Architects: studioMAS architects + urban designers Location: Forest Town, Johannesburg, South Africa Landscape Architect: Sonja Swanepoel, from African Environmental Design Project Year: 2005 Photographs: Mario Todeschini & studioMAS
Courtyards on Oxford, consists of six landscaped courtyards, five slender long houses and a communal garden just minutes away from the Johannesburg inner city and one step off a major highway. The project tackles housing delivery issues in South Africa by combining live and work units in one property, responding to a juxtaposition of urban and suburban space in Johannesburg. The concept addresses how cities function on a large scale by using densification and mixed use as viable options. It draws inspiration from indigenous precedents of courtyard living while still maintaining its contemporary identity. The design has been inspired by Ndebele housing typologies of the eastern Highveld, which employ buildings and connecting walls to define spaces. The courtyards are formed by the façades of adjacent buildings and turn into outdoor rooms.
Each courtyard is designed differently, but all have a strong theme of nature taking over the architecture, which is why creepers and trees feature so prominently. A unit’s privacy is not compromised by the activities taking place alongside, because they are mediated by distinctly private and secure courtyards. Therefore the busy urban realities beyond these courtyards are not directly experienced. The buildings have been designed as double storey units of 5m by 30m. Exposed steel bracing on the façades provide distinct edges to contrast with the rough Tyrolean finish used and to mark the position of iconic rainwater spouts (which discharge rainwater into catchment planters). Plaster and paint are used sparingly to decrease maintenance. The interiors each have their own distinct character, employing contemporary finishes such as cantilevered countertops and discreet African mahogany cupboards within double volumes. The project re-examines the urban living, by using perimeter buildings that utilised every square meter of land.