Cape Town-based practice Noero Architects does not design houses that exceed 150 sq m. It’s a self-regulation that underscores a fundamental studio philosophy. ‘Space is a luxury, a precious resource,’ says studio director Jo Noero. Intrinsic to his design approach are unwavering views about the appropriate ways in which to engage with the South African landscape. ‘In a context as complex as ours, you don’t want to exclude people,’ he says. ‘You can make a perfectly good house in a small footprint. It comes down to quality, not quantity.’

As a result, Noero’s interest was peaked when his clients presented a modest 200 sq m site on the extremity of a rocky peninsula, an hour’s drive from central Cape Town. ‘I liked that it was a small site,’ adds Noero. ‘We made it clear to our clients that we could produce something modest in size that would satisfy them, despite their lofty ambitions.’

That initial conversation took place the best part of a decade ago as strict local planning regulations, including intensive heritage, environmental and architectural legislation impact studies and fraught negotiations, resulted in an unusually protracted design process. Yet the extraordinary delays provided a wealth of time for the studio to hone every aspect of the project that would come to be known as Castle Rock Beach House.

Castle Rock Beach House
Thickened walls wrap around three sides of Castle Rock beach house, built on a rocky peninsula an hour from central Cape Town, while the fourth, glazed wall and mechanised glass roof offer sea and sky views

‘This was never going to be a glass box,’ says Noero, when asked about the design concept. Cookie-cutter glass boxes with expansive terraces proliferate along the Cape coastline. ‘This approach makes no sense, especially since, along with the view and the sun, come the strong South-Easter winds,’ he explains. ‘We decided to create a glass roof and an internalised space where the clients could retreat. So when the wind blows and it is impossible to stay on the beach, one can retreat into the house, close down all sea-facing openings and open the roof, creating an opening to the sky that is protected from the wind.’

The mechanised glass roof is large – 6m x 3m – and has a bespoke solar shade system, which provides additional sun protection and prevents internal heat gain. Thickened walls, which contain all the services, wrap around three sides of the house, with the fourth (glazed) elevation opening up to the view and the beach. However, it’s the roof mechanism that’s the most dramatic gesture. The two curved, concrete beams, which support the steel tracks of the roof, mimic the outstretched arms of a swimmer about to dive into the ocean. ‘They express the pressures of the roof pushing upwards and outwards,’ says Noero. ‘A thrust towards the sea.’

Door open up to the sea
Exterior of the house
A glazed wall opens up to give views of the beach (top), but when the strong south-easterly winds blow, this can be closed and the mechanised glass roof (below) opened, offering sun and wind protection with its bespoke solar shade system

Programmatically, the house is straightforward in its layout. Leveraging the sloping topography of the site, Noero has created a split-level space. From the entrance, you can ascend to the bedrooms on the upper level or drop down to a multipurpose space on the lower level. A dance studio is just one of those purposes.

The white concrete, paint-free walls su est a pre- history, and the house already feels like a long-term fixture. ‘One of the clients had studied archaeology and has a strong interest in rocks and clay,’ says Noero. ‘The clients also wanted a maintenance-free house so the finishes were chosen to reflect time and the effect of the weather on the building. We are hoping the house will melt into the landscape over time.’ The team selected a robust African hardwood timber (Afrormosia, which weathers to a silver-grey colour) for the external cladding and hardy vegetation within the landscape and on the roof, which forms the oft-forgotten fifth elevation.

Open staircase
Designed as a split-level space with white concrete walls, the house features bedrooms on an upper level, the kitchen on a middle level, and a multi-purpose area on a lower level

‘We had a ferociously good builder who led a team of local labourers,’ adds Noero. ‘They crafted this house using traditional skills that have been used for more than 400 years.’ The painstaking attention to detail is evident in every plane of the home, including the balletic modulation of the bronze handrail, which caps the glass balustrades and the rounded edges of the expressed beams, plinths and so ts. Yet, the interior appropriately dissolves in deference to the landscape.

Noero Architects has challenged the notions of luxury in this house – all details are necessary, everything is beautifully crafted. ‘We need to stop the drive for more things,’ says Noero. ‘We as architects get caught up in prioritising luxury over necessity. We have an ethical responsibility to make space that is carefully considered, not wasteful. It’s time to stop the madness that has gripped us.’ §

As originally featured in the October 2019 issue of Wallpaper* (W*247)