Seven Houses, Parkview, Johannesburg, SA

2008

 

The Seven Houses provides an alternative to traditional suburban housing in its typology, urban design and social make-up. It is a response to a desire by the owners for security and community within a higher-density suburban environment. The scheme responds by creating a richer shared urban environment than that provided by typical suburban stand-alone houses or gated cluster developments in Johannesburg.

The project was initiated by seven families. Three were architects as well as owners, namely Nina Cohen, Lewis Levin and Tami Morris, and the remaining four appointed the architects Fiona Garson (for two units), William Martinson and Pancho Guedes.

Seven houses differs from other cluster developments in that the end-users were both the owners and developers, but more importantly formed a development group through which all important decisions were made. The significant decisions of dividing the sites equitably, attributing to each site its proportion of the costs, obtaining municipal approvals, creating a shared minimal building code, as well as allocating and designing the common spaces, was achieved through a process of extensive collaboration, negotiation and compromise. The resultant architecture is therefore a negotiated environment rather than a single designers vision. It was this very process in fact which came to forge the Seven Houses as a living community.

The site is located on an acre property in the Johannesburg suburb of Parkview. Roads bound the site on three sides with a neighboring house to the east.

Within a short time seven families recognized this as an opportunity to develop a common project. It was necessary to demolish the existing house and create seven new stands according to the needs of the new owners, 5 full- and 2 half-size portions. The full-size portions are approximately 14.5m wide and 50m long, creating stands of approximately 725sqm, and run across the site from its southeast to northwest edges. The half units are 7.25m wide and the same length as the full stands. The end units are slightly wider but have a narrower building area due to setbacks.

Each site gives over two portions of land in the front and back for common areas: the front to create an access road and pavement on the southeastern side, and the back for a common garden on the northwestern side. To activate the road and accommodate the work-at-home condition required by many of the owners, each house has an out-building on the side of the road opposite the main house. The access road is then able to become both a circulation space for cars and an avenue for people. It is the public and shared social space of the scheme. The constantly peopled and surveillance condition of the street also allows for a higher level of security within the scheme.

The common garden on the other side of the units is a more quiet public space or park onto which all the houses face. Alone each unit would have a small garden space; jointly however a huge garden of approximately 1500 square meters is created to accommodate a communal swimming pool and children play areas.

The houses themselves are row houses, each having their own courtyards and roof terraces that provide private outside space and allow light and ventilation into the interiors.  This row house typology reduces the narrow, difficult to use spaces between units. The row house in addition creates the possibility for complete privacy within each unit by reducing such overlooking elements. A gradation of private and public space is therefore achieved - from the social public street to the quieter public garden, and from the private spaces facing these two public sides to the completely enclosed private courtyards.

Importantly too, although the units deliberately share some materials such as face brick, steel and aluminum windows with similar proportions, and a colour pallet, each house has been designed to take different advantage of these and utilise them in a distinct fashion. This difference creates diversity and interest from the street and garden elevations, while retaining a common feel. The houses become demonstrations of the multiple design possibilities within the parameters of an identical site with similar accommodation and social requirements, but distinct presonalities.