Environment Response Architecture (ERA Architects) were approached by a client with a very exciting and challenging request. The client wanted a Johannesburg home that has a unique and intriguing look, but most importantly could also function if the Johannesburg municipality should fail completely; a luxury home that offered comfortable living no matter what the weather.
The project took a lot of design research and innovation but once completed, makes a unique aesthetic statement as well as being environmentally sustainable. When stepping off Johannesburg’s streets through the gates, guests are welcomed by a wonderfully lush garden and a beautifully curved and majestic stone walled east façade with a cube of lush green planting floating above the heavy stone.
A semi-circular driveway flows from both entrance gates around the left side of the home leading guests to the front door and into its heart; an airy and naturally lit triple volume foyer. Stretching through the middle of the home the foyer opens up into the garden through a carefully designed planted steel structure.
Each element of house Jones has been designed to not only have an exciting appearance but to serve a purpose. Wrapped around selected parts of the exterior, planted steel cages create what the architect, Ken Stucke calls “bubbles of micro-climates” that serve to open interior spaces up and connect them to the exterior space. These “bubbles” are moderated micro-climates that provide an intermediate zone for the living areas to open onto. They work the same way as forests do; creating cooler spaces in summer and warmer in winter.
Providing perfect shade & sun
The creeper plants were carefully selected to block out the harsh summer sun and pro
vide shading, but to shed their leaves and allow winter sun in to warm up the house. Three cooling towers employing evaporative cooling also provide the home with cool fresh-air ventilation during the harsh summer and in winter solar heated water is used in the underfloor heating, to warm up the house.
To make sure that the home does not lose its coolness in summer and the warmth in winter, the cavity walls and floor were insulated and double glazed windows were used. Throughout the home these large windows provide lots of pleasant light, to naturally light interior spaces during the day.
The home’s design and its comfort strategy create a rugged, industrial yet elegant look that complements its natural surroundings.
PV panels power the home
To accomplish the client’s goal of having a home that is completely autonomous ERA put a series of systems in place. Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels on the roof generate electricity that powers the home during the day and pushes any extra electricity back into the grid, with a backup generator if Eskom power should fail during the evening; no batteries are used. This lowers the electricity consumption of the home drastically. In the interior of the house only low energy LED lights are used and only gas stoves and ovens for heating purposes.
During the rainy season House Jones collects rainwater from the roof in storage tanks that is filtered and used inside the home for non-potable purposes. These tanks are maintained at a minimum level, in winter by means of a borehole, waiting for the rains to re-fill them again. There are three taps in the home with municipal supply for potable water and cooking purposes. All of the water used in the home, including municipal water, is filtered in a three stage system on site.
Having environmental issues close at heart, house Jones also makes sure to take care of any waste it might produce, by recycling water that is used in the house. All waste water flows into a septic tank then through an aerobic digester and into the wetland. The wetland works as another filtration system before the water is finally stored in a 60 000 litre dam and used for irrigation.
Like most features in House Jones even the garden has a hidden and very clever agenda. The vegetation was selected and the dam and wetland were designed to attract birds, insects and even frogs, creating a charming and well balanced ecosystem. Throughout the garden, cool and tranquil little spaces can be found that are screened off by strategically planted vegetation.
A home is not just considered green by being self-sustainable and efficient; in this case being green starts much earlier. During the construction process ERA put clauses in place to ensure that the building process has as little as possible impact on the environment.
These clauses ensured that all waste was sorted and recycled and that the soil of the property was not allowed to be contaminated with cement mixing and cleaning etc. The original home was carefully soft stripped and all reusable materials such as electric and sanitary fittings, timber and roof was donated to charity. After demolition all rubble was crushed on site and re-used as backfill and to raise the building platform.
To truly create a home that cares not only for itself but for its environment, it must embrace a symbiotic relationship with its environment for a healthier, greener lifestyle. House Jones achieves this with ease and style.
By Annél Knobloch January 2014