location: Umdloti, KwaZulu-Natal | architecture: Elphick Proome Architects | interior design: novospace | photography: Karl Beath

Architect / developer George Elphick created his own brief for this unique four villa enclave located on a prime coastal site in Umdloti, north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal. Set on the elevated crest of a dense sub-tropical forested dune, the approach to the property is both enticing and discreet, being framed by a giant milkwood tree in its forest setting.

Each villa spans 550 square metres, undercover totalling 2 200 square metres on a property of 5 200 square metres. Says the architect: ‘This coastal dune site presented the opportunity to create two sets of linked villas, one on the upper zone and the other on a lower platform on the fringe of the forest. The slope condition, view and privacy broadly informed the arrangement and planning of the four villas, generating two building clusters and ultimately a small, private community on a secluded and verdant site.

‘The contours and variant sea view prospects related to elevation informed the angular planning offset and vertical calibration of the levels. This also precipitated the linear response and massing of the building in the landscape to facilitate the built composition.’

The form of the structures is directly generated from this sectional condition and the prevailing coastal climate. Further intrinsic demands resulted in the need to maximise unfettered interior / exterior spatial connections, to create large shading to the extensive glazed areas – plus broad spans – and to stretch the limitations of the material into responsive sculptural forms. The outcome is a dramatic representation of these motivations and a proven success in terms of living in the spaces created, and the powerful form delivered.

After conversion of Land Rights from Single Residential to Multiple Residential, the enclave – as an exclusive group of villas – was created to capitalise on the remarkable environmental quality and the prospect of the site. The architect originally purchased the site to build his own house many years ago and then decided to share the opportunity and develop the site with three other villas.

George Elphick adds: ‘Densification of urban and peri-urban areas is a nationally mandated initiative and this model plays directly into this imperative. Today, shared living on large scale estates is a common security and relatively exclusive lifestyle solution in South Africa, but this scheme intended to reshape and refine this idea into a comparatively minuscule development. Ultimately as the architect, I retained one villa and sold the others to long-standing friends, which has proved a wonderfully workable outcome.’

The composition exhibits a boldly legible, but not overpowering architectural expression that allows the forms to blend into the verdant environs. Enjoying panoramic views of the Indian Ocean, each villa is arranged over two levels, with all living areas extending to elevated covered terraces facing the sea and formally landscaped courtyards on the inland side.

Deep verandas interface family living spaces and swimming pools in private garden courtyards, providing seclusion and protection from prevailing ocean winds. The living spaces are broad and open with stacking sliding glass façades promoting a relaxed coastal lifestyle. This open arrangement effectively creates a living ‘umbrella’ to capitalise on the verdant indigenous landscape and seaside climate.

Architecturally, the villas exhibit a contextual response and crafted aesthetic with wide roof overhangs and extensive glazing characterising the composition. Strong linear forms imbue the architecture with a unique and dramatic quality; the beach, a sub-tropical climate, panoramic ocean views and an east-west solar orientation were significant factors contributing to the final result.

‘This project is specific in its application of off-shutter concrete in local residential architecture,’ says architect George Elphick. ‘Concrete is the primary material and is reflected in a raw form internally wherever it is deployed to retain an honest expression. This material is rarely used as a driver of domestic design solutions and seldom deployed as the primary finish in this context. All materials were carefully selected to be tough enough to withstand the location’s coastal conditions, while imparting a raw and unassuming finish.’

The crafted off-shutter concrete villa structures overtly display extensive and cantilevered roofs. Thinly edged verandas and angled blade walls, also deploying raw concrete, frame each villa to create a perceptible individual identity and to promote privacy. Perforated copper aluminium, stucco and hardwood to secondary elements, serve to animate the buildings and impart a contrasting richness with the constrained palette.

The off-shutter concrete shell of the villas is reflected internally on walls and soffits offset with selected surfaces in extreme white. Polished concrete floors in all spaces and extending verandas outside provide a neutral base, contrasting the warm quality of the natural oak deployed on the stairs and the joinery. The spare quality of the interior spaces of these villas is ultimately designed to frame the azure blue vastness of the Indian Ocean as an ever-present focus on the panoramic horizon.

Architect Elphick maintains that the goal of this project was the conversion of a single site opportunity – usually developed for a standalone house – to share with three other families. Further, to challenge the notion of a secure estate in the form of a very small enclave of four villas.

‘Architecturally, the design drivers were a response to site conditions, context, climate, the desire for simplicity and boldness of form and the generation of a legible series of spaces. This resulted in two sets of linked villas with the upper villas overlooking the lower ones; and a sectional arrangement that maintains and protects the outlook and privacy of all indoor spaces, verandas and outdoor courtyards.’

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