• Deen Gabriel

Off-grid home threads through a South African riverine forest

When a nature-loving elderly couple tapped South African architecture firm Frankie Pappas to design their new home, they requested a residence with minimal site impact. The architects responded with a site-specific house that operates completely off-grid and weaves between trees to preserve the natural scenery. Built largely of natural materials, the home — named the House of the Big Arch — seems to disappear into the landscape.

Located within the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve between a riverine forest and a sandstone cliff, the House of the Big Arch comprises two main skinny linear volumes joined together at an angle with small additions to the sides. The unusual shape directly responds to the sloped site and the location and size of the surrounding trees. To ensure the preservation of all existing trees, the architects laser-scanned the entire site to create a digital 3D model that informed critical design decisions.

To “bridge the landscape between the riverine forest and sandstone cliff,” the architects constructed the building with rough stock brick matching the color of the site’s weathered sandstone. The “bridge” portions of the home use sustainably grown timber, and the non-structural walls use glass and aluminum. In addition to blending in with the surroundings, the home operates entirely off-grid and follows passive principles for a reduced energy footprint. Water collected from the roof gets filtered and stored for reuse. Greywater, stored separately, also gets processed for reuse. A 16-square-meter solar array provides for all the home’s energy needs.

The House of the Big Arch spreads across three floors, with an underground cellar for storing food supplies, curing meats and aging wines. The ground floor opens up to courtyards and houses a study, library and a small swing beneath the arch at the front of the site. On the first floor, open-plan communal areas connect to a tree-shaded deck and a pool.


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