large, the trees had to be constructed off-site before being assembled. 

They come alive at night through an intricate array of LED lights that automatously and gradually illuminate based on the diurnal rhythm and energy generation of the day. This system of transferred energy into an autonomous LED feature had not been done before, therefore much research and testing went into the development of a customised electrical and lighting system.  

Edmund Batley 

Principal and Founder 

Batley Partners International 

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House N, Newlands, Cape Town. Photograph courtesy of Sean Gibson  

NAMIBIAN SANDSTONE 

The concept around this bathroom design in a residential refurb was to ground the space with a piece of artwork. A bath to hold the room.  

The decision to use sandstone for this custom bath, titled Gres, was obvious in the stone’s healing benefits as well as being the most durable stone that requires no maintenance. The stone’s thermal mass also makes it a good heat insulator, ensuring bathwater stays at the optimum temperature. We selected the original raw block of Namibian sandstone from the stoneyard — a level of faith required that the inside of the rock would be as beautiful as the outside.  

Chiselled, hand-carved, moulded, and sanded to a smooth ellipse, the hundreds of hours required to perfect this piece of sculpture, and the crane needed to transport it through the house’s large pane windows, warrant its exclusivity. It is a true element of art.  

Nicola Orpen and Hayley Turner 

Founding Interior Designers 

BONE Design Studio 

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Helderberg Environmental Centre, Somerset West, Cape Town 

ECO BRICKS & TYRE WALLS 

Ebesa Architects was appointed to design and construct a new educational facility for City of Cape Town at Helderberg Nature Reserve. The goal was to integrate the building into the landscape by using environmentally-sustainable construction methods and materials. 

Aided by the Natural Building Collective, the inner curved wall and foundations were constructed using rammed earth and repurposed building rubble, and the outer curved retaining wall was constructed from repurposed tyres. This massively reduced the amount of cement needed for construction. A total of 830 recycled truck tyres were used for the tyre wall, which is approximately 40 metres long and 3.4 metres high. Building rubble, sand from other construction sites, and ecobricks (made from plastic bottles filled and compacted with plastic waste), were used to fill the tyres and the internal wall. Natural cob — an environmentally-friendly plaster mix — was also used to cover the ecobricks instead of conventional cement-based plaster. In addition, approximately 176 cubic metres of earth and recycled building rubble were used for the rammed earth walls and foundations.  

Jacqueline Stow 

Director 

Ebesa Architects 

ALUMINIUM COMPOSITE 

This façade-favourite by SVA International is another fantastic addition to the academic honour roll of Nelson Mandela University. The extension to South Africa’s first dedicated Ocean Sciences Campus is wrapped in an aluminium composite curtain wall, giving this sunny Eastern Cape seascape a beautiful effect as sunlight dances through the patterned façade.   

The building is conceptualised as a large internal veranda space articulated as a triple-volume, multi-layered foyer that links the main circulation spine with the more private spaces within. A three-dimensional sun-screen layer further articulates the main building façade while simultaneously defining a unique internal aesthetic through the ever-changing shadow patterns throughout the day. The building structure acts as a stereometric composition between exposed concrete and structural steel, distinctly evident within the main foyer space to create a clear rhythm along the main circulation spine.  

Tony Danev

Associate Architect

SVA International 

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