Reflections on design and building

Reflections on design and building
Design and Building, Nico van der Meulen Architects

I was joking with a client the other day, wishing we would have fun on their project, but also warning them that building is hard work, entailing sweat and tears.

This made me think of what Ayn Rand said about building your own home:

Most people build as they live—as a matter of routine and senseless accident. But a few understand that building is a great symbol. We live in our minds, and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form. For the man who understands this, a house he owns is a statement of his life. If he doesn’t build, when he has the means, it’s because his life has not been what he wanted.”

She also said:  “A building has integrity, just as a man and just as seldom!   It must be true to its own idea, have its own form, and serve its own purpose!”.

These are meaningful statements, and applies to many of our clients who achieved a lot in their lives, and express it in the home they want.   This makes the sweat and tears and years of effort worthwhile, as one appreciates everything more when you consider the effort that went into it.  As I often say to my clients, you don’t have to build the biggest and grandest house, you should rather concentrate on the quality of the design, workmanship and materials.

I think this is what makes many of our projects special, the thought and attention to detail, the functionality and beauty of something properly considered and refined, tempered by many years of experience and thought, and also the willingness to learn and improve.

The most precious things are often the smallest, and to design a small, functional, understated, but beautiful building, often takes more creative effort than designing the grand edifices where money is no object. Many of the modern classics are quite small, for instance the Barcelona Pavilion, the Farnworth House, etc.

A big part of the correct design hinges around the orientation of the building in relation to the sun and views.

Design and Building, Nico van der Meulen Architects
Design and Building, Nico van der Meulen Architects

To achieve real quality may entail reducing the bulk, curating the interiors, but increasing the value of what you build.   Every once in a while, people plan these elaborate structures for their children to enjoy with them, but by the time the building is finished the children have flown the coop!   This leads to the empty nest syndrome when people sell homes they love because it is just far too big for them and the upkeep becomes a burden.

When planning a home one should not think about how you live today, but consider how you will live in the next five to ten years.  It is also important to consider what the future occupants of the home may value, and not create something so idiosyncratic that nobody will want to buy it.

Even though many clients believe they’ll live in their home forever, circumstances  change and you have to achieve the best price for you home.

Also consider how your home or any building will fit into the fabric of the area where you want to build. Even though you may love a particular style or era, if it is completely out of sync with the neighbourhood, it will stand out like a sore thumb, reducing your eventual selling price.

A personal example: When we started renovating the ruin that became our home in Italy we were upset with the authorities who insisted that we should have a traditional Umbrian staircase on the outside leading to our guest suites. Now we are very pleased by it, for it makes it possible to close this area off when we do not have guests, but also gives our guests privacy when they are visiting, and leaving us with a far smaller home when we are alone.

Cic 02 05 BW Cicaleto Before 116rev E1665143415183, Nico van der Meulen Architects
Cic 03 05 With Insert, Nico van der Meulen Architects

Welcome to the third quarter of 2022. We have passed the mid-way mark, changing of seasons, and what a year it has already been. From the COVID 19 pandemic lockdown, to ‘mask free’, Ukrainian crisis, to the ever-constant chase for climate change initiatives… we continue to adapt, welcoming new projects and returning clients alike.

01. AM Lodge Main Building No Logo, Nico van der Meulen Architects

In a recent workshop, Nico shared writer and philosopher Ayn Rand’s thoughts on building your own home:

“Most people build as they live as a matter of routine and senseless accident. But a few understand that building is a great symbol. We live in our minds, and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form. For the man who understands this, a house he owns is a statement of his life. If he doesn’t build, when he has the means, it’s because his life has not been what he wanted.”

Nico’s sentiment, which applies to many of our clients who achieved a lot in their lives, and express it through the act of creating a well-designed and crafted home. This makes the sweat, tears and years of effort worthwhile as one appreciates everything that much more when one considers the journey it has taken to get there.

Design and Building, Nico van der Meulen Architects

Currently, in the final stages of completion, we are inspired by Residence S and Culross Residence, which we look forward to sharing with you soon.

In Steyn City, KAHB residence is approaching a key milestone at roof level, and Riverglen Residence construction has commenced with basement excavations. House in Southern Africa is proceeding with co-ordination, and House Wonder in Mooikloof is ‘closing up’ and installing glazing in preparation for finishing stages.

03 2. GREAVER NORTH PERSPECTIVE NIGHT NO HEDEGS, Nico van der Meulen Architects

From the planning and compliance desk, projects approaching tender, submission, approval at council and various estates includes Project 637 in Pearl Valley, Constantia Residence, House KHAY’ELISHA near Durban, Netshi villa in Steyn City, LATM Residence in Blue Hills and Mod in Waterkloof.

04 14 CONSTANTIA 15 Photo Min, Nico van der Meulen Architects

As a design office, we believe in a seamless and considered transition from exterior to interior through collaboration with our sister company M Square Lifestyle Design. Most projects on our website share this ‘total design’ philosophy (more here: https://www.nicovdmeulen.com/services/ ). Currently Bayview Residence in Hartenbos and Bryanston Residence are finalising their first approved interior design phases.

05 MBA REV 01 MAIN SUITE 01, Nico van der Meulen Architects

Within the same transition, we have two exciting leisure projects in progress, one of which is the exclusive, five-star, tented AM Lodge Manyeleti near the Kruger National Park. From a commercial aspect we are finalising Araneidae in Pretoria and commencing with an office redesign in Sandhurst.

07 BAYVIEW 04, Nico van der Meulen Architects

Internationally, one of our villa proposals is in the marketing phase in Luštica Bay, while Kitisuru in Nairobi is proceeding well in the tender process. In our next Newsletter we’ll be sharing our design progress on a restaurant in Malawi, a bespoke family home in Zambia and two ‘gifted’ projects – one in Dar es Salam and the other in Zimbabwe.

08 LUSTICA BAY VILLA South Perspective No Logo, Nico van der Meulen Architects

The practice also featured in the CEO AFRICA FORUM 2022 Magazine and look forward to more exciting projects online – follow us on Instagram and Facebook to view our latest projects.

With a nod to Women’s month, we end off with another AR quote: “A building has integrity, just as a man and just as seldom!  It must be true to its own idea, have its own form, and serve its own purpose!”.

09 4. BELE CLOSED, Nico van der Meulen Architects

Margot

for and on behalf of Nico, Werner, Michael, Chris and Justin