House of the Big Arch


Completely Off-Grid

Here amidst the Waterberg mountains, and home to a retired veterinary couple, sits an incredible abode ‘House of the Big Arch,’ created to have as minimal an impact on its breath-taking environment as possible. Occupying a unique place in a nature reserve among landscapes of plants, trees, cliffs and impressive wildlife, we find this architectural beauty. Evidently this residence speaks to the thrill-seeker and environmentalist in all of us, wanting to be as close to nature as possible without impacting the surrounding environment. 

The homeowners are both retired veterinarians who have a deep connection to animals and nature and wanted to feel part of the environment, so architectural firm Frankie Pappas, set out to design this unique and exquisite masterclass of off-grid living. 

02 HotBA HouseAerial EntranceFacingWest 1x1 ©FrankiePappas


The clients asked for a home that disappears into the Waterberg mountains landscape; that sits amongst the rocks and trees and birds; that offers animals and plants and humans equal opportunity to find shelter; that treats the bushveld with its deserved respect.


The underlying concept was to bridge the landscape between riverine forest and sandstone cliff, whilst raising the living space into the tree canopy. Amongst the abundant arboreal life, the building is organised as one long thin building which slots between the forest trees. The shapes of the additions to the central building are dictated by the position and size of the surrounding trees (not one tree was demolished during the construction of this home).


The building makes use of a very simple set of materials which all play their part in making the building integrated into its landscape. The most abundant material is a rough stock brick which was selected to match the site’s weathered sandstone. The ‘bridge’ portions of the building are constructed from sustainably-grown timbers, whilst glass and aluminium fill in the non-structural wall.


The first floor offers to its inhabitants a planted courtyard, a reclusive lounge, a sunlit dining room, a farmhouse kitchen and scullery, a tree-shaded deck, a small pool and a fireplace – around which most of the cooking and living occurs. The ground floor provides even more courtyards, a study, library and a small swing bench under the arch. The cellar creates a climate conducive to curing meats, storing food supplies and ageing wines.


Frankie Papas designed an incredibly thin building – 3300mm wide – this allowed them to thread the building through the treescape any funky bulges and protrusions in the plan of the building were dictated by where trees allowed them to build in order to further ensure that no tree would be harmed. They laser-scanned the entire site and then converted this information into a digital 3D model so that they could see every tree and every branch when making critical design decisions. The building was in essence designed in and amidst a digital forest


The clients, being an elderly couple, whose love and knowledge of the bushveld is extraordinary and inspiring. Every tree and bush and insect and bird and mammal is a personal friend of theirs. They are enthusiastically involved in the environmental education of underprivileged youngsters from the surrounding areas opening up their farm to- and sharing their experience with -these kids. When asked why they are so involved, their answer is typically salt-of-and-down-to-earth: ‘there is too much beauty here for us to use up all by ourselves’.


This building is a careful and direct response to this particular portion of this particular riverine forest of this particular portion of the Waterberg, of this particular portion of the bushveld. This architecture could exist nowhere else in the world.


The entire house is off-the-grid – completely and utterly.  Water from the roof is collected and filtered through the forest, black and greywater is stored and processed before being filtered by the undergrowth, energy is harvested by 16 sqm of solar panels, but, more important than this is that the architecture works with its environment to create breeze and shade and comfort which allows it to have minimal energy demands. 

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