This month we explore the concept of Style…
An architecture style is a collection of external influences that shape the materiality, method of construction and form of a building, helping it to be identified and characterized in both historical and design terms. It is a language that is developed from a time and place in history.
Most architecture styles develop, and in many instances become superseded over time as changing fashions, technology, religions, and materials advance, creating new opportunities. Styles are even transposed and superimposed onto one another to create new styles.
However, it should be noted that styles do have a chronological historical order, from Prehistoric architecture through to Renaissance, Tudor, Mannerism, Neo-classical, Arts -and- crafts, and the much-deliberated Modernism.
A style can change and adapt at any time and is often present at the same time as several others, in both a national and global sense. It is either specific to a place, just like wine is specific to its terroir, or it is a language imposed on a place that can be employed internationally.
However, it is not limited to just one place or territory and can spread from its origin to the opposite side of the world depending on its popularity and reach. This often results in its development and transformation into a new or adjusted style.
Over the course of time, styles can be categorized broadly as paradigms – specifically meaning that a set of ideas or perspectives were formulated as a way of looking at something. Thus, when a paradigm changes, we change the way we look at something. The same applies to architecture.
Styles and paradigms have shifted and mutated over the course of history because of the way we viewed it – as our approach changed, styles changed. Architects do not create or shape history, we respond to it, just like we respond to gravity.
When it comes to the choice of style for a new home, it surely is a personal preference just as much as it is an architectural response to time, place, and function. This is clearly visible in the history of our practice, where we have specialized in the high-end residential market for over 30 years, but have touched on so many different styles.
This was down to the ethos of a time and the popularity of one style above another. The place and connectedness of the style to its place also became important, while it also came down to our design instincts to propose a specific style that was in line with end-user expectations.
It is clear that the use of style depends on a few aspects that have already shaped these styles over the course of history. However, employing these styles today comes down to client expectations and requirements as much as it comes down to the architect’s understanding of time and place and the relevance of whichever style.
Considering some of our early work and the Tuscan era in South Africa, there was a deep longing for an architecture that was new and different, and perhaps the foreign allure and romantic appeal of Tuscan, Italian architecture peaked the South African public’s interest.
Tuscan architecture became so popular that it would become the language of every new sprawling suburb or new high-end residential estate. The same applied for Balinese architecture. Although these styles originated in a place and time in a foreign country, the architecture is effectively well-suited to our temperate climate.
Tuscan architecture, with its thick exterior walls for effective thermal massing, its small window and door openings for controlled light, and restrictions against excessive and increased radiation from direct sunlight, was quite ideal for a warm climate such as ours.
Balinese architecture brought us similar approaches with its semi-open plan arrangement and spacious interiors, it led to a mix of Tuscan and Balinese architecture. There may be many arguments for and against this type of architecture and stylistic driven work in South Africa, but it remains a good example of style having an influence.
From our earlier work, it can be seen that we are quite adept at designing work that is of a particular style. In fact, there are numerous estates where clients are purchasing new properties today, which result in such restrictions that leave us with little alternatives but to explore those forgotten styles.
Similarly, we explored some parametric architecture, most prominent in the 1990’s – 2007. We delved into principally modernist architecture, as well as what we like to call, traditional farm-house architecture, which is particularly well suited to South Africa given our rich heritage of farming. This style also varies in response from client to client and place to place. Some farmhouses are traditionally so, gabled pitch slate roof, with stone walls and steel embellishments. Alternatively, some of the farmhouses we have completed and designed are a bit more reserved and reminiscent of Nordic Classicism, where the form and massing of the building takes prominence over the ornamentation.
As a practice it is our firm belief that a well-designed building with good and adequate natural light and well planned indoor/ outdoor organization and connectivity will stay relevant and important for a long time. (If you are interested in the staying power of modern/ contemporary architecture, we wrote an article about it here)
House Fern (https://www.nicovdmeulen.com/house-fern/ )
This home was designed and built-in 1986 in a leafy suburb on a south entry, north facing stand and is still not looking dated at all. It was curated and crafted to suit the slope of the stand, with a multitude of internal levels, and with living conditions all opening up to the northern façade.
Currently we are using a lot of steel, glass, and concrete in our buildings, due to the slender proportions of steel columns resulting in a more open and seemingly light construction, with very good indoor/ outdoor connectedness. Although this architecture may not necessarily be classified as a style, the approach to material, construction and aesthetic categorizes this work as contemporary architecture – architecture of its age and time.
Steel and glass construction with the breakfast room, kitchen and lanai connected to the pool. ( https://www.nicovdmeulen.com/mooikloof-heights/ )
See https://www.nicovdmeulen.com/contemporary/ for typical details of modern/ contemporary architecture using steel, glass and concrete.
In our practice, we are finding that most people prefer and request an open plan house with the kitchen/ family room/dining area/ lanai (covered patio) seamlessly flowing into each other, and the pool positioned right next to the lanai, instead of being positioned at the bottom of the garden. These planning and organizational tools are employed to ultimately deliver on the living requirements from the client, which results in a contemporary home – however, these ideas can similarly be transposed into a different style.
Living room and lanai flowing onto the pool (https://www.nicovdmeulen.com/house-in-blair-atholl/)
In temperate areas during hot summer days, people love spending time outdoors entertaining, swimming and having braais (barbeque). A kitchen that flows onto the lanai means that whoever is in the kitchen is part of the fun and conversation, instead of being stuck in a dark, isolated kitchen somewhere at the back of the house.
Kitchen, pool and lanai on the north-east side of the home. (https://www.nicovdmeulen.com/house-boz/ )
Our kitchens are usually situated on the north-east corner to allow early morning light and sun during breakfast time, while remaining nice and cool during the afternoon when the evening meal is being prepared.
At the same time the kitchen is sunny and warm during winter.
Considering the wide-ranging network of architectural styles, it is clear that style is quite influential on determining the direction a house will take spatially as well as aesthetically. Our approach over the years has shown that we are able to deliver a well-crafted home in very different styles.
Although we live in a time where contemporary architecture has taken center stage, architecture will continue to evolve and develop over time as we respond to history and develop a new approach to making space and architecture.