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Problem-Solving Steel and a Floating Stone Wall-Modern architecture and Interiors by GASS

A house’s footprint usually occupies the entire square footage of a building’s ground floor, crushing and hiding the earth beneath it. For award-winning GASS Architecture Studios, planting a structure in this way on the Westcliff Ridge in Johannesburg, South Africa, was not an option. Instead, architects Georg van Gass and Clare Eisenstein used structural steel columns to hold a steel, aluminum, stone, and glass house above the ground: only the columns touch the earth.

The two-bedroom Westcliff Pavilion sits near a sheer face of the Westcliff Ridge, surrounded by views of natural rocky and forested terrain that give the home privacy, and on another side, wide-ranging vistas across the tops of trees. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls that open along runners bring the minimalist interior into the outdoors. The main living space’s wood floor, next to the outdoor wooden deck, further blurs the distinction between inside and outside.

Most significant in this design however, is its use of steel, for which Gass and Eisenstein received a 2012 Steel Award commendation in the light steel frame and architecture category. (The Steel Awards are granted by the Southern African Institute of Steel Construction, or SAISC.) The judge’s comment, printed in Steel Construction magazine, called the cottage “an amazing project to visit.” The stone wall, which seems to float weightlessly along the ridge, was made possible through steel structural elements, and is particularly impressive.

Steel was preferred over concrete or other building materials for many other reasons—it seems to have been the only choice to resolve each problem faced by the architects. The site is accessed via a long, narrow drive that interrupts other properties, and moving concrete trucks and large construction vehicles through it would have been challenging and intrusive. The steel, instead, was built as a kit-of-parts off site and was hand-carried from small trucks parked up the ridge, then assembled on site. Additionally, steel became the project’s main architectural motif.

The floating stone wall, which stands in contrast to the slick steel, achieves an important regional goal: it follows the tradition of incorporating native stone in buildings in Westcliff Ridge and neighboring areas. To differentiate this house from others, the concept of the wall is altered. According to the firm website, Gass “chose to turn the understanding of a solid wall on its head.” Although the wall continues to protect inhabitants from the elements, it no longer appears sturdy and solid, relying on the ground for support. Instead, it floats.

GASS, based in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa, was founded in 2005 by Georg van Gass, Gass, according to his website, aims to build sustainable, architecturally friendly projects that compliment and enhance diverse landscapes. Local materials, colors, and textures are used when possible. In addition to commercial and residential architecture ventures, Gass combined his design interests with furniture manufacturer Zander van Niekerk to found Goet Furniture and Design, whose energy-efficient lighting concepts were recently featured in South Africa’s House and Leisure magazine.