H&G Great Space

An astonishing structure moves from the realm of fantasy, fusing the natural and the man-made while redefining what it means to build a house.

Inspired by his travels around the world, businessman Graham Paarman called on Malan Vorster Architecture and Interior Design to help him realise his dream – to create a tree house in Constantia that made the most of its sylvan setting, while retaining the integrity of the site and preserving the established trees (including the oldest cork-oak tree in South Africa).

It turned out to be a powerful partnership. Pieter Malan, Jan-Heyn Vorster and Peter Urry had worked on previous projects on the same Constantia property with satisfying results and were eager to take on the challenge. ‘On his side, Graham was very design literate, and he pushed us to the limits of our ingenuity and imagination,’ says Jan-Heyn.

After exploring the site, the team opted for a floating structure situated among the trees, lightly touching the ground – with a series of wooden platforms perched on bases resembling trees and branches.

At this point, the project took on extraordinary dimensions. Structural engineers Henry Fagan & Partners, together with master craftsman Theunis Naude, metalworkers from Link Engineering and cabinetmakers from Versfeld were brought in, all drawing on their finest skills, including some that have almost been forgotten in today’s fast-bulk-build world. They gleefully collaborated, experimenting, reworking, researching and tweaking.

The structures had to be slender but sufficiently weight-bearing; the exterior wood had to be durable yet aesthetically pleasing; and the staircase had to be as unobtrusive yet sturdily functional as possible. All services (plumbing, electrical reticulation) were to be invisible.

The team’s combined efforts produced more than a residence; what has resulted is ‘a handcrafted building with sculptural qualities,’ says Pieter. The entire process took some two-and-a-half years, and the result awe-inspiring.

Photographs Micky Hoyle Production Martin Jacobs