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new film chronicles SAOTA and jaco booyens' restoration of 18th-century buffelsdrift farm

the award-winning restoration of Buffelsdrift in south africa

 

In a new exclusive film shared with designboom, visitors are guided inside the ensemble of heritage buildings on Buffelsdrift, situated in the arid Klein Karoo region of South Africa‘s Western Cape, which underwent an award-winning restoration by SAOTA and architect Jaco Booyens. Their collaboration led to the recent recognition of their work with a gold medal at the International Domus Restoration and Conservation Award in 2019, acknowledging excellence in restoration, redevelopment, and landscape recovery. Located beneath the Swartberg mountain range, the restoration covered a cluster of Cape buildings—a main house, two barns, a wine store, and several other structures. SAOTA director Greg Truen, who acquired the farm in 2016, highlighted the careful restoration of these buildings, preserving the original integrity while integrating modern adaptations like kitchen and bathroom upgrades.

new film chronicles SAOTA and jaco booyens' restoration of 18th-century buffelsdrift farm
Buffelsdrift farm revived by SAOTA and Jaco Booyens | all images © Adam Letch

video © Tatjana Meirelles Penfold

 

 

how saota and booyens followed heritage building techniques

 

During restoration, SAOTA (more here) and Booyens (and here) followed the original construction techniques of Dutch settlers, employing mud or clay walls layered with sand and grit. The approach involved contemporary architectural experiments, utilizing similar heritage materials and methods, such as poured mud walls and brick vaulted roofs. Landscape redesigns incorporated low terraces, emphasizing the historical context of the property. The farm’s origins, dating to the mid-1700s, reflect the region’s history, transitioning from crop farming to ostrich farming during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Due to changing markets and environmental challenges, the subsequent economic shifts impacted the valley from prosperity to decline. Today, olives are the prominent crop in the area.

new film chronicles SAOTA and jaco booyens' restoration of 18th-century buffelsdrift farm
the site includes a main house, two barns, a wine store, and several other structures

 

 

Architectural historians like Roger C. Fisher have provided insights into the Buffelsdrift buildings’ construction techniques and historical transformations, identifying original features and subsequent modifications. Detailed observations reveal the evolution of the structures, from simple thatched cottages to expanded, adapted homesteads. He describes in detail: ‘This mud must be ‘well-tempered’, sufficiently stiffened to be able to stand alone up to 300mm in height without slump. This was prepared at the same time as the foundations were being laid, and would leaven for about seven days, deemed ready when a ball made from it, when thrown to the ground, retained its shape. The cob was delivered to the builder on pitchforks, who then piled it in courses of about 300mm, all built over a good stone or slate foundation. Each layer was allowed to set and then paired to an even surface with a flat paddle, much as that used as a pizza oven shovel.’

new film chronicles SAOTA and jaco booyens' restoration of 18th-century buffelsdrift farm
dating to the mid-1700s, the farm reflect the region’s history

 

 

balancing natural materials with a modern design

 

The SAOTA and Booyens sought to preserve Buffelsdrift’s historical authenticity while introducing contemporary comforts. Original features like yellowwood beams and ceilings were restored, and where needed, replacements were made using materials consistent with the era. The thatched roofs, which had beams, ropes, and even tufts of the original thatching intact beneath the corrugated iron, were re-thatched to enhance the building’s aesthetic and climatic comfort. The interiors are carefully balanced, preserving historical textures and integrating modern conveniences. Poplar planks replaced rotted timber floors, stone pavers were used for flooring, and contemporary additions like skylights were incorporated for natural light. The kitchen received a modern island, echoing the original materials’ essence, and a double-sided fireplace was added between the kitchen and lounge. Innovative landscaping techniques were also implemented, such as terracing with traditional Cape building materials and adding a stone swimming pool fed by a borehole. The exterior lighting and lanterns were custom-made, drawing inspiration from Cape architectural traditions.

new film chronicles SAOTA and jaco booyens' restoration of 18th-century buffelsdrift farm
SAOTA and Booyens followed the original mud or clay walls technique layered with sand and grit

 

 

The restoration of the Buffelsdrift farm also extended to the wine store on the property, where the ground floor was reorganized for living space, and a mezzanine level was introduced for the bedroom and bathroom. A new steel staircase, contrasting yet respectful of the original structure, was a contemporary addition, allowing seamless access between the levels. Furthermore, SAOTA’s Truen and Booyens looked to Mexican architecture, incorporating historical references and colors into the exterior design. This dialogue between Cape and Mexican architectural elements was evident in various aspects of the landscaping and external features. The new pump house, constructed using traditional techniques, showcased innovative building methods adapted to the local climate and materials. Thick earth-colored walls, a vaulted brick roof, and a vegetation-covered structure integrated contemporary design with vernacular elements.

new film chronicles SAOTA and jaco booyens' restoration of 18th-century buffelsdrift farm
the new landscaping echoes the farm’s vernacular features

 

 

Overall, SAOTA and Jaco Booyens’ uplifting touch to the Buffelsdrift project emphasizes the marriage of heritage preservation and contemporary design, emphasizing sustainability and sensitivity to the site’s historical significance. ‘For me it was a really interesting experience to go and find materials on site, and then build something that is so fundamentally in tune with the climate and performs so much better than any contemporary building,says Greg Truen. ‘There are definitely lessons there.’

 

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new film chronicles SAOTA and jaco booyens' restoration of 18th-century buffelsdrift farm
the project is situated in the arid Klein Karoo region of South Africa’s Western Cape

new film chronicles SAOTA and jaco booyens' restoration of 18th-century buffelsdrift farm
SAOTA and Booyens preserved Buffelsdrift’s composition of natural materials

buffelsdrift-saota-designboom-full

new film chronicles SAOTA and jaco booyens' restoration of 18th-century buffelsdrift farm
emphasizing the marriage of heritage preservation and contemporary design

new film chronicles SAOTA and jaco booyens' restoration of 18th-century buffelsdrift farm
original features like yellowwood beams and ceilings were restored

new film chronicles SAOTA and jaco booyens' restoration of 18th-century buffelsdrift farm
bedroom area

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