South African Architecture: Design Strategies that Embrace the Elements

Article by Gillian Holl, Founder & Lead Architect at Veld Architects.

While South Africa is one of the sunniest countries in the world, winter can still feel long and unbearable, especially in a building that was built for summer. From province to province, the rich geographies and climates of this country ask architects to step up their game by adopting design strategies that embrace the elements.

Orientation, ventilation, and glazing are key to creating sustainable and comfortable buildings all year round.

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Orientation: Aligning with Nature

Climates in SA are so diverse. From Mediterranean in the Western Cape to subtropical in the northeast, and semi-arid in the northwest – we have it all. As a result, orientation is one of the first and most important decisions an architect can make. But getting it right is about more than just energy efficiency (passive heating). It is also about aligning the building to enjoy the best vantage points of the natural landscape and to improve privacy.

At Veld Architects, we allow the terrain and nature to guide us. By integrating top-tier strategies and cutting-edge technologies, we meticulously select the most suitable and fitting orientation for our residences.

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Ventilation: Allowing a building to breathe

The significance of adequate ventilation in architecture cannot be overstated. Effective natural ventilation ensures a continuous flow of fresh air, improving indoor air quality and enhancing the comfort and health of occupant’s experience. And if there is one thing, we are passionate about building healthy homes.

Generally, proper ventilation is obtained by strategically positioning windows and doors to encourage cross-ventilation and adding chimneys, roof vents, courtyards, skylights, and adjustable louvers. The approach will differ from coastal to inland regions, but the end goal remains the same – encouraging passive cooling allowing a building to breathe.

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Glazing: Bridging indoors and outdoors

One of the most exciting developments in modern architecture is glazing. Double and triple glazing not only allows for expansive windows and glass facades (aka unparalleled beauty!) but also lets a lot of natural light in, minimising heat loss during winter, and curbing heat gain in summer.

Glazing also serves as a bridge between the indoors and outdoors, beautifully framing our landscapes. At Veld, our designs often incorporate large windows and glass facades. This is because it fosters a visual connection with the surrounding environment, which is something we feel strongly about.

Rapid urbanisation and climate change are heating up our cities. Clever design strategies are therefore a must! Architects must design with the environment in mind, and passive heating and cooling is where it all begins.

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