Openstuido's Swartberg House, South Africa  

This majestic new-build on the edge of the Great Karoo desert in South Africa acts as a poetic and flexible agricultural object, a harvester of light and air, which is adjusted by its inhabitants in response to the changing natural elements.

Swartberg house is located on the outskirts of the town of Prince Albert, at the foot of the Swartberg Pass, a World Heritage site. According to the building traditions of the Karoo, the 230m2 house was built by local builders using a limited palette of robust materials, and was completed for less than £200,000.

Key elements of the brief were: to bring the inhabitants into a closer relationship with and the spectacular natural landscape of the Swartberg and the Karoo – along with changes in light, heat and wind, at different times of day and during different seasons.

In line with the low energy use and low technology requirements of the brief, the house avoids sophisticated installations for heating and cooling. It had to accommodate a large range in temperature, so in  intense heat of summer the thick-walled house can be shuttered, while in winter the large openings act as suncatchers, allowing the dark brick floors to radiate the stored warmth of the sun in cool evenings.

The house not only defers to the landscape, but is also formed by it. From the large roof terraces there are sweeping views of the mountains, which bring the inhabitants closer to the natural world. The landscape of mountain and veld is integral to the design and experience of the house. Openings and spaces are designed to bring near and far landscapes into the way in which the house is experienced, collapsing the distance between nature and everyday life.