When we first viewed this site, we could not actually see the earth upon which we were treading. The plants ‘in residence’ had been left to have the proverbial party. With plenty to drink (in spite of the recent drought), and undisturbed by the gardener’s sheers, they had multiplied and grown tall, completely obscuring the ground. We gingerly threaded our way through the tall tangle – until we squelched into the mud. At this point, we heard and felt, rather than saw, the lowest point of the property. This was our introduction to what we came to call our Dell Garden.
WHERE IS THE GROUND?
In spite of the disorganised growth and soggy ground, what we could see was an intriguing contemporary home of two geometric ‘pods’ that soared across it all, whilst also being tucked between the canopy of the trees, and overlooking giant granite rocks that wedged themselves against the edge of the dell, like the colossal bones of a petrified dragon. No wet feet for these homeowners – until they descended to the ground.
TWO PODS SOAR ACROSS THE DELL
The rest was simply a mess. The structure of the garden had old-fashioned sandstone walls orientated on the property above this one. Uncomfortable access to the lower reaches of the property was manageable but otherwise the existing structure had no connection to the house now there. Two muddy trenches forming part of the storm-water drainage system ran through the small valley, causing a certain muddy outcome if one ventured too far off the old decking. Between old infrastructure, rocks too huge to move, and mud, something had to be done to get the most out of this site for the new owners.
Luckily, our clients had a strong vision for a lush tropical garden (not too organised), alongside their extensive building renovations, the focus of which was the suspended dining room to be fitted between the two elevated pods. They also wanted to somehow harness the water that would flow naturally through the site to create a feature that would flow over the rocks at will, as it did in a downpour. With the added benefit of a borehole, they would be able to ensure that water could run throughout the year on a recirculating system.
The elevated corridor was our starting point. Cutting across the site at tree height, it provided the above-ground access between one pod and the other, between one side of the dell and the other. We mimicked this line with a series of long stone walls at ground level that served a number of purposes – not least of which enabled the recycling of large quantities of sandstone rock from the old walls, which otherwise would have had to be removed – by hand! They added a measure of order onto a site where it might otherwise have seemed chaotic. Some of our new walls were vehicles for retaining soil, others for bridges across the valley, while others provided informal seating or access into the garden for future management of that rowdy lot of plants.
THE ELEVATED CORRIDOR LINKING THE TWO PODS
NEW NATURAL STONE WEIRS AT WORK
The water feature was our next challenge. As part of the stormwater drainage system of the City, it was important to allow whatever flowed into our feature, to be able to exit the property as well, while at the same time retaining what was needed for a planted pond. At times these flows would be substantial. To ensure that we designed a system that would far outlive any guarantees, we consulted with Kyle Wickens from Peter Wuim Consulting engineers as well as water feature expert, Clive Gilomee of Water in Motion, and waterproofing experts, EPLSA. We were grateful for their willingness to partner with us. Creating weirs in some of the long stone walls that we inserted into the landscape allowed pooling and overflow as needed, while others were of the more natural variety.
No sooner had we finished than it was put to the test. With a deluge from the waterworks upstream cleaning out their reservoir, a flood was sent downstream without warning. We are happy to report that our water feature managed rather well, despite some damage at the incoming boundary line due to debris being caught in the fence.
AFTER: ONE OF THE NEW STONE WALLS ACTING AS BRIDGE AND WEIR OVER THE TOP POND
Architect, Anton de Kock, and the team from Unser Construction re-imagined our concept around the top pond which provided access across the gulley at the foot of another collection of monstrous rocks and implemented some of the more specialised built items.
UNDER CONSTRUCTION: NEW STONE STEPS MOUNTING THE ‘DRAGON’S BONES’ BY CDS TEAM
UNDER CONSTRUCTION: TILING DETAIL ON THE EDGE OF NEW STEPS IMPLEMENTED BY UNSER CONSTRUCTION
The building process was extensive, with the added complexity of architectural add-ons along the way requiring us to continually revise the time-line, allocation of staff and material deliveries, on a site that was difficult to access. It would be an understatement to say that this site was not wheelbarrow-friendly. Every item that had to come off-site, and every item that had to go onto-site, had to be moved by hand. Even a crane was not viable for any length of time due to the number of tree canopies in the way, and the narrow road outside the property. But at last, it was finished, and the clients could move in.
The pods still soar over the garden, but it is now invitingly accessible and one is drawn to take a leisurely wander through the riotous planting, down to the water’s edge, over the weir and along the feet of giant rocks, and then up onto the viewing platform.
INFORMAL PATH AT THE BASE OF MAMMOTH ROCKS
This was indeed a complex site that fully tested our abilities, but a better site to work with and to showcase our design philosophy, which is to work with and enhance the natural rhythms of a site, and our collaborative approach with clients and other professionals, could not have presented itself to our team.
THE NEWLY SUSPENDED DINING ROOM HOVERS OVER THE LUSH NEW GARDEN
At 3 months old, the garden still has some growing-in to do. We look forward to bearing witness to its maturation with an enthusiastic client who will continue to nurture it.
Location: Cape Town
The Project Team:
Contours Design Studio for the design and installation.
John Richardson for turning our plan into a beautiful presentation drawing – a productive partnership for a busy design studio;
Anton deKock for blending our concept into his architectural solutions;
Peter Wuim Consulting engineers
Clive Gilomee from Water in Motion for his expertise in water features and EPLSA for their waterproofing guidance;
Unser Construction for being part of the construction solution and working in partnership with us to get this project done on time.
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