red concrete screens envelop SAOTA's upper albert family home in cape town

red concrete screens envelop SAOTA's upper albert family home in cape town

SAOTA’s Philip Olmesdahl completes his family home in cape town

 

Architect Philip Olmesdahl, principal at architecture studio SAOTA, had been living near the site of his new Cape Town family home, Upper Albert, in the city bowl for more than 15 years, admiring it, before he managed to secure it for himself. Being his own client offered Philip the opportunity to push boundaries – combining wisdom earned designing houses with SAOTA over the years with something more whimsical and experimental. ‘When architects design their own homes,’ he says, ‘they can have a bit more fun; they can be a little bit less intellectual.’

 

The corner site he secured was steep and had an ‘unmemorable’ 60s ranch-style house in the center of a large garden, as was typical of the garden suburbs of the era. Philip points out, however, that the City of Cape Town’s densification strategy in this area presented new possibilities. In response, he subdivided the property along a contour. He redeveloped it to create a five-bedroom family home on the upper section and two four-bedroom rental apartments on the lower. ‘The objective was to create a single house that enjoyed the city’s activity and energy,’ he continues. At the same time, he sought to recreate something of the spirit of a single standalone house in a garden suburb for a changed urban context. 

red concrete screens envelop SAOTA's upper albert family home in cape town
all images © Adam Letch 

 

 

upper albert combines a podium with multi-program levels

 

Conceptually, the relationship between the main Upper Albert house and the accommodation below, separated by a shared wall, references the row houses that historically characterize the area. When it came to designing the main dwelling, however, instead of a garden on the ground level, Philip and his SAOTA team extended the footprint of the house right out to the setbacks to create a podium on the lower two levels. The podium includes garages with a gym, guest and staff accommodation, and utility rooms. The upper two levels are dedicated to the living space, which, from that height, can take maximum advantage of the spectacular views of the city. The third level accommodates the living area and a covered outdoor terrace. Four ensuite bedrooms plus a small lounge and study occupy the uppermost level, including a generous office for Philip and a yoga studio for his wife.

red concrete screens envelop SAOTA's upper albert family home in cape town
Philip Olmesdahl from SAOTA completes his family home, Upper Albert

 

 

cladding the house in red concrete & terracotta breezeblocks

 

From the street, the boundary walls and plinth are finished in grey stipple plaster, a reference to Cape Town’s mid-century residential buildings and associated with the campus of the University of Cape Town and its prominent place in the city’s architectural heritage. However, the building’s primary identity is imparted by the distinctive red-pigmented off-shutter concrete of the upper levels, especially the angled pre-cast concrete screens mounted on steel frames, which provide shading and privacy for the extensive façade glazing. The choice of color, Philip says, was partly based on memories of a trip he and his family took to Mexico. He also repurposed terracotta breezeblocks that formed part of the old boundary wall, which, he explains, ‘were ‘removed, stored, sandblasted, brought back and built into the structural steel screen‘. The color, however, also expresses and emphasizes the raw materiality and texture of the concrete. 

red concrete screens envelop SAOTA's upper albert family home in cape town
seamlessly blending indoor and outdoor

 

 

open-plan space where natural materials & modern design unite

 

Internally, the house’s character is best exemplified by the main living space, which has been conceptualized as a large, open-plan area that takes in the living room, kitchen, and dining rooms. These constitute a series of overlapping, interconnected spaces, a distinctive feature of SAOTA-designed homes, forming a flowing platform for living. The architect describes the space as a ‘contrast of crisp lines, clean geometries and tactile finishes’ where natural materials and contemporary aesthetics combine to create a homey space. Lighting, too, is fundamental to the living space experience, with soft illumination washing over the upper floor. The screens filter the light, but skylights, south-facing clerestories, and even high windows in the stairwell, which catch the late afternoon light, are thoughtfully positioned. While artificial lighting is unnecessary during the day, at night, Philip has been sure that light falls in ‘warm pockets’ to create variance, often employing freestanding lights.

red concrete screens envelop SAOTA's upper albert family home in cape town
natural materials and contemporary aesthetics create a comfortable setting

 

 

The seamless fusion of the interior and exterior spaces, separated only by floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors that disappear entirely when opened, impart a palpable sense of place. Inspired by Ricardo Bofill’s famous house built in a converted cement factory, where the landscape seemingly invades the building, Philip introduced a wild, overgrown character to Upper Albert, creating a vision of happy co-existence of architectural and organic elements.

 

The interiors introduce a new dimension of complexity and interest to Philip’s engagement with materials, often including extensive research and development, innovation, and collaboration. The materials he’s chosen for the interior finishes unfold as a thoughtful dialogue with the living heritage inherent in the skills of artisans and craftsmen. The polished polymer concrete floor, for example, used extensively over the living room, floors, staircases, and exterior paving, is made with a green stone aggregate that is a byproduct from the historic copper mines in the Namaqualand area in the Western Cape. In some areas, Rustenburg granite is used for paving and local sandstone pavers around the pool and outdoor dining area.

red concrete screens envelop SAOTA's upper albert family home in cape town
a whimsical and experimental desgin overtakes Upper Albert in Cape Town

 

 

Solid stone features prominently in furniture pieces, too. Paarl granite, for example, was used for the striking four-piece server in the living room, a console in the master bedroom, and the basins, all crafted by JA Clift, a third-generation stone mason in Paarl known for their work on the Afrikaans Language Monument.  Other heritage finishes referencing the 50s and 60s include the hessian wall. The timber lattice ceiling design (a lightly stained locally hardwood, Meranti, which complements the cast concrete screening) adds richness and a sense of continuity between inside and out. This fusion of SAOTA’s exploratory engagement with materiality and heritage, in conjunction with the bold aesthetics of Upper Albert, proposes a creative solution to the city’s shifting urban context while making a striking addition to the suburban landscape.

red concrete screens envelop SAOTA's upper albert family home in cape town
four ensuite bedrooms plus a small lounge and study occupy the uppermost level

upper-albert-saota-designboom-full-2

red concrete screens envelop SAOTA's upper albert family home in cape town
a mix of materials weave through every floor of Upper Albert

red concrete screens envelop SAOTA's upper albert family home in cape town
corridor view

upper-albert-saota-designboom-full-3

red concrete screens envelop SAOTA's upper albert family home in cape town
solid stone features prominently in furniture pieces

red concrete screens envelop SAOTA's upper albert family home in cape town
pre-cast concrete screens envelop the Upper Albert dwelling by SAOTA

red concrete screens envelop SAOTA's upper albert family home in cape town
a suburban house amid a wild, overgrown landscape

upper-albert-saota-designboom-full-4

 

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project info:

 

name: Upper Albert   
location: Cape Town, South Africa
architecture studio: SAOTA @_saota
SAOTA team: Riaz Ebrahim, Anthony Whitaker, Michelle Mills, Casey Hunter
interior design: ARRCC 
ARRCC team: Mark Rielly, Nina Sierra Rubia, Anna Katharina Schoenberger, Amy King
structural engineering: Moroff & Khune
quantity surveyor: Meyer Summersgill          
main contractor: Red Sky Projects          
lighting consultancy: Martin Doller Design
landscape design: Reto Mani Garden Services
photographer: Adam Letch@adamletchphoto
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