When you hear the phrase “modern houses,” Johannesburg isn’t the first place that comes to your mind. Even after Southern California, South Florida, the Caribbean, and several other places, it probably still wouldn’t make your list. That’s because the city, like many others on the African continent, often gets overlooked by the global architecture media.
If we took a closer look at South Africa’s largest city, we would see that the appeal of its modern houses is rooted in a longing for openness and connection to the outdoors.
In 2012, SAOTA, one of the nation’s leading local firms, completed two modern houses on a large family compound in Johannesburg. Driving up to the compound, the two-story homes give off a suave appearance that makes them look more like training facilities for an elite sports team than they do residential units. Light from the interiors shines out through rectangular apertures that at first glance seem more designed for privacy than illumination.
Once inside, guests are greeted by marble floors and a resplendent white spiral staircase. The space doubles in height just beyond that staircase, with a clear view of a linear swimming pool and sprawling yard in the background. This sleekness continues on the second-story offices, blending seamlessly with soft surfaces in the bedrooms for added comfort.
The staggered topography of the site means that one home looks down on the other. The garage is on the ground level, with stairs taking residents up to the main floor where both homes are connected. There are also stairs at the side to bring residents directly to the courtyard and further back by the pool to bypass the interiors altogether. When the sliding doors are open on each house, they begin to feel like a single large space. Horizontal and vertical ribbon windows maximize the presence of indoor sunlight throughout the day.